Something tells us that 2014 is going to be a special year for the world of whisky.
And by that, we actually mean whisky producers around the world. From the gems coming out of Tasmania (in the shape of Overeem and Lark, who have recently joined forces) to a growing interest in French whisky and the rise in profile of South African whisky, the number of new places to visit on the whisky map is increasing almost weekly.
Recently, we reported on what's happening here in the UK. With St George's steadily developing their sales base and Adnams delivering some very inspirational products, all eyes look towards the London Distillery Company to see if they can live up to the lofty expectations that are placed on them. Building a distillery is one thing - developing a top class whisky is another. But there should be a fair wind behind the team at the distillery and a lot to learn from the work done at the likes of the aforementioned Tasmanian titans.
So with that, here's a round up of some rather interesting world whiskies some of which we tip for greatness this year. To the traditionalists, they may present a radical challenge in the flavour department, but the opportunities to use them in other ways are, to us, what makes them exciting.
First up and a rather curious whisky from New York. Well, technically it comes from France, but Brenne is the creation of New Yorker Allison Patel, an American importer/exporter and blogger.
The bottle design is immediately very eye catching indeed- in fact, whisky bottlers of the world, unite and use more pizazz on your labels please - especially when you have to consider that whisky is now fast becoming a competitor to more accessible dark spirits.
The interesting USP here is that the whisky (from an unnamed distillery near the River Charante) is produced from two types of barley, grown by the distiller, the spirit distilled then twice in alembic style stills, with water from the Charante used throughout the process. The whisky is matured for a period of around 5-6 years in virgin French Limousin casks, but then refilled into Cognac casks for a further two years. Each batch is effectively taken from a single cask and reduced in strength to 40%.
What this gives is perhaps one of the most unusually sweet toffee notes we've experienced in a whisky. In fact, you would struggle to pick this out as a whisky initially. Let's dive in further:
Brenne - French Single Single Malt Whisky - 40%
Nose: Like I said above, incredibly sweet and toffee-influenced. Think strawberry sauce on top of toffee ice cream scattered with foam banana sweets and you get the picture. But don't take this as a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Underneath is a fruity note, full of fresh apricots, some hints of toasted malt and a waft of Cognac, which would totally make sense. It's different, pleasantly wacky and certainly a very innovative way to present the aromas of a whisky.
Palate: A big hit of creaminess first off, followed up by a gentle fruit sherbet note, a hint of tropical fruit and white chocolate. The wood has clearly given this a lot of very unusual influences and once again, traditionalists may scoff at the unusually sweet fruity flavours, but for those looking for something different, this might be it.
Finish: A hint of oiliness, some more sweet patisserie cream and a touch of liquorice.
Overall: A revelation. I really like this; not just for the fact that it is a small operation trying to do something different, but for the fact that from a flavour perspective, it offers so many possibilities to the non-whisky drinker. It would make a great spritzer, taken over ice, an Old Fashioned or be an unusual chilled shot- all aimed at dragging the harsh, unapproachable world of single malt whisky away from the bores and snobs and into the hands of new drinkers.
A solid starting point then. Next up on our mini world tour is another stopover in France with the distillerie Grallet-Dupic (aka La Maison de la Mirabelle.) As the name suggests, the distillery is more accustomed to distilling a number of Eaux de Vies - mirabelle, pear and plum. They have also begun to distil a whisky and the Whisky of Lorraine (not a lady's name but a place) is bottled as G.Rozelieures, named after the tiny village the distillery is situated in. Could this be essentially a 'Faux de Vie' or something much more...
G.Rozelieures - Rare Collection - French Single Malt Whisky - 40%
Nose: Youthful balsa wood notes arrive first, with some grapey/white wine notes, a touch of woody spice and slightly spirity note. It's fresh and very clean. Although this is 40%, it needs a little water to tame the spirity side. A few drops reveal a sweeter side, a touch of charred meat and icing sugar.
Palate: The icing sugar continues onto the palate, with a fresh woody note (pine) resonating through, into some juniper, fresh green herbs and a little olive oil. Vanilla rounds out the proceedings.
Finish: Short, with a clean, spirited note.
Overall: Not the most dynamic of world whiskies, but certainly unique. Given a little time in the glass, it develops a peppery, almost smoky note. A few more years in cask would probably do this a real favour and begin to develop some of the spice even further.
Over to South Africa and the James Sedgwick Distillery, run by the affable gent who is Mr Andy Watts. We first encountered their Three Ships single malt back in 2011 (a limited edition 10 year old) and from there on in, the distillery has risen to take multiple plaudits in the World Whisky Awards, with further praise going to the Bains Cape Mountain Grain whisky (one of our whiskies of the year last year.)
Three Ships main sail (sorry for the pun) whisky is a bourbon cask finished blend, (both grain and malt whisky) which is matured for 3 years and then finished for a further 6 months in first fill bourbon casks. It is now starting to reach these shores after demand has become greater, thanks in part to the distillery's award successes.
Three Ships - Bourbon Cask Finished Blended whisky - 43%
Nose: An initial mixture of honeycomb, some white flowers, a touch of vanilla and a clean, zesty grain note running right the way through. With a little water, the grain notes drift into the background and a malty richness develops.
Palate: A surprisingly fatty/oily mouthfeel, with rich vanilla, whipped sweetened cream and mango slices all arriving first. A more zesty fruitiness comes second with a return of the honeycomb. Water brings out more of a floral side to the blend.
Finish: Hints of lemon zest, a little vanilla ice cream and puffed wheat linger on the palate.
Overall: Another solid and well-rounded piece of whisky making from Andy and his team. I can picture a perfect drinking scene for this: looking out to sea from Camps Bay in Cape Town, as the sun descends for the evening. It may be a chilly January here in London, but in my head, i'm already there.