Let’s not dance around it. Malt isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Nor, for that matter, am I. When people in whisky Twitter’s more apotheotic corners talk about “moon-howlers”, or “the darker corners of whisky communication” or “the haters” or [insert preferred remonstrative term here] they’re talking about us. And that’s their prerogative, and that’s fine.
A meaty chunk of this site is dedicated to pointing out what we see as the shortcomings of modern whisky. The corners cut. The fermentations shortened. The casks more-travelled. The marketing that ignores all of this and says that whisky drinkers have never had it better. But pointing that out isn’t a two-fingered salute of loathing. It is the opposite.
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. What they don’t say breeds contempt is indifference. It takes a special sort of oddball to chisel a hunk of emotion from fermentation lengths or barley strains or distillation speeds or frequency of barrel-fills. The main reason I don’t talk much about whisky outside this site to more than a very small handful of family and friends is that most of them wouldn’t have a clue what I was on about, and those who vaguely did wouldn’t care.
Alain de Botton once posited that the real optimists are the folk who rage and blast when something goes awry. That the people who most sincerely expect something to be great – who believe that it will, it can, it should – are the people most deflated when it isn’t.
An interesting exercise, which I recommend with due caution and caveat, is to take a trip back in digital time to the first posts written by Mark and Jason. (And even me – though good luck finding mine.) They’re shorter, sunnier, softer-edged. More tasting note than preamble. More the fan, perhaps, than the critic.
The thing is – and this is the drawn battle line of whisky twitter, the divide between the perceived “everything is awesome” and “everything is dreadful” camps – the longer you’re mired in whisky, the more you look under the rock, the more the pities and peccadilloes are thrown into sharp relief. It is a fact that barley is chosen based on efficiency, not on taste. It is a fact that distilleries have moved from longer fermentation times to shorter ones that are less conducive to the creation of flavour. It is a fact that distillation has been sped up. It is a fact that casks are being re-used more often. It is a fact that non-age-statement bottlings are often a stock-managing necessity, rather than a specifically-desired choice. It is a fact that “sherry casks” are, more often than not, simply new oak rinsed through with never-to-be-real-sherry plonk. It is a fact that all of these decisions have been made through understandable commercial necessity and it is a fact that it is to the detriment of the ultimate flavour of the whisky.
Are wonderful whiskies still being made by distilleries who have made some or all of these decisions? Yes. Absolutely. Just spool through the several-thousand reviews on this site. Would they be better if the decisions made by those distilleries had been driven by flavour rather than by efficiency? Of course they would. This is the point at which detractors whine “but everyone’s palate is different”. Fine. But we’re not arguing the toss over the subjective here. We’re pointing out undercooked food. And if we’re to style ourselves critics on Malt – which I suspect my colleagues do – it would be a dereliction of responsibility not to. You wouldn’t excuse being served raw chicken on the grounds of being a Nando’s enthusiast.
That’s not, incidentally, to set critics up as holistic and virtuous guardians of truth and honesty (which, between ourselves, I think a fair few critics do and are far too up-themselves about it). But the whole point of criticism in any genre is to take your subject apart; to examine what it is and why through the prisms of your own experience and opinion. AA Gill described it as “like being able to unbake a cake”. It’s not about saying “whoopee” to everything or – just as dangerous – pitching your tent solely as a hatchet-job merchant; dishing out excessively low scores and condemnation just to please the mob and kid yourself that it proves impartial authority.
More happily, the flip-side responsibility of whisky criticism is to highlight the distilleries whose decisions are driven by flavour, rather than yield. And London’s Bimber is, I think, just such a place. Which is why they are my favourite new outfit since Cotswolds opened and why – full disclosure – I recently flung my money at joining their Founder’s Club.
