American Single Malt Whisky Tasting
Though unlikely to ever challenge the popularity of bourbon or rye in the USA, many craft distilleries cannot resist trying their hand at perhaps the most traditional whisky, the 100% barley single malt. Putting out a product that can compare with the best from Scotland, Ireland or Japan provides a lot of ‘street cred.’ Here we have a tasting of two Virginia distilleries offerings and one from Texas.
1. Copperfox Distillery
Rick Wasmund, who apprenticed at the Bowmore distillery on Islay, does not take the easy road. Not content to be just a ‘distiller’, he starts at the very beginning, using locally sourced grains which are then floor malted (!) and kilned with wood smoke. Talk about tradition. Now in operation for over 15 years and operating two distilleries in Virginia, this stubborn dedication appears to be paying off. In addition to the single malts they also produce some excellent rye whiskies with various barrel maturing approaches. Take the tour if you get the chance.
Original American Single Malt. Batch: 154. 48% ABV. No Age Statement (NAS).
This ‘Original’ Single Malt whisky is 100% barley (of course) in the Scottish tradition and has a unique wood flavor development based on both wood smoke kilning and added fruit wood chips in a two-stage bourbon barrel aging process.
Color: 0.8. Deep Gold.
Nose: Floral notes up front, then some fruit wood tones come through. Hints of spice and nuts in the background. Overall quite light and pleasant.
Taste: Light to medium viscosity on the tongue, and a little on the dry side. An underlying malt presence. Dried fruit with intriguing flavors such as bitter orange and other ‘sour fruit’ candy influences. Some oak with hints of spice and nuts. Mellow with smooth ‘warmth’ development.
Finish: Quite long, with wood smoke emerging as it fades away.
Verdict: B+. Complex and intriguing. For when you want something a little different.
2. Virginia Distillery Company
The Moore family runs this distillery in Lovington VA with gusto and attention to detail. Last fall they introduced their first 100% American Single Malt offering: Courage and Conviction Prelude. Perhaps the most anticipated 2019 new whisky release in the state. Heavy on promotion and getting their brand name out there (full page color ads in Whisky Advocate, for example), the launch appears to have been a great success and we await release of the ‘main’ product this Spring.
Courage and Conviction Prelude American Single Malt Whisky. 46% ABV, NAS.
The Prelude is three years old and is a blend of malt whiskies matured in bourbon, sherry and cuvee barrels. The bottle design tapers outward from the bottom giving it an appearance normally seen in, say, fancy gin bottles. Not sure if this is the right choice for a single malt whisky. ?
Color: 0.4. Jonquiripe Corn.
Nose: Quite light at first, but builds, with fruits being most prominent. These are mostly tropical ‘fruit salad’ aromas. There is a sweet bake aroma as well, perhaps butterscotch cookies. Some balance is offered with a ‘dry white wine’ aroma in the background.
Taste: Quite viscous for what is said to be a three year old, very smooth with good warmth development. Flavors are consistent with the aroma, mango and melon, and just a little sherry.
Finish: Medium length with no surprises. Lingering fruit sweetness.
Verdict: B+. Very clean, straightforward and easy going. An afternoon whisky? Expecting some stronger wood influences in the ‘main’ release later this year.
3. Balcones Distilling.
This distillery is around 12 years old and, despite some troubled ownership history, has now built something of a national reputation. Transitioning from a smaller craft distillery to a larger one in 2015, they produce a range of spirits from various grains including barley, corn and rye. Starting with traditional Scottish design pot stills and adding in the unique hot climate maturation it produces some very distinct whiskies.
Balcones 1. Texas Single Malt Whisky. Classic Edition. Batch SM17-9, 53% ABV, NAS.
This whisky won great praise at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2018 and has significant distribution across the country. The exact process used is somewhat tightly held but involves imported Scottish barley and ‘tailored’ oak casks.
Color: 1.4 Tawny
Nose: Strong with dried fruits, toffee, caramel and hints of mint and liquorice. Like walking into a 19th century confectionary store. Very impressive.
Taste: At 53% ABV, this packs a punch. Adding a little water is advised. Medium viscosity and quite sweet. Toffee, baked fruits, cereals, and some wood.
Finish: Medium length, with some fun spices kicking in.
Verdict: A-. A fine celebration or dessert whisky.