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  • Writer's picturePeter Miles

David vs. Goliath


Hilltop 4 Year Reserve Single Malt v. Clermont Steep 5 Year Single Malt.


Introduction


In this double tasting we compare two recently released American Single Malts. On the face of it, both these whiskies represent ‘back to basics’ spirit making, using 100% malted barley matured in single new oak barrels. A combination in production techniques between Single Malt Scotch (the mash bill) and Bourbon (the maturation).


As American Single Malt becomes an official American Whiskey Category it will be interesting to see how it challenges Single Malts from Scotland, India, Japan and Ireland. These two whiskies join a rapidly growing USA group of producers, many being members of the influential American Single Malt Commission. This includes Stranahan’s, Virginia Distillery Co. and Balcones, just to mention three of these early ‘first to market’ leaders making an impression.


David: Hilltop 4-year Reserve: Produced by the Hilltop distillery in Goochland, VA. Located outside Richmond, this small family distillery has been making a young Single Malt from their earliest days back in 2018. This latest limited edition is a more mature version than earlier releases. Sold in an unconventional bottle with a bright silver/green label, it makes a statement on the shelf. Information on the label is minimal, which is a shame.


Goliath: Clermont Steep 5-year: Mega distiller, Jim Beam, releases its first commercial American Single Malt, as a separate brand, suggestive of much more to come. The embossed label design attempts to conjure up a pastoral vibe, and has significant information on it. It proudly proclaims the use of a column still, which is an interesting twist in an industry segment that has always promoted pot stills as a key to quality.



Production


Mash Bill:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: 100% malted barley. JB Claremont Steep: 100% malted barley.


Distillation:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Pot Still / Hybrid (?) . JB Claremont Steep: Column Still.


Batch Size:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Smaller? JB Claremont Steep: Larger?


ABV:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: 45%. JB Claremont Steep: 47%.


Barrels:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: New Oak? Char Level? (3?). JB Claremont Steep: New Oak. Toasted, Char Level 1.


Age:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: 4 years. JB Claremont Steep: 5 years.


Cost/750ml:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve:$65.00. JB Claremont Steep: $60.00



Tasting Notes


Color:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Old Gold (0.6)

JB Claremont Steep: Deep Gold (0.8)


Swirl:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Distinct, fine rim with some thin legs but minimal puckering

JB Claremont Steep: Slightly thicker rim, same quick legs, more pronounced puckering


Nose:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Quite pungent, youthful and a touch prickly. Some lemon sherbet, citric fruits, a hint of peach and a chalky sweet, hard candy aroma.

JB Claremont Steep: Soft and very subdued. Almost nothing to the aroma, except a faint bourbon style caramel note. Very laid back.


Taste:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Faintly phenolic. Light in body with the same initial lemon sherbet hit and candy sweetness, but these fade quickly. It becomes drier with an aromatic, flinty base and some spice, hints of stone fruit and wood notes on top.

JB Claremont Steep: Surprisingly smooth and mellow, good viscosity and body with some caramel or toffee upfront. Then a malted grain/cereal flavor dominates, a somewhat earthy profile emerges. Some hints of bitter dark chocolate, and wood shavings.


Finish:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Medium and pleasantly warming, with dry wood notes lasting a while.

JB Claremont Steep: On the shorter side, clean with the initial malt sweetness disappearing and leaving faint wood notes.


Verdict:

Hilltop 4-Year Reserve: Oddly intriguing and surprisingly ‘more-ish’. It leans towards scotch rather than bourbon. Vaguely reminiscent of the old style Cragganmore. Pour me another.

JB Claremont Steep: Clean and sophisticated. Distant hints of a bourbon profile.



Summary


Kudo's to Hilltop on this release. It is a real contender right now in this new market, and could be something really special with another 2 or 3 years in the barrel. As for the Clermont Steep we have the minimalist pure base whiskey for what I suspect will become an impressive range of Single Malts over the next decade.



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