Monthly Archives: June 2008

St. George Single Malt Whiskey

When I was down at LeNell’s this weekend looking for my next couple of bottles they were having an absinthe tasting – of St. George’s variety in particular.  When I probed about the company, I found that not only were thy based in the US, but that they produced a single malt whiskey as well.  So, taking a break from the march of bourbons, today I bring you St. George Single Malt Whiskey: the whiskey that wants to be a whisky.

Presentation:

The first thing you’ll notice about SGSMW is that it does not appear to be American.  The label features  dragon clutching St. George’s cross and Celtic-esque script.

The rear label’s description says nothing of its origins, describing in only the vaguest of terms what to expect.  Really, St. George, you can’t make a single malt in America with out saying something more in-depth than telling us how complex and elegant it is?  The one tidbit they do slip in there is that this is apparently the result of “the industry’s smallest copper pot still.”

The only clues to the beverage’s New World origins are the declaration of “Alameda, CA” on the back and the fact that they spell our beloved drink with the ‘e’.  I can only think that this is deliberate.

Tasting:

SGSMW is very light in color, a testament to its time spent in used bourbon and French oak barrels – it really stands out against my growing collection of Kentucky natives.

To the nose, it is crisp and refreshing, like granny smith apples mostly.  There are also hints from the bourbon casks in the honeyed patina.  Maybe also the smell of a distant ocean.

To the palate, the granny smiths are certainly there, but quickly followed by a nutty, nutmeg-like essence.  Adding to the already full mouth feel is its sweet creaminess.  Reminds me of drinking eggnog with good spiced rum in December.

The flavors linger for some time – especially the crispness of the apple.

Overall:

I was pleased with St. George Single Malt Whiskey.  It is not an intense whiskey, it’s full of bright and friendly flavors.  I’d be interested to know how long it lived in the barrel and to try some differently aged varieties.  I think there would be much more to be gotten from the bourbon casks.

I do like that St. George did not feel obligated to take the traditional American route when producing its whiskey; it’s products like these that will allow the resurgence of whiskey consumption in this country to remain viable as more than a follow-on fad to Scotch.


Ridgemont Reserve 1792

1792 is named for the year that Kentucky became a state, but despite the 200+ year statement on the front of the bottle, this is a drink that at first look seems to strike a good balance between recognizing heritage and focusing on the contents of the bottle.

Presentation:

Beyond the central placement of 1792, only the heavy-wooden cap and the burlap ring around the neck lend 1792 a backward-looking air.  Yet even one of these (the burlap ring) manages to express heritage in a manner that is unique in the marketplace these days.

The rest of the presentation is refreshingly stark.  Very little copy on the front, clean lines on the edges, thick glass on the bottom, and a clear eschewal of old-timey script all make this bottle stand out on the shelf.  My biggest complaint is in the imitation hand-written label on the back.  Really, guys – you’re not fooling anyone with this stuff.  Either hand-label your bottles or don’t.  Pretending to be homey and individualized when you aren’t simply comes across as disingenuous.

Tasting:

One thing I really look for and enjoy is a good initial whiff when you first open a new bottle of bourbon.  This is the first impression the drink has a chance to make and it can often color the tasting to follow.

1792 has a great first-opening whiff that really gives a good sign of the bourbon to come.  The whiff is quite sweet, rounded, and largely unagressive – it’s appealing but leaves you with a curiosity about what’s deeper.

To the nose, 1792′s sweetness develops into a sensation of fresh fruit.  Beyond that is a wet grass and springtime air, very refreshing.

On the palate, 1792 is very smooth with a burst of sweet fruitiness at the end.  The finish is mild and warming, but with a very interesting pine and saltiness as a parting shot.  This saltiness is unlike anything I’ve tasted in other bourbons so far on my march through the category.  It reminds me, though, of a Talisker or Laphroaig – a bit of a kick at the end of an otherwise rounded whiskey.

