When Bruce at Dramfool asked a small tasting group what we should source next, the resounding answer was to bring on the new distilleries! Lets try the new hotness from around the globe. There are a handful of these tastings lined up and Act I was a blast. Second act is April 17, 2021. We tried 6 new distillery bottlings completely blind and there are some serious winners. On deck: Waterford (Ireland), Kingbarn (Scotland), Starward (Australia), Wolfburn (Scotland), and Cardrona (New Zealand) and Rassay (Scotland). The last sample was fab enough that, following the reveal of the Rassay Inaugural Release, I called Rassay and discussed buying a cask. So, yeah, that. =p
Want to know what makes barely responsible adults act like children? A limited edition inaugural release in 2021. Oh trust me, the FOMO in the past few months is so contagious, it is entertaining.
Hundred+ quid for 3 years blend. Check.
The five hundred quid membership that gets me an inaugural release and let me pick my bottle number. Common?!? It is my lucky number. Yaaashhh…. jeeez, check.
I’d pretend to hide this from my wife, which seems to be the popular meme, but she knows. After the latest pile of boxes arrived, she recently groussed it might be cheaper if I just bought it by the cask. Which caused me to take her on a walk and admit that I’ve done that too. That was way more fun than I expected.
While I like to tease other people, I’m pretty much looking in the mirror. The hype is getting me a bit silly. I’m not too sure how long the merry-go-round keeps spinning but I hope you are either in it for the long haul, or at least keeping within your financial means.
There is an explosion of new distilleries right now. Just picking one country, in the mid 1980s there were only 2 distilleries in Ireland. By 2013, there were 4. Since then, there has been a massive resurgence with so many startups, I can’t keep track. I’m excited to try more, but if you want something fun to try, I have a man-crush on Killowen.
But let’s be blunt. Hype machine aside, are actually any of these newer spirits any good to drink? Because if they aren’t, they are just a bubble in the pipes of progress.
Spirits and Age Bias
I’ll admit an overwhelming age bias when it comes to whisky. I like my bottles … mature, with those deep oak tannins, aging leather and dusty book notes. The concentrated goodness of a few decades in a sherry cask. The kind of complex profile that really only comes from riding through the changing seasons. I easily fall into the trap of assuming a higher number means a better whisky.
My son recently told me he could never marry his sister because she is sooooo ooooold. And while I wasn’t aiming to confuse the lad, I did have to explain that the age difference between him and Serenity is pretty close to the gap between mom and dad. I definitely married an older, wiser and beautiful woman. But for now, let’s assume your sister is off the market little man.
So, totally age biased and then, one day I tried an Octomore. Check that shit out. Full stop. A 5 year old stripling cold-weather whisky was simply stunning. My scotch doesn’t actually need to be legally old enough to drink itself. That cold-weather note is pretty important, as 5 years in the heat of Goa, Taiwan or Kentucky is an eternity for a spirit. It often said one year of aging in a hot climate is worth 5-7 in a hot climate. Hard think to pin down, but a good reminder the there is important context the what an age really means. Hell, in Armagnac, it is pretty common to move the spirit to glass containers to halt further aging and store the spirit. So, the bottle date doesn’t mean the number of years aged in oak.
The discovery that young whisky can be delicious is being furthered by a bunch of new distilleries. To be fair, a lot of the work-in progress I tried hasn’t always turned out to be a sure indicator of the end result. Kilkerran WIP was no bueno to my taste buds. Period. The Kilkerran 8 year cask strength in my cupboard is a downright beasty. We should all hang out and worship on its altar.
Tasting New Distilleries
Pour 1: Waterford Ballykilcavan 1.2 – 4 years | Ireland
Nose: sourdough starter, japanese peach gummies, wet hay, butterscotch, hints of hairspray
Palate: touches of sulfur, crisp green pear, overripe banana, young cereals, greek yogurt with honey. Touch of heat like back pepper. A drop of water helps with the sulfur.
Rating: 4 – Wouldn’t drink a whole bottle but glad I tried it. Frankly, Gaia is much better.
Pour 2: Kingsbarns Balcomie (NAS) | Scotland
Nose: hints of fruit rollup, green apple, summertime, cedar wood
Palate: very very mild, touch of citrus peel, agave sweetness, oatmeal, indiscriminate berries
Rating: 4 – nothing offensive, but nothing special.
Pour 3: Starward Left field 40% | Australia
Nose: tangerine, bright peaches, white tea with a floral element, whisky of caramel
Palate: ginger ale, banana bread, lavender cookies. Palate is thin and dry. This is interesting, but wish I could try it at a higher proof?
Rating: 6 – Nose is just outstanding. I’ll definitely be buying Starward. In fact, just bought the adelphi release today. Will report back eventually.
Pour 4: Wolfburn 204 | Scotland
Nose: ubiquitous berry wine influence, bright citrus, coconut
Palate: red berries, obvious wine finish, vanilla
Rating: 5 – Pretty damn good but I rarely like madeira casks. I’m honestly struggling to find more here… I’m sure it’s there and these notes suck… but I’m just going to watch this sunset and move on.
Pour 5: Cardrona Just Hatched 64.4% | New Zealand
Nose: honey dew melon, milk chocolate, jasmine tea, juniper / gin notes
Palate: nice full flavors, carob & hints of espresso, honey nut cheerios, tart unripe green melon
Rating: 6, nearly 7 – This is really interesting and I quite look forward to drinking more. Its my first New Zealand whisky. But this is a tough one to be a drinker at that price given bottle size.
Pour 6: Rassay Inaugural Release
Nose: dark forest fruit, brewers yeast, farmyard funks and the lightest touch of manure, oddly fascinating. I can’t look away.
Palate: nectarines & blackberries, Wensleydale apricot cheese, touches of old fruit / rancio funk, metallic notes of ammonium chloride and licorice .. there is so much here. I want to keep sitting with it, but kids are out of patience with this tasting. Signing off.
Rating: 8 – I’m seriously impressed. This is weird and fantastic and interesting and delicious. I am a serious fan. You have my full attention Rassay.