In all honesty, I had to look up where Nantucket was on the map when given a sample of this single malt. It was a name that rang a distant bell and given time for thought, the link was with its association with whaling – being a fan of Herman Melville’s 1851 classic Moby Dick text, as well as the Led Zeppelin song. This island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod seems an unlikely place for a distillery.
Nantucket like so many coastal outposts has had to change with the times as its staple industry withered and retreated into the history books. Spending time in the North East of England as a child, you could see and feel the decay from the coal mines as they closed for good and the illustrious shipyards along the Tyne. One-by-one replaced by more efficient and cheaper builders outside of the UK. Yes, it’s economics and business, but for those left behind it represents a cataclysmic change as the structure of the town and its people begins to change.
Nantucket was originally an English settlement with a natural harbour and immediate access to the greater oceans and currents. This included the abundant sea life and for nearly 2 centuries the whaling vessels that journeyed across the continents often called this small island home. When the decline docked at Nantucket, it did so propelled by a devastating fire in 1846, that left little. The harbour was no longer fit for purpose as whaling vessels grew in size and its remote location that once offered opportunity was now a barrier for commerce. What little infrastructure that did survive was destroyed by the American Civil War. It’s marvellous where whisky takes us and what we can write about here at Malt.
The Triple Eight distillery has its roots in an early 1980’s winery that failed to deliver a viable local crop initially. Working together with Cisco Brewers in 1997, the distillery was founded but it took the local law agencies a couple of years to grant the necessary license to distil spirit. The name comes from the Nantucket well that acts as their water source with its identification number being #888. The name of their whisky is inspired by the fact it isn’t Scotch making it er notch? Also produced onsite are vodka, gin, rum, bourbon and spirit liqueurs. However, we’re only here for the Notch.
The distillery is going strong thanks partially due to Nantucket’s tourism trade. This particular sample comes from a friend who headed out East to the island – being a Scotsman – wanted to check out their local whisky. Entering a local bar where the spirit and beers are flowing. Interaction with a barman immediately prompted the comment I know what we’re doing here brother and a short sermon and tasting of their regional offering was delivered. Apparently the climate on the island is similar to the Scottish coast with the emphasis on cold, misty days (Polar Maritime) with a couple of months of sunshine (Tropical Maritime). I’m quoting here as in Scotland we don’t have a couple of months of sunshine. Maybe a couple of days at best. Although its this brief spurt of warmth that provides maturing stock with a wee boost. Apparently, if you were to visit a bar on Nantucket – and why wouldn’t you? – a dram of the 10 year old Notch would set you back $35 and the 12 a mighty $55. The winner was the decade old offering which is what we have here to review.
Maris Otter barley forms the basis of the Notch and eventually reaches a Arnold Holstein copper still. A variety of casks are utilised including those from their own bourbon but also familiar names such as Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Heaven Hill, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, before being finished in French ex-Merlot barrels. The bottle we have here was distilled in 2001 before being bottled in 2011, utilising cask numbers 009-025 and bottled at 46% strength. With limited distribution its a difficult whisky to acquire so I appreciate the opportunity and possibly must make the trip to Nantucket myself one day.
The Notch Single Malt Whisky – review
On the nose: arrival of sour apples, icing sugar and some vanilla pod. A twist of lime and a waxiness with a touch of salt. Interesting. Less American and more single malt certainly. It’s light with juicy pears and barley drops, lemon and white chocolate towards the end.
In the mouth: pleasant and inoffensive. A little alcohol on the fringes. More of the citrus elements and shortbread. Fudge brings sweetness alongside caramel bananas and sugar cubes. The fruits are more restrained on the palate and a short vanilla finish brings us to the conclusion.
An enjoyable and drinkable whisky. Not the world beater that Jim Murray would have you believe. However, there is promise and it’s heading in the right direction with more time. Not worth $35 a nip either! Meanwhile, where’s that Led Zeppelin record…
Thanks to Aeneas for the sample, photographs and bar story. The Moby Dick is a commission link if you haven’t read the book yet – what are you waiting for?