As part of the build up I’m featuring a series of blogs – both old and new – over the next month focusing on a country from each letter of the alphabet – if possible – that makes whisky.
Today is L for Luxembourg Whisky.
I did visit Luxembourg – once – and missed a trick.
You see it has one of the lowest alcohol tax rates in Europe – and I’d already bought my baggage allowance worth of whisky in neighbouring Germany.
So here I am – visiting the highest point in Luxembourg (a nondescript little spot by the name of Kneiff at 560m, at least Buurgplaatz has a landmark building at 559m) – when I pop into a local garage for supplies.
Low and behold – a wide variety of European whiskies at affordable prices!
As part of the build up I’m featuring a series of blogs – both old and new – over the next month focusing on a country from each letter of the alphabet – if possible – that makes whisky.
Today is D for Danish Whisky.
D is also for my downfall as I haven’t actually got round to tasting any of the fabulous whiskies that are made in Denmark.
More famous for it’s bacon than whisky – Denmark has around 14 distilleries either already producing whisky – or about to – according to the excellent Nordic Distillery Map by blogger Whisky Saga which you can view here.
Stauning Whisky would be the most recognised of these distilleries – and one I’d like to get my hands on – as it regularly wins awards and happens to be a style I particularly enjoy – rye!
A return trip to Copenhagen might be in order. Especially as there is a distillery in the town handily named Copenhagen Distillery.
And another not too far away by the name of Braunstein.
It’s about time I got out a bit more!
I’d like to thank Stauning Whisky for the use of their photo in this blog.
A while ago I visited this distillery. I wrote the following blog at the time – but never published it. As they will shortly be releasing the second batch of Baltimore Epoch Rye – I thought it timely. The previous batch sold out immediately. If you are looking for some – get down to the Baltimore Whiskey Company on April 28th 2018. Or be sorry you missed it!
It was baltic in Baltimore.
Our trip to Maryland coincided with storm front Stella resulting in a dowsing of snow with icy winds that would cut you in two.
Housed in an old industrial building just off Interstate 83 on Sisson Street near downtown Baltimore, the prominent & attractively designed Baltimore Whiskey Company logo announced you were in the right building.
Max & Eli – the other co-founder Ian was elsewhere – hadn’t made it in the previous day due to the storm, but were thankfully on hand when I called round to show me their distillery.
It very quickly became apparent that Baltimore Whiskey Company do things a little bit different to other start up whiskey distilleries.
To begin with, their rather roughshod looking 250 gallon (1,000 ltr) copper still had been made by their own hands – partly copied on Lagavulin’s stills to produce a heavier & oilier distillate – as well as putting in all the electrics for the plant.
The fact they are currently maturing a rye whiskey immediately reminded me of Peter Bignell at the Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania with his whole grain to glass, can do, make do & homemade kind of ethos.
The boys in Baltimore however don’t grow their own rye and source it elsewhere – but what they do do is rather special & unique. They use a mash-bill of 70% malted rye and 30% unmalted rye. A single pot still rye indeed!
And finally not only do they ‘keep it real’ by using only 53 gallon virgin oak barrels to mature that rye – they refuse to release a raw moonshine product and are prepared to sit on that rye for the full 2 years – or more – allowing it to be called a straight rye under US rules when eventually released.
A very brave decision indeed when there must be financial pressure to realise some return on the initial distillery setup costs. Baltimore Whiskey Company do have a range of gins & apple brandies – as well as the usual array of branded T-shirts, caps & Glencairn glasses – to sell that go some way in plugging that gap though.
In the meantime – from a whiskey perspective – what is that pot still rye really like?
Fortunately I was privileged to be allowed a sample from one of the quietly maturing 53 gallon barrels that are stored on an upper level.
Taken straight from the cask at around 115 proof – 57.5% – and at slightly over 1 year old, the liquid had already taken on a lovely rich dark brown colour.
