The Cotswolds distillery has had a lot of publicity in the last couple of months, and rightly so. They’ve successfully launched their first single malt, and very tasty it is too. No corners cut, lots of distinctive character to the spirit, and the people who make it are lovely. Good news all-round.
But amidst all the fanfare, another English whisky was quietly launched; one that, to my mind, represents an even greater leap for the English whisky industry. I’m talking about Adnams Rye Whisky; launched about a fortnight after The Cotswolds bottled their inaugural malt.
I’ve a soft spot for Adnams as a place. Not just because they’re a dropped ‘n’ away from having an absolutely first-rate name. I visited them in Southwold in the days I wrote my own blog, and whilst I thought their malt was only ok, it struck me that they were doing things genuinely differently; treading their own path rather than just sniffing which way the wind was blowing, and presenting their own facsimile of a Scotch. And – again – the people who work there are absolutely lovely.
It’s a brewery first and foremost, of course. I rather like that. Tells me the people there care about the grains, and about the ferment. You can say the same thing about East Anglia’s other whisky distillery, with its Greene King alumnus, David Fitt, in the hotseat. A good wash is the first step on the way to a good spirit. And it’d be nice if more distilleries cared more overtly about that step.
Being a brewery, Adnams aren’t only interested in malted barley. They’ve a Triple Malt expression, also featuring wheat and oats, and as of a couple of months back they have today’s Rye Malt too.
It isn’t England’s first modern-era rye whisky; the English Whisky Co beat them to that punch with the ‘Norfolk – Malt’n’Rye’ expression, but reading about this Adnams struck more of a chord with me for two reasons.
Firstly, they give the mashbill. 75% rye, 25% malted barley. Secondly, it’s entirely matured in virgin oak. French, as it happens – intriguing, since this suggests a marriage of the driest, spiciest grain with the driest, spiciest sort of oak. So, whilst they’ve sourced their wood from a different place, all the evidence suggests that they’ve not looked to Scotland for their inspiration, but to America.
My curiosity was piqued, and I ordered a bottle straight away. It cost £45, is aged for “over five years” and is bottled at 47% ABV. I’ve tasted it a few times since, and shared it both with fellow rye fanatics in the British Bourbon Society, and with the bourbon writer Michael Veach. And here (nearly two months late – apologies!) are my thoughts.
Adnams Rye Malt – Review
Colour: New penny.
On the nose: Lots of upfront spice, both dry and sweet. Nutmeg and clove jostle with cinnamon and cracked black pepper. The dominant note knitting everything together is dried orange peel. Whole thing feels like a mulled wine spice bag (sans wine) with a touch of juniper and ginseng on the side. Rye toast too. Don’t need to put your nose very near the glass to get a strong whiff of it, either.
In the mouth: Palate picks up where the nose left off. Enough weight of alcohol and malted barley for a pleasant viscosity, and the sweet-dry balance of the spice is just right. The whole thing is very lifted in its flavour; perhaps too lifted – the spices are so heavily dominant that there doesn’t seem to be too much depth. The wood is also a smidge overt. As it fades away there’s some drying coffee on the finish.
Well now. Not like anything I’ve had before. The mashbill sits somewhere between the high-corn Kentucky style, and the super-high-rye mashbills of MGPI, Alberta, and the vast majority of rye-producing craft operations. The wood style, however, sits very much in a bracket of its own, and the result – for me – is mixed.
On the one hand, it’s big, it’s gutsy, and it makes a statement. Michael Veach liked it, and so did everyone I poured it for. And you know what? I like it too.
I do think the French oak needs a spot of taming though. I think a vatting with some American oak – either virgin or refill bourbon – would round out the sharpness and add a pleasing bit of bass. Heck, there’s even room to experiment with sherry influences, à la Dark Batch. As a first step, I think it’s a very good one. And I applaud its uniqueness wholeheartedly. I love that they’ve quietly been properly innovative, without being too wanky about it.
My favourite Adnams so far, without doubt. I’ll be watching them as keenly as I watch the Cotswolds. Exciting things happening on the English whisky scene. And pleasingly diverse things too.
… but knocking on the door of a 7. As ever, see our scoring bands for translation!