A care package from London arrived for me mid-February. Inside were two sample bottles of Bimber and a Daftmill. As soon as I saw the Bimber samples I mentally shouted BIIIMBEEEEERRRR similar to how lumberjacks stereotypically shout timber. I was very happy. I thought to myself I shall finally get to try a whisky that a few of my fellow Malt writers have been raving about since last year. Thankfully, Adam already geeked out on Bimber with this informative article.
A lot of new distilleries and brands coming out today are a result of the spirits boom. After sourcing spirits became more difficult, people started making their own. Of course, a distillery which is a business opens to make money. But how passionate and/or knowledgeable, or fast, and how much they make are often the variants between new distilleries. Those in it for the money and not the passion, for me, fall into the 90% of Sturgeon’s law. While those in it for the intrinsic value and passion fall into the other 10%.
Most of you will be sick of this viewpoint by now but I have to say it. The misconception that casks and aging are magic bullets for making any spirit better is utter nonsense. Yes, casks and aging can improve a spirit but they can only do so much.
Many less discerning, or less educated consumers, can be tricked into focusing on a product’s more glamorous aspects like premium packaging or eye-catching terms. Just like a whisky aged in tired ex-bourbon, finished in seasoned ex-sherry casks, realistically cannot be expected to be good, one cannot and must not expect a soup, or a stew, to be good just because truffles or foie gras were put in there as the finishing touch.
If one wants to produce an intrinsically great product, the time and effort must be put into every process. The Wire is considered the greatest tv show ever because every season was great. All the parts made sense and had continuity. The producers didn’t just invest in one or two very memorable seasons. A great soup or stew starts with great stock. Great stock starts with patience and great ingredients. Great stock cannot be rushed. It has to be cooked in low heat for hours. Putting the heat in high blast for the sake of making it will not bring out the full potential of the flavors. This sounds like the fermentation of most distilleries today, no?
Single farm grain seems like a commitment to quality. Sure, other farms may also grow the same kind of barley. But are their quality really the same? A lot of us tend to forget that farming isn’t simply just planting, watering and waiting. Tending to the soil during and after harvest also plays its part. Also, it means Bimber isn’t just going to look for the cheapest source of barley for the sake of corporate efficiency.
Seven days fermentation?* This is the first time I’ve heard of a barley mash being fermented that long. This surely doesn’t sound like the yeasts chosen by big brands for quick fermentation yielding a mash with higher abv to yield more distillate. Long fermentation time immediately screams care and love to me. Because longer fermentation means more esters and that means more flavor.
I was also happy to read, that they’re using direct fire Portuguese alembic stills. Alembic stills always make me think of the pot stills used by Cognac distillers. Pot stills are really the stills to have if the distiller wants to leave his imprint on the distillate. It also just retains more flavor.
I love direct flame stills. If you’re a fan of Springbank, I hear they still distill via direct flame via some sort of flamethrower contraption. There is no direct study or proof that direct flame distillation makes a better spirit. But I once heard Cognac distilleries were asked by the French government to distill using steam. They said the distillate was shite and immediately switched back to direct fire stills. If it ain’t broke it doesn’t need fixing right? The Maillard Reaction could also be an explanation.
I’m not going to cover the First Release anymore as other Malt writers already covered it here.
I’d like to thank Shiv Joshi @ssj99 from the London Whisky Club (LWC) for the generous samples and pictures. The LWC Inaugural 3-year-old release is from cask # 33 and was aged in a virgin American white oak cask. It was filled with new make batch # 9. The batches were distilled from July 11, 2016, to July 15 2016. Then the cask was filled on July 17 2016. The whisky was bottled on Dec 2 2019. Interesting, as they let the new make rest for 2 days before aging it. I’m curious what the effects on the distillate will be. The LWC was able to acquire 51 bottles available only for members.
Bimber The First – review
On the nose: Surprisingly mellow for the abv and being a 3 year old. There’s still the burn but I’ve had older whisky with the same abv that burns more. I get dry scents of dark cacao, hints of anise, red gummy candy, cherry juice concentrate, classic PX sherry raisins and cough syrup character and coffee. NO SULFUR.
In the mouth: This does not have the burn of a 54.2% abv spirit. Different shades of cherry-like cherry chocolate, cherry flavored gummy/jelly and cherry juice concentrate. Raisins, honey, dates, figs, chocolate raisins and coffee.
