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Oppidan Smoke + Sea

MALT has the greatest readership in the world.

I’d say this anyway as a bit of unctuous flattery, but it’s actually true. Exhibit A: one of our fans reached out of her own accord to commend our recent expansion into mezcal. She helpfully provided a shopping list of brands and expressions that became the bedrock of my nascent mezcal collection and resulted in several reviews on this site.

That alone would have been enough to earn an enthusiastically raised glass and a hearty “slàinte mhòr” from me. However, she doubled down and shared with me a grab bag of samples from her collection. I’ve now got some more artisanal mezcal to review, as well as this Oppidan Smoke + Sea.

I’ve been meaning to get back around to reviewing more Oppidan after trying their Four Grain straight bourbon whiskey last year.

Tops on my list was their Solera Aged bourbon whiskey. For those of you unfamiliar with the Solera system, it entails regular emptying and re-filling of casks with new batches of whiskey. Some of the prior batch remains, resulting in the “fractional blending” of progressively older whiskies.

As mentioned in the prior review, Oppidan leads its peers in providing details about the precise mash bills and maturation processes of their whiskies. As a consequence, I can inform you that the Solera Aged bourbon whiskey is a 5-grain mash bill of corn, malted rye, chocolate malted rye, special B, and 2-row barley. Three different wood types are used in the solera: American oak, French oak, and Oloroso sherry casks. The latter two are never emptied completely.

A review of the Solera whiskey will have to wait for another day, but it bears description because it is a component of this Smoke + Sea blend. The Solera bourbon is mixed with the Four Grain straight bourbon, with the combination being finished in French Oak and peated Islay Scotch whisky barrels. The intent is to create a hybrid flavor profile, starting as bourbon but ending up with the smoky, maritime notes characteristic of Islay.

I could see this breaking either way. In any case, it’s an interesting bit of experimentation. Unlike Jefferson’s (also known for their maturation tricks), Oppidan actually distills its own whisky. It’s not doing this in a desperate bid to manufacture a unique selling proposition. Rather, founder and distiller Jeff Walsh is a legitimately creative sort, preoccupied with achieving an end product to suit his tastes. He’s earned the right to do what he wants with his distillate, and I’ll be tasting this whisky in that spirit.

Onto the review. The description is provided above, but for reference, this is Batch #1. It is bottled at 46% ABV. A 750 ml bottle of this runs about $40 at retail.

Oppidan Smoke + Sea – Review

Color: Sooty auburn

On the nose: Intermingled light smoke with bourbon sweetness. Smoked sausage and grilled corn on the cob, as well as a sterner mineral scent of limestone. A soft metallic note of pewter and some earthier aromas provide added complexity. Not so much sea here, though there is a faint salinity if I really sniff hard.

In the mouth: Starts quite mellow and flat. This is dominated by a metallic note of copper at the middle of the tongue. The back of the mouth is where this really comes together, evolving a juicily fruity flavor that harmonizes with some gently-integrated savory and smoky nuances, balanced against judicious and subtly creamy hints of vanilla. This fades into a dry, lingering note of ash and some ongoing dirty notes, characteristic of the house style of deeper cuts.

Conclusions

A successful experiment, in all. Particularly on the nose, there’s a deft tightrope walk between the meaty sweetness of the bourbon and the overlaid smokiness from the cask finishes which knit together seamlessly. The palate could have more heft, particularly at the front of the mouth, but the fullness of the favors on the back of the tongue save the day.

As with the Four Grain straight bourbon, there’s a quality to the underlying spirit that suggests a strong distilling competency on the part of Jeff and the Oppidan team. They’ve successfully integrated a challenging cask finish here, indicating equivalent skill on the blending side of the ledger. I continue to be encouraged by the quality of their output and remain interested in tracking Oppidan’s progress over time.

Sincere thanks to Beks for her generosity in providing this sample.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

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