I didn’t fling my money at this bottle though; it arrived entirely unexpectedly in my pigeon hole at work the day after the bottling was officially announced. And a sister bottle arrived at Mark’s gaff the same day, so yes, you have two sets of notes, and yes they’re both based on freebies. Mark wrote an excellent piece on this sort of thing here, which I won’t add to except to say that if, after however many years, you still think that good reviews on Malt can be bought, you possibly haven’t been paying a great deal of attention.
Anyhow, it’s the second release from Bimber and has matured entirely in re-charred American oak casks. I tasted a sample of this maturing spirit when I visited the distillery a few months back. My notes on that one are here, along with the full-fat rundown of all their production techniques and extra miles. Mark and I were much enamoured of their First Release and I have been mightily excited to try this one. If I hadn’t been sent a bottle I’d have bought one anyway, but I suppose you’ll have to take my word for that. Unlike the sample I previously tried this is a vatting of casks, with 5,000 bottles filled at 51.9% for £65 a go.
Bimber Re-Charred Oak Casks – Adam’s Review
On the nose: Plump, ripe, beguiling fruits are the stars. Peaches, red berries and orange blossom. Beside that is more of the cask; black pepper, nougat, caramel and peanuts. It’s complex stuff – I find myself writing ‘charming’ a lot. And it shows off the Bimber DNA more clearly than the first release.
In the mouth: Bimber’s texture is their ace-in-the-hole – it glides across your palate like treacle scored with vivacious freshness. More red fruits here, white chocolate, fudge, chopped nuts and strawberry jam. Fresh vanilla, caramel and a touch of nutmeggy spice. Stupidly well-defined flavours and stupidly easy to drink too. Rye fans, book your tickets now.
Drinks wonks like me – and quite possibly you – often get so hung up on whether a drink is “interesting” or “different” that we ignore the elephant in the room… would a normal drinker actually like this? Quite often I try phenomenal whiskies that, for reasons of strength or nicheness of flavour, friends wouldn’t go near.
The strength of this Bimber is that it manages the often-impossible double act of being interesting and complex and intense enough for long-in-the-tooth whisky nerds, whilst approachable and pleasant and downright drinkable (no apologies for that word) enough for me to pour with confidence for any friend that might visit. Though they’d have to be a very good friend.
Very far removed from the first Bimber, and yet there is a recognisable character showing through in both. I’ve said before that I ranked them only behind Cotswolds in the English distillery pantheon. But if their next release is as good as their first two, I may have to reconsider. What an utterly excellent place.
Bimber Re-Charred Oak Casks – Mark’s Review
On the nose: intensely oily – sunflower oil, olive oil – and full of dried apricots; a pleasing harmony of the savoury and sweet. Warm golden syrup sponge cake with a streak of raspberry jam. Hints of ginger, but then the savoury returns: bay leaves, thyme. Earthy before the sweeter notes of fudge shop and orange marmalade.
In the mouth: texture! This is so important. None of that watery, hastily made spirit – this is tongue-suffocatingly thick. Again the pleasing duo – balance – of sweet fruitiness and savoury umami, almost industrial quality. Hints of cinnamon, a little Chinese Five Spice. Seville Orange here, drifting into pink grapefruit, but the meat of this really is milk chocolate and caramel.
I will say it until I am blue in the face: making good spirit is the most important thing of all. Long fermentation, slow distillation, all expensive, all time-consuming, before it goes into very good wood (not finished off to flog a dead horse of a spirit, but from the beginning). Just good, honest whisky-making. And I would happily sip this toddler of a whisky than any of the grown-ups coming out of Scotland. £65 is about what you’d expect to pay for an excellent spirit like this. More please.
Photograph kindly provided by John Watkinson.
Please send some of that good stuff down our way.
I must say, after years of thinking the same thing about Australian whisky it’s nice to finally have a few English expressions that you guys can be jealous of!
Surely something can be worked out here …
Thanks very much for reading!
I’m hoping my bottle arrives this week. I can’t wait!
Let us know what you think when it does! If you’re disappointed I’ll eat my hat. (Or someone else’s, as I don’t have one.)