There was still a slight new make nose present – sweaty socks or over-ripe fruit – but not overpowering – and for a 100% rye the rich dry spice hit I was expecting wasn’t ‘in yer face’, but a rather more gentle, softer, even rounder & complex experience.
The taste was deliciously smooth. Again the dry spice kick had a more balanced approach on the palate.
Max suggested this was the result of the unmalted rye used together with ageing in 53 gallon barrels – and who was I to disagree? The taste result certainly gave a different – yet welcoming – flavour profile to the other 1 year old 100% ryes I’ve sampled.
With that lovely long dry – yet slightly oily – soft rye spice finish still fading on my tongue I contemplated another 12 months in the barrel must surely iron out that new make nose, further deepen and balance that lovely rye spice as well as add some soft caramel & vanilla together with additional oaky tannins from the casks.
This is one expression to look out for in the future!
I’m very impressed with the whole ethos at Baltimore Whiskey Company.
The combination of hands on homemade ingenuity – the relaxed & casual welcome – a strong quality control desire to only release a product when deemed ready – a smart yet simple company logo using an iconic Baltimore building – these guys have all bases covered.
One of the joys about entering the An Pucan bar – just off Galway’s Eyre Square in the West of Ireland – is the wide array of whiskey available. Not only do they stock a marvelous selection of Irish – there is a healthy amount of other countries output too.
Italy is one of those countries. They also happen to be one of the Six Nations rugby teams that do battle every year – and as An Pucan is a sports bar – they show the game – as well as having the whiskey!
Puni is the first whisky distillery in Italy – and I was keen to sample one of their expressions.
This Puni Alba release is one of their earlier incarnations. An Pucan’s bottle is the original design – a very attractive & distinctive rectangular bottle at that. Later editions come in a more traditional – yet still very stylish – round shape which is used across the whole range. For me however – it’s the contents that count – so a glass was duly poured.
The nose came over with a rather unique profile. Soft & sweet with a lovely floral touch – yet slightly citric all at the same time. Very intriguing.
The taste started off suitably mellow, followed by a lovely growing heat with a little spicy kick. The floral sweetness developed into a cornucopia of flavour sensations that rolled around in the palate.
The finish was rather short – but left me wanting more!
Why had it taken me so long to try this gorgeous whisky?
On the side of the bottle some interesting information – which became clearer when enlarged – explained why I loved this expression so much.
Turns out it’s triple distilled using a mash of barley, wheat and – my pet love – rye! So that’s where the delightful spice comes from. The combination of these grains works extremely well in producing a phalanx of beautiful flavours which just exploded in my mouth.
Heaven in a bottle!
Much like Linea 77 singing about La nuova musica Italiana – I want more nuova whisky Italiana!
It should go without saying this original bottling came non chill filtered with no added caramel – which raises the freshness, clarity & strength of the engaging flavours within.
Pikesville was a small neighbourhood in Maryland USA. It is now consumed into Baltimore County and happens to be where some of my in-laws live.
Despite visiting last year – I never did get the chance to try the locally named brand.
Pikesville – as well as Maryland in general – had a thriving rye whiskey business before prohibition. Only now is there a bit of a resurgence of that proud history with new distilleries entering the market.
This bottle in the meantime is made in Kentucky at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown – and when I spotted it on the shelves in Garavan’s – I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Now ‘straight’ in American terms means aged for at least 2 years. ‘Rye’ means at least 51% rye is used in the all important mash bill – the other 49% can be commonly made up of corn, wheat or barley. Added caramel is not permitted.
Rye is a style of whiskey I love.
I like the hit of spicy cinnamon & nutmeg followed through by a rich peppery dryness combined with some softer warming vanilla & caramel notes.
Pikesville Supreme only just had that rye kick. I found it very much muted by the other ingredients – which I suspected as being corn. This resulted in a warm vanilla led nose & taste with only a tingling of rye at the end.
An easy drinking approachable rye yes – but not what I’m craving.