Overall:

I usually enjoy punchier bourbons with several layers of flavors coming at you at once, but I have to admit that while 1792 does not do this at all, I still enjoyed it.  1792 is not all that complex but it is well rounded with simple yet full flavors.  That salty finish is really what sets it apart for me and adds a bit of a question mark at the end of a definitive statement.


Old Weller Antique

Another suggestion from the folks at LeNell’s.  Old Weller is the classic wheated bourbon and comes from the stills at the Buffalo Trace distillery, whose product I’ve liked before.  I was told this would have a kick to it and a reasonable depth of flavor, along with the sweetness that comes with the wheat.

Presentation:

Old Weller Antique suffers from the all-too-common conception that bourbon, especially aged bourbon, needs to market itself as the product of the mid 19th century.  The faux-stained-parchment label, old-timey script, and wood-pattern upper label are all surefire signs of lazy design – if not total positioning strategy.  The appearance does not manage the charming awkwardness of Old Grand-Dad, nor does it attempt the craft-distiller look of Willett’s.

The elements of the presentation that I do enjoy are their measurement of age in summers on the label, and the shape of the bottle itself.  The bottle manages to be distinct and un-showy at the same time and eschews the increasingly common wooden-doorknob style cork for the unpretentious plastic screw-top.

Tasting:

Though Old Weller Antique is a hefty 107 proof, you couldn’t tell by its aroma.  Where some bourbons come out punching, sopping in alcohol, OWA is more subtle to the nose.  The aroma is constructed mostly of dried hay, oak, and warm, wet asphalt.  There’s also a slow sweetness to the whole thing that is not overly apparent.

OWA’s wheat pops up when it first hits the tongue, but doesn’t last too much longer.  The wheat-sweet is immediately overwhelmed by a dominant spiciness that defines the drink.  The spice lasts quite some time, but slowly fades into a nutty finish.  Amid the spice though, you can sense its time in the wood and a bit of fruit hidden away.

Over all:

Despite the lazy presentation, Old Weller Antique is actually quite a good drink.  I must admit to not liking it all that much after the first sip, but the lingering of the nutty spice and the flavors that reveal themselves as you spend more time with the drink are really quite nice.

This is definitely a bourbon to spend some time with.


Willett Single Barrel

This was the second of the two recommendations from LeNell’s last week: Willett’s single barrel expression.  According to what I was told at the shop, this is one of the first releases from the Willett distillery in a number of years.  That combined with the really interesting bottle shape are what drew me to this selection.

Presentation:

The first thing anyone will notice about the Willett Single Barrel Estate Reserve is the bottle, which seems to be shaped like one of their stills: a long, slender neck, a squat base, and a bulge between the two.  On the bottle is some spidery, gold lettering going on with the usual bourbon-fluff of craftsmanship, selectiveness, etc.  Thankfully this copy is barely readable so the focus remains on the bottle shape and the actually hand-labeled seal over the cork (mine is bottle 29 of 260 from barrel number 9706).

It’s difficult to find much information about this release online.  It seems all information about Willett online is woefully out of date by at least 5-8 years.  I suppose this backs up what I was told at LeNell’s – this is really a brand that has been quiet for some time.

Tasting:

To the nose, Willett’s is much more alcoholic than it truly is.  This 94 proofer comes across like a 100+.  Beyond that there are notes of honey, butterscotch, and some char – a very sweet impression.

Upon drinking however, I was quite surprised.  Willett’s develops in a way that I’ve never really experienced before, almost backwards.  It begins smooth and creamy, then bursts onto the back of the tongue with a sweet tartness before fading into a long, lingering, oaky finish.  Most bourbons have their burst in the beginning, whereas Willett’s delays for a bit longer.  The initial sensations are a mild butterscotch and char, but very smooth.  Next comes the burst of tart citrus and cherry-flavored candy in the back of the mouth.

Over all:

A very interesting bourbon.  It is not the most complex, but Willett’s manages to distinguish itself from the crows well.  I hope to see more releases from them like this one.


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