Welcome to the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award!
On the first of every month, someone is awarded the prodigious title of Whisk(e)y Warrior. A question and answer interview is conducted with the valiant warrior, and then distributed to the world. What is a Whisk(e)y Warrior? Find out more by clicking here.
And now, we proudly present your Whisk(e)y Warrior.
He’s a whiskey ranger roaming the woods. He walks the smoky dew. With a singin’ claymore he hacks and slashes, brakes and bashes, laughs and dashes at them all. An unstoppable foe of stereotypes, he’s the type to take them on. He is…
Donald Ruger Jr, Whisk(e)y Warrior!
Zac: Where are you at in the country?
Donald: I live in Spokane Washington.
Zac: What first got you into whiskey?
Donald: So, my dad has always been a bourbon drinker and growing up I was very much like I’m never going to touch alcohol. Then I got into collage and things kind of changed there. You finish developing, you kind of find out where you are, what your personality type is. Well, all my friends are drinking vodka and really cheap beer, I decided that’s not me. Didn’t like vodka, didn’t like cheap beer. I remembered my dad drank bourbon so I’ll give whiskey a try. I started with Crown and Canadian Club as my first purchase at 21. Not a horrible $18 bottle.
Zac: As you’ve continued to try different whiskies, has your pallet changed since the beginning from what you initially liked to what you like now?
Donald: Oh absolutely. Whiskey is so subjective. You can have one experience one time and give it like three or four years later and you’ll find out that you cannot stand that whiskey anymore or something you didn’t like back then, you find that it’s your new favorite thing.
Zac: What motivated you to start your Instagram page and to educate others as you’re going along this journey?
Donald: I think there’s a lot of rooted stereotypes with whiskey. In collage [I got] “Oh you’re the old man,” even though I was younger than most people. Whiskey is not an old person drink anymore. It’s kind of expanded the horizons, there’s more different types of whiskey today than there was a few years ago. There’s a lot of stigmas that still need to be broken. You know, “Oh you can’t mix a single malt with a soda.” I have posts almost a year ago when I poured Ardbeg 10 into a Mt. Dew and I made a Smoky Dew. I had someone immediately comment along the lines of, “That’s pretty much sacrilegious and you can’t do that. You’re wasting good whiskey.” It’s like well that’s okay, your opinion matters too but you know you don’t have to imprint your opinion on others when clearly there’s a whole world out there spent around mixing stuff. You can break down those walls and just enjoy it the way you want to enjoy it. I try to push that through my Instagram as well, even with my barrels when I mix bourbon with those.
Zac: Tell me a little bit about your barrel experiments.
Donald: Oh, so I got a 1 liter and a 2 liter aging barrel and decided that I want to try and take some cheap whiskey and make it taste better somehow. Just fool around with the whole aging process and double aging that’s already been bottled by a company. With the 1 liter I decided I’d pour wine into it but I didn’t want to do the typical Port or Sherry. I know those are used because they work but I found Shiraz wine, it’s Australian, and it has a lot of the dark stone fruit flavors. I thought that would be really cool to put into like say Elmer T. Lee or Blanton’s meets Shiraz. I found Ancient Age, same mash bill as Elmer T. Lee and I found Benchmark 8, which is the same mash bill as Blanton’s. I figured see what happens and I’m very happy with the results. It definitely absorbs that dark stone fruit from that wine and to be honest it makes the wine taste pretty cool too when you bottle it up after it’s been in the barrel.
Zac: About how long did you leave the wine in the barrel?
Donald: So, when I first did it, I left the wine in for a month.
Zac: And then how long did you leave the whiskey in?
Donald: The first time I did the whiskey was two weeks. And then I would sample after the two weeks. It’s more surface area for the wood but I figured two weeks would be a safe bet for start to absorb some of the wine with the weather in Washington how it’s usually a little bit cooler I figured it gave it some more time. If it still had some of that steep whiskey sour note I’d let it sit a little longer but usually no longer than three weeks in the 1 liter. I found out that three weeks it starts to get very rough, edgy and sharp on just about every flavor.
Zac: So, for a 1 liter barrel that’s about the maximum?
Donald: In my experience yeah.
Zac: What advice would you give to new whiskey drinkers?
Donald: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. Not all whiskey is for everyone. Not everyone’s pallet is the same, so if your offered something by all means try it and then make your opinion up later. Even go back and try it again. You might see that it’s changed and it’s grown on you.
Zac: What would be your top three most bang for your buck whiskeys?
Donald: Woodford Reserve easily for a bourbon. For me, Old Pulteney 12 would go on there. It’s a little pricey in Washington but the other states still around $40. And Buffalo Trace.
Zac: As you look to the future do you have any whiskey goals for the future?
Donald: Absolutely. My long-term goal is to have a whiskey from every creating country.
Zac: If I were visiting your area, is there a whiskey destination that you would recommend?
Donald: Hogwash Whiskey Den downtown. They have a phenomenal selection, reasonably priced and it’s kind of like a hipster speakeasy. Probably the best way to describe it. That Washington vibe.
Zac: Donald, thank you so much for letting me talk with you today. And I wish you all the best along your whiskey road.
If you’d like to connect with Donald then check out his Instagram page @thewhiskeydive.
Remember to nominate your favorite Whisk(e)y Warriors by clicking here. The next award will be released December 1st. We’ll see you then.
— Zac Smith