My suspicions on the corn content were confirmed later by an internet search. The mash bill makes all the difference to the taste. In this instance Pikesville appears to have a mix of rye 51%, corn 37%, and barley 12% – which explains why it didn’t light up my life.
That’s not to say it’s a bad rye. In fact many are lamenting the loss of this particular bottling which has been replaced by a 6 year old 110 proof – 55% ABV – expression that might be more up my street. The Washington Post even covered the story here!
So if you’re missing a taste of Maryland – head for Garavan’s in Galway!
At least that’s the situation when it comes to the race for rye.
Despite Kilbeggan sitting on a wonderful 6 year old pot still rye – as tasted at Whiskey Live Dublin here – Arbikie have released a 2 year old Highland Rye.
Being relative newcomers – Arbikie are not bound by ‘tradition’, ‘custom’ or ‘expectation’. This Highland Rye exists outside of the box that is Scottish Whisky Regulations – time for a musical interlude!
As such there is no mention of ‘whisky’ on the label.
Yet rye has always been an integral part of the whisky scene both in Scotland – as well as Ireland – and what Arbikie have done is simply to re-interpret a ‘tradition’ that has been neglected for over a century.
As a self confessed ‘rye head’ I couldn’t pass this up. A bottle was duly ordered.
It’s a bit pricey for 500ml – but the proceeds of the first 100 bottles go to a Motor Neurone charity here.
I like the simplistic clarity of the no nonsense label – including the large Arbikie logo common throughout their Gin & Vodka range.
I like that Arbikie are a ‘single estate distillery’ using ingredients grown on the estate farm & fields.
And I like the additional information shown on the attractive label; grain variety, field grown in, cask type. Shades of Mark Reynier at Waterford’s terroir here.
But most of all – I simply love the whole drinking experience of this rye.
4 of us variously sampled this first Scottish rye for over 100 years – so the following is an amalgamation of our findings.
A wonderful floral bouquet on the nose, hints of varnish, a soft to medium classic white peppery rye spice, warming vanilla & caramel notes from the charred American oak casks.
The taste was suitably smooth, the youthful rye punch delightfully muted by the barley content which added a gentle malt & slight oily influence to the drying rye spices in the well balanced mix.
The finish coated my mouth in that invigorating warm yet dry prickly feel I so enjoy after a great dram.
If you only drink one rye this year – make it Arbikie Highland Rye.
Not only does it encapsulate all the classic rye attributes I love – it also adds a unique Scottish mix with the homegrown rye & barley.
I happened to be in Dublin myself that day – but as I (and a few other whiskey heads too) were busily judging the blended whiskey category for the upcoming Irish Whiskey Awards in another part of town – the alcohol took it’s toll on me and I was in no fit state for any distillery visit.
Luckily for me the next week provided a further opportunity in the single grain, single pot still & cask strength category judging at which I paced myself rather better with adequate water & food intake.
So by 4pm I happily had the chance to be shown round the week old distillery by the friendly & informative guide – sorry – storyteller – Bernard.
The distillery is highly unusual in that it is housed in an old church – complete with graveyard dating from the 1100’s!
Bernard himself did a sterling job exploring some of the many stories that make up both the past, present and future of the current whiskey distillery.
The stories continued inside the distillery building that had the wonderfully gleaming copper pot stills placed in the old alter area surrounded with stunning stained glass windows.
The pot stills themselves are a rather unusual design for Irish whiskey. To begin with there are only 2. Mighty Molly – the larger wash still and Little Lizzie – the spirit still – which along with the familiar bulbous pot also has a rectifying column on top.
Both were manufactured by Vendome in Louisville, Kentucky, where Pearse Lyons has his Town Branch Distillery. Interestingly, these stills were previously used in County Carlow to produce some of the whiskey that ended up in Pearse Whiskey blends – which we got to taste later in the all important sampling – where all good distillery tours finish – in tasting the actual produce.