Thanks for reading
After reading the post and reviews, I am getting even more excited about Bimber. Especially after the favourable comparison to Cotswolds which is a favourite of mine. (Will you be reviewing the peated anytime soon?) I was able to taste various samples at the Whiskybase gathering including ‘The First’ (which I sadly failed to order in time). I too have a Founder’s Club membership and the new release is on order. (I wonder if it is too late to add another bottle?) I also signed up for bottles from two privately held casks. Can’t wait.
Yes, plenty to get excited about from Bimber at the moment.
Cotswolds peated cask is right at the top of my “to buy” list, and I’d definitely cover it if fellow fan Mark didn’t beat me to the punch. I’m currently on a bottle embargo as I’m in the process of moving house, but I suspect it’ll be my first purchase once the embargo is lifted!
Thanks very much for reading
fyi – it wasn’t too late to get the second bottle 🙂
Good luck with the move. Perhaps it is a good time to finish a few of those bottles. Less to pack.
You bloody lucky wankers. Bimber this. Bimber that. I can’t wait to get some stocks in the Philippines.
I think the “everyone’s palate is different” answer is bullocks. It pretty much cuts off any interesting discussion if there is any to be had with some people at all. It seems dismissive and makes things more boring.
More people care about what they eat today. But why can’t more people care about what they’re drinking?
Don’t forget Bimber the other!
People should absolutely drink whatever they like and whatever tastes best to them. And everyone’s palate is different … but that’s not really germane to the discussion of criticism.
To steal an analogy from the Mark vs Taylor single grain articles, there’s nothing wrong with smashing down a big mac – but there is something wrong with pretending that the same care and craft went into its creation as something that a long-trained chef has spent time painstakingly putting together.
Thanks for reading by the way – really enjoying your articles.
After having a try of their new make at the Whisky Show last year and being really impressed with what they were doing they were one of the first stands I hit up this year. This time round I got to try their first release, this one and what they said was basically a work in progress of what their main release.
I was again, massively impressed by what they’re doing. I did kick myself a bit for entirely missing the first release (though when I saw how much it cost I was a fair bit less bothered), so I made sure that I didn’t miss out on this one. As you say, I think the key is the quality of the base spirit that they produce – flavourful, with a rich oily mouthfeel but little harshness. The result seems to be that while we’re getting whisky that’s bottled and released almost as soon as it qualifies as such, I never got the feeling that any of their stuff is rushed out the door.
Last years Whisky Show was my lightbulb moment too! (Though I think I’d tasted their stuff before.)
I had a bit of a rant about their pricing strategy at the time, which current MD Farid has overhauled since coming on board.
Completely agree that it’s all about how good their base spirit is … as well as the quality of oak they’re putting it into. Think Mark’s conclusion sums it up perfectly really.
Thanks for reading!
I’m assuming this is a great article but I can’t read.
Just keep assuming. It’s better that way …
Big love to Will.
My partner just spent near 200 euros for a bottle this man likes his whiskey but only every so often I’m wondering how much it is,is it double treble or single distilled I found the information confusing(I’m not the most clever of people)It looks like a good Xmas pressie
This one is double distilled. There are a few triple-distilled whiskies out there, mostly (but not exclusively) Irish. But most of the single malts you’ll find are double-distilled.
Hope that helps – thanks for reading!
Another great read followed by a very tempting review. I’m trying to keep away from the new breed of English whisky for blindly nationalist reasons. You’ll be producing Irn Bru next. However this sounds right up my street.
When I get in tonight I’ll console myself with some South Africa Brandy.
Sometimes it seems like big whisky makers are hell-bent on arguing that half of what they do (or rather could do) doesn’t matter. The water doesn’t matter, the barley doesn’t matter, the yeast doesn’t matter, the fermentation doesn’t matter, where it’s aged doesn’t matter, the age itself doesn’t matter.
