We all have a healthy thirst for whisky, and for a minority, an unhealthy desire that takes some quenching. But I’m not perched on my moral high chair like Mark recently adopted, as there comes a time when you have to make a choice. Let’s talk a little about that decision before jumping into our debut review from New Liberty distillery.
You can continue with the whiskies you know and live in relative bliss, feasting on the stories from brand ambassadors, safe in the obscurity of comfort and reasonable happiness. Others may decide to broaden their horizons and reach out beyond the void. Many take a tortoise approach and steadily chip away at new whiskies. Others go a little gung-ho and try to do too much too soon. After all, we all have a limited shelf-life, and the clock is ticking.
The fact that you’ve landed here shows that you’re already on your way to something new. Knowledge is everything, as is the experience of gaining such insight. Whisky, or whiskey, is very much a continuous journey of exploration and appreciation. Like today, I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with new distilleries such as this Bloody Butcher from Philadelphia’s New Liberty Distillery.
A handful of distilleries are choosing to go local and support nearby farmers, with New Liberty sourcing corn from the Castle Valley Mill situated just 25 miles away. This corn forms a proportion of the Bloody Butcher recipe alongside barley and malted rye sourced from Deer Creek Malthouse, which was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania since Prohibition. Using traditional techniques their website is well worth a few moments of your time.
New Liberty distillery was established in a former stable situated in Kensington, Philadelphia. This three-story building is over a century old and offers the team the flexibility of distillery production, a rickhouse and tasting room. Founded by Robert Cassell after leaving Philadelphia distilling in 2014, the team have slowly laid down stock to support their own whiskey.
Meanwhile, the Bloody Butcher takes its name from the corn that fell into obscurity due to its low yield. This corn is an heirloom type dating back to the 1840s, and its dark reddish-brown appearance inspired the name. I could link here to a YouTube video all about the corn itself and how to grow it, but we’re not a farming website or Waterford. Instead, we’re here for the whiskey, and of course always; the whisky.
Yet as I begin to upgrade my gerbils’ pipette to a slightly larger American model, I’m reminded of the similarities between the interesting distilleries involved in Scotch and whisky: the ones that are, in essence, going back to the roots of distilling, and don’t want to produce on a vast scale or fit into the most comfortable and popular niche of the market. In simple terms, they are “following their hearts” by producing a whisky that they are proud to call their own.
I recently debated in my Balvenie Single Cask review, what is craft? If we believe that Speyside brand, then it is the human element that adorns their marketing, rather than the vast industrial output they are achieving. Craft isn’t merely a skill, size or the deployment of knowledge. It is far more than a hands-on ethic. It is a whisky that represents the identity of those involved and a stubborn belief that they are doing things the right way. Whilst New Liberty is an unknown quantity, there is always the hope and expectation of finding something special. That is the light at the end of the tunnel that any whisky journey promises and leads us on.
The fact that they’ve gone to the trouble to source a local grain is reassuring and damn right interesting. Regulars will know our views on this basic ingredient and the role it can have in providing flavour. If the vast distilleries of this world are focused on yield at the expense of flavour, then adopt a shorter fermentation period, the outcome will be a lesser whisky than it could have been. The Scottish whisky landscape is becoming littered with average or benign whiskies, and there may possibly be similarities across the Atlantic?
Bottled at 47.5%, the Bloody Butcher has been aged for 9 months in newly charred American oak barrels—a relative youngster that would dissuade many from picking up a bottle. I have to thank Jessica from The Academy Drinks for providing me with a sample of what I hope is an interesting whiskey. Here’s to new discoveries and sharing with friends.
New Liberty Bloody Butcher – review
Colour: a golden sunset.
On the nose: caramel followed by a cinnamon croissant and a gentle sense of sweetness. A warmed apple strudel with that intoxicating mix of pastry, stewed apple and a light dusting of icing sugar. A toasted vanilla with a light cherry menthol vibe followed by red liquorice and the inviting presence of sage. There’s a little varnish that’ll impress Rose and a decent fresh scraping of nutmeg.
In the mouth: there’s an interesting texture initially that promises more of a robust mouthfeel in the future, but not fully formed as of yet. There is a touch of hotness towards the finish that betrays the age of the whiskey, but prior to this, there’s cherry wood, milk chocolate, a berry tea, and a strong wood influence.
I wasn’t expecting too much here, given the age of this whiskey; however, it goes to show you that age isn’t everything. I know Tony69, my bourbon dealer, will rarely have a whiskey under four years old. Perhaps he has problems? Okay, I know he has problems, but clearly one is that age isn’t the “be all end all.” The way I try to think about it is, what are the variables? Would a skilled distiller be able to produce something worthwhile in a shorter time period than, say, a distiller following the manual or computer programme handed down by headquarters? The answer in my mind is clearly yes.
So, while I’m not going to say run out and buy this, or that it’s excellent, I am happy to state that there are the beginnings of something worth following here. Consider it a work in progress; and for Scotch fans, we all know how the Kilkerran turned out in the end.
Lead image kindly provided by Philly.com.