Pearse Irish Whiskey comes in 4 styles & flavours – all presented at 42%
There are 3 blends. Blends are whiskeys that contain both grain whiskey and malt whiskey. 2 of the Pearse blends contain malt that has been made using the stills now situated in the former church.
The Original started off our introduction to the Pearse family whiskeys.
Aged in bourbon barrels for 3 to 5 years this light whiskey came across crisp & clear to me – very enjoyable & approachable – even after the single pot stills I’d enjoyed earlier in the day.
The Distiller’s Choice is also a blend using slightly older malt & grain components with final maturation in sherry casks. This gives the whiskey a slightly sweeter taste which I must admit didn’t wow me as much as The Original.
The final offering was the Founder’s Choice. A 12 year old single malt from an un-named source. This also had the fairly soft, light & approachable character of an Irish bourbon cask matured single malt.
By now I was chatting with fellow distillery tourists to find out which expressions they enjoyed. We did ask about the last bottle – the Cooper’s Select – and despite being on sale in the distillery – it wasn’t offered for tasting.
A plan was hatched. My new whiskey buddies – a young American & an English couple would meet there after our distillery purchases.
Now McCann’s is currently hidden behind scaffolding & hoardings as the whole block is undergoing renovation as part of the Pearse Lyons Distillery project – I can’t wait to see the final result of the refurbishment to this fine old bar,
Inside were a large crowd of regulars enjoying the craic & watching the late afternoon sport on the telly. My new american friend was already enjoying a Guinness – well the brewery is just next door! – but I insisted on ordering some Cooper’s Choice.
Cooper’s Choice is an aged blend matured in bourbon barrels with final maturation in sherry casks. It’s also a sourced whiskey while Pearse Lyons own distillate is quietly resting in wooden barrels.
I really enjoyed this one. As did my friend who was now joined by the English couple.
Spotting the bar also stocked the output from Pearse’s Town Branch Distillery I couldn’t resist the Town Branch Rye.
At 50% it delivers that powerful peppery spice kick on both the nose & mouth that I simply can’t get enough of – big, bad, beautiful & bold. Lovely!
Meanwhile one of the chatty locals insisted we had some traditional Irish whiskey – so a glass of Paddy’s it was.
Yes it was smooth & easy – but it lacked the full blown character & hit of the rye we just tried previously.
I could have stayed longer – but I had a train to catch – so made my way to the station with just enough time to grab an Iarnród Éireann cup of tea & sandwich to sober up.
Whiskey for me is a journey of discovery.
I discovered a lovely new Irish whiskey distillery along with some beautiful new expressions – and hopefully led others to discover more too.
Produced by West Cork Distillers for a 3rd party – this whiskey is a blend of Irish single malts & grain whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, NH.
An American rye whiskey made with predominately american rye grain in charred virgin oak barrels by the FEW Distillery, Evanstown, Chicago.
I like to see a variation in the colour of the whiskeys I drink. It foretells of the different smells, flavours & overall drinking experiences to be enjoyed.
FEW came out the darkest – reflecting the use of charred virgin oak casks. There was a jump down then to the paler duo of PrizeFight & Brothership with Sunken Still coming in with an almost pale yellowy hue.
Brothership kicks off with a soft barley sweetness before developing muted rye spice. PrizeFight comes across with a more fresher, clearer nose & an equally enjoyable spice. Sunken Still has a wonderfully aromatic floral bouquet whilst FEW delivers a classic peppery rye punch.
The soft smooth delivery of Brothership quickly develops into a lovely rich dry spice. PrizeFight has a cleaner palate with a slightly less intense rye spice.
Meanwhile the Sunken Still’s fragrant bouquet flows through into a wonderful cornucopia of taste on the tongue with a rich dry spice that is simply divine. Beautiful.
The FEW doesn’t disappoint either. To start there is that caramel/vanilla bourbon like feel followed by an almost classic rich peppery spice that tingles & teases as it drys the palate.