This weekend I heard a “brand ambassador” trot out the line that 80% of the flavor comes from the wood. I swear if they could they’d soak wood chips in vodka and call it scotch.
I do feel for people who have to trot out an enforced party line. I think brand ambassadors do an exhausting, vital and often thankless and over-criticised role, but yes, I’ve heard quite a lot of scripted guff given to customers who don’t necessarily know the truth, and it’s hard to bite my lip. Particularly, as you say, when the ‘this doesn’t matter’ rears it’s head.
Hopefully sites like this go some way to redressing their balance.
Cheers for reading and taking the time to comment.
Exactly what you said. The moments I learned more about the effects of distillation, fermentation and raw material is when I saw through the illusions of the whisky industry.
Casks and aging are just marketed more because of the convenience. It made me ask myself whether the info most brands are giving out are education or propaganda
Oh man, Tom – Brand Ambassadors – What is there left to say? Some good people but they have a job to to do. Expect nothing.
£65 for a 3 year old seems like a p***-take to me.
Thanks for reading. I sort of sympathise with that perspective – certainly for spirits that have had all the cut corners suggested above.
What I’d say though – and Mark’s covered this pretty thoroughly in several articles, most recently the Bimber First Release – the costs that have gone into all the extra-effort processes of this, or Cotswolds etc are far more expensive than the costs incurred by knocking out some quick as you like spirit and dumping it into knackered casks.
Also, most fundamentally, I’d stick this blind against the vast majority of whiskies of or below its price and be confident the Bimber would smash them. In fact I have. Several times. I’d particularly stick it against the mealy, measly majority of drab 4th-fill indies that are so common these days but tend to sell off the back of a largely irrelevant age statement.
I guess the only thing I can do is say try a glass of this if you get the chance. I think it’s comfortably worth the entry fee.
Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.
But if that 3 year old is better than a 15 year old? a 20 year old?
The process in Bimber at least seems like an interesting experiment. An owner who seems hellbent on doing things properly and cutting no corners. Of course that’s more expensive but it sounds like it’s got these guys interested and they seem happy with the outcome. My bottles been on order for a few days and I’m excited to see. I did draw the line at their inaugural release though which seemed more of a collector/flipper piece.
I would chose a drink like cotswolds (which is also a young age) far above many of the traditional brand higher ages for the same price.
I think the age-statement vs NAS argument is in need of overhauling … or at least in need of a quite large asterisk putting next to it.
I completely agree (as written in the review) that dozens and dozens of often-mediocre NAS Scotch and Japanese whiskies were put out in place of age statements simply to ease pressures on stocks. But I don’t think you can compare those NAS whiskies to the likes of Cotswolds, Bimber, Smogen, Chichibu etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love a well-aged, complex, developed old whisky – so long as production and cask have been up to scratch – but what excites me about distilleries like Bimber is how much quality, complexity and flavour they put in even before it goes into wood. And, as I say, I’d stick this one against pretty much anything up to six times its age more than confident that the Bimber would be every bit as good if not better.
I think, in short, that this is the sort of whisky born of, and reflecting, the new age of information and interest and purpose and care. It’s whisky made to the sole end of making a single malt as well as can possibly be done. And that shows in the tasting. And that makes it my sort of whisky.
Cheers for reading and taking the time to comment.
Thanks for the reply. When I’ve mentioned about this and other whiskies that are expensive for a young whisky I usually come up against the same argument. That a young spirit that has been well made and put into good casks for albeit a relatively short time span is better than a mediocre spirit put into tired casks for over a decade.
It’s an argument I wholeheartedly agree with . But it’s not the argument I’m making. For the price of this Bimber you can buy some whiskies that are good spirits put into good casks for a significantly longer maturation than the Bimber. Whiskies from the likes of Glenallachie, Glendronach, Springbank, Benromach etc.
I’ve always been of the general opinion that when you get a new company selling anything in a competitive market when they start out they sell their product at a very competitive price to draw customers in and build a customer base. £65 doesn’t represent a massive outlay for a bottle nowadays but it is a step up from the usual £35-45 most companies charge for their entry level whisky. I don’t go to whisky shows etc so have never tried Bimber stuck with a choice of paying £65 for their 3 year old or the same cash for a bottle I know I’ll enjoy like a Springbank 12 CS, Glendronach 15 I’m not going to go for the Bimber. If they’d have put it out at say £40 I would probably have had a punt. I might have become a Bimber fan. But I’m not going to go in blind and pay that for a bottle. All the comparisons to Cotswolds are putting me off a bit as well as I’ve had a few samples of their whiskies from friends and found them decent but a bit over hyped.
Regards the NAS vs Age statement argument. I think the industry is guilty of wanting to have it’s cake and eat it.
On the one hand age is just a number so pay a premium for this whisky that we’re not going to tell you how old it is. Age means good look how old this whisky is pay a premium for it.
It’s disingenuous and leads to customers not trusting the information the industry gives to them.
Just in case you return to your comment:
My bottle has arrived. In my opinion, it is good and worth the £65 outlay (even if it’s only to have once before returning to springbanks/glendronachs).
With the rising springbank prices, particularly the cask strengths, this may be one to try for the future.
Lovely article followed by a tempting review. I’ve tried to stay away from the new breed English whiskies from blindly nationalistic reasons. You’ll be manufacturing Irn Bru next! This however sounds delicious and I’ll look out for Bimber in the future.
In the meantime I’ll console myself with some South Africa Brandy
Hi Graham – so sorry for the delay getting back to you. Thanks ever so much for reading and taking the time to comment.
Ha – I think that’s understandable. But if you can bite your lip against the scandal of English whisky I’d definitely recommend giving Bimber a go. (And Lakes and Cotswolds.)
Promise we’ll not do anything with Irn Bru though …
Wow, Adam, so many comment’s. I hope you’ll excuse one extra. Firstly, very fine review as always. I held off commenting until I got my bottles (one to open and one for a rainy day and my pleasure – I don’t flip) and drank some of it. My first impressions are very positive. Bottle and packaging are first rate but what’s the juice like. Very attractive nose and dangerously quaffable is the answer. Those that like quality ex-bourbon need not hesitate. Quality mouth-feel and no flaws on the palate. In a blind taste you would never guess the age because this tastes older than its years. More precisely, there’s some seriously good whisky making going on here because it’s young but shows us that young whisky can be excellent. Quality distillate and uncompromising barrel selection and the skill to prepare those barrels. I have no problem with the price because it’s excellent and start up costs must be astronomical. Angus gave the Bimber 89 on Whisky Fun and I think that’s where I’m at too. Cheers Adam. WT
Hi WT – and sorry for the delay getting back to you!
Yes, I was shocked at how much response this article’s had. Clearly Bimber’s causing something of a buzz.
Absolutely – so impressed with the quality all the way through, from the grain crushing to the cask selection. And it stands up against anything at the price. Looking forward to following the distillery as their stocks age. Think we’re in for some good stuff.
Cheers as ever for reading and feeding back
I was finally able to procure a bottle of this in Finland (via auction) and all in all we paid for this roughly 100£ with a friend. Sampled it yesterday and I have to say a mouth-watering whisky we have here! I’ve been following Bimber for a while now and it did not disappoint in the end. I also quite like their way of doing and can’t wait for more to come!
Furthermore, this release reminded me of Kyrö Distillery Company’s rye whiskys. I would imagine if Kyrö made a single malt from barley, it would taste similar to this.
I also noticed yesterday that Bimber launched four distillery exclusives so if any of you pop by their distillery and would like to make a Finnish man very happy, I am willing to pay for any of the new bottles!
Keep on doing what you’re doing and all the best.
Cheers from Finland,