PrizeFight’s lovely spice fades slowly, only marginally beaten by the warmer, drier spice of Brothership. FEW lasts the longest whilst Sunken Still manages that dry floral spice right to the end.
What stands out to me is that whilst having no rye grain in the original mix – the rich dry spicy notes of a decent rye whiskey still come through in the PrizeFight whiskey simply by it’s time in the ex-rye casks. It may lack the overall dry mouthfeel of a true rye – but it certainly makes a worthy addition to the rye cannon.
Brothership benefits by the addition of a real rye whiskey in the mix which heightens the rich dry rye spiciness on both the taste & finish which is not initially apparent on the sweet barely nose.
The FEW could almost set the benchmark of what a good rye whiskey should be. A straight forward crisp peppery spice with a marvelously long dry finish. Superb.
Sunken Still adds something extra to that dry spice by giving it a floral display of flavours.
For taking rye whiskey the extra mile – Sunken Still from Belgium comes out tops in this taste-off.
FEW from America comes in a close second
The Irish-American hybrid that is Brothership follows closely behind – leaving Ireland’s PrizeFight bringing up the rear.
I would commend PrizeFight for being able to hold it’s own among such worthy competition in that they all contain rye in their original mix.
It just goes to prove the powerful influence the maturation in wood has to the overall taste.
Flying in from a town whose tallest building is the 12 story Sheraton Hotel – staying in a 9th floor hotel room held a certain appeal.
Sadly the views I expected were obscured by even larger skyscrapers that we couldn’t see the tops of despite craning our necks through the permanently closed bedroom window.
Welcome to New York!
I still harboured high hopes for the hotel’s 14th floor roof top bar – Vu Bar – quietly enjoying a few drinks with a panoramic view of downtown NY below.
A cold blustery windswept veranda overlooked by even taller buildings was the reality. Well – it was March – and the building that dominated all – including our bedroom window vista – was in fact the Empire State Building!
The bar had a lovely collection of whiskey to sample however & a friendly bartender in Emilio.
I started with Maker’s Mark 46. It’s a mainly corn based bourbon with some wheat & barley in the mash bill which imparts a relatively soft, smooth & sweet overall experience to the taste despite it’s 47% strength. It goes down very easily – but didn’t really do anything for me & my penchant for bolder flavours. It definitely is a better dram than the standard Maker’s Mark which I tasted earlier on in the day though.
The darker colouring & slight dry spice on the nose indicated a high rye content in this 50% bourbon which was much more agreeable to my tastes.
Emilio mentioned a sister bar on the opposite side of the street – so the next evening after a busy day sightseeing & an enjoyable tasty meal washed down by the amusingly named Kloud lager – which had a lovely malty flavour – in a local Korean restaurant – we headed up to the 17th floor Cloud Social bar.
The views were far more impressive from up here. It would certainly make for a cool place to hang out on a warm summers day – but with temperatures below zero & a light dusting of snow it was back into the bar area for some warming whiskeys after a few snaps.
Again I was pleasantly surprised by the array of whiskeys before me. One that took my eye was Lot 40.
Now I’d heard great things about this Canadian Rye so on spotting a bottle I just had to try it.
Soft ,sweet, hardly any spice. A very smooth easy drinking bourbon style of whiskey.
Not what I was expecting at all from this 43% rye. What I experienced bore no resemblance to the reviews I read before or after – so I just don’t know.
To counteract my disappointment I went for a Knob Creek Rye.
The full on rich dry peppery spice bowled me over after my previous drink. In fact it was almost overwhelming after the soft sweetness of Lot 40 as my palate struggled to come to terms with that lovely rye punch I crave in this full on 50% whiskey.
If anything – I think the Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon – with it’s initial rich vanilla & caramel notes flowing through to a lovely balanced rye spice – came out tops for the 4 whiskeys I tried out up in the clouds of New York’s rooftop bars!