Can all modern ex-sherry wood influenced spirits be like this? I love that there aren’t any sulfur notes in here. How is a new and small distilleries’ wood management program so much more appealing than the multinational companies’ programs? I very much appreciate that the cask influence isn’t overpowering. The five casks chosen let the distillery DNA strut. My only complaint is the lack of texture and length in finish. I expected an oilier and richer texture for the abv.
Bimber “The London Whisky Club Inaugural” – review
On the nose: Initially, there was a very strong ethanol burn which just overpowers every other scent. But letting this breathe more really mellowed it down and let the fruity and floral notes shine more. I get hints of cacao, dates, honey then hints of pears and apples, vanilla, strawberries, caramel and barley husk.
In the mouth: An initial mix of coffee, vanilla, honey and asparagus. Barley husk, dates, fuji apples, hints of pears and hints of cacao. Some more hints of dates, honey, nuts and caramel. There’s a slight sweet vegetal note that reminds me of stir-fried leafy vegetables followed by leather and dusty wooden furniture.
This is very surprising a whisky. I was expecting more oak. Where’s the oak? This tastes more like a 2nd fill ex-bourbon single malt. I’ve had more bourbon-y single malt aged in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks. I expected this to be more like the Glenmorangie Ealanta which was more wood forward and sweet. But instead, this is balanced.
Are 3 years, too short a time for the whisky to soak in the cask influence? Or does Bimber’s long fermentation make the new distillate balance out with the cask influence?
Either way, this is an interestingly good whisky. The nose needs a lot of time to settle down and express itself more properly. It was just too feisty despite letting this breath in the glass for an hour. Letting this sit for an hour let out the more vegetal notes. It wasn’t there when I drank this 15 to 20 minutes after pouring in the glass.
Also, like the 1st release, this was lacking in the finish and texture. I was hoping for an oilier mouthfeel but it feels like it’s chill-filtered.
Thankfully, Bimber seems like it’s not in the game just to make whisky and ultimately money. They seem to really care about what they’re making. Sure, the First Release cost £120 and the Recharred costs £65. Based on the reviews, Bimber’s whisky is better than many older and more reputable brands in the market.
Thanks again to Shiv for the samples. I look forward to trying future releases from Bimber.
*Dornoch Distillery has done a 22-day fermentation and generally does 14 days.
I have to say I view distilleries like Bimber with a massive amount of scepticism. All this talk of they’ve used this type of washback and such and such still just seems like flannel designed to impress people who wouldn’t know any different anyway (I include myself in that category) whenever I hear that dirt if talk I think ‘you’re saying this to justify charging a small fortune for your product). In the case of Bimver turns out I was right I’m sure they are focussed on producing good whisky but at £120 for a 3 year old they are very much in it for the money.
I know in this kind of post-modernist whisky place we’ve landed in distilleries have managed to convince us (conveniently when their stocks of aged product are depleted) that length of maturation has no bearing on the quality of the end product. But I don’t completely buy that. Yes good casks won’t make a bad spirit into good whisky. And yes bad casks can make good spirit into mediocre whisky. So good spirit into good casks = good whisky. But I also feel that length of maturation is important too. I’ve never had a young whisky and thought ‘good job they didn’t give that another couple of years in the cask’. At this rate in 10 years when Bimbet are bottling a 12 year old they’ll be selling it for £500.
I am a normal guy with limited means. The most I’ve ever spent on a bottle of whisky is £130. I rarely break the £100 barrier.
If I was in the market for a sherry matured cask strength whisky. I’d probably buy a bottle of Glendronach cask strength. A whisky that’s spent 10 years in sherry casks from a distillery I know and trust for half the price of the Bimber.
I appreciate the comment. I was skeptical about Bimber at 1st too. But that skepticism went away after having tried these.
I think most consumers only focus on the age statement when it comes to spirits. They don’t factor in other parts of the process. Fermentation seems to be highly underestimated partly because the big brands don’t highlight it. Having a 2 day fermentation means having around 180 mashed batches to distill. A 7 day fermentation means there will be only around 50+ batches of mash to be distilled per washback. That’s a lot of time they’re losing.
I’ll appreciate anybody who takes the time and effort to in making something.
You’re most welcome!
Great review and writing, quality as one has become to expect from this site.
Just to pick in on Dan’s comment,
Yes 120 pounds is a lot of money for a three year old. But even aside the 7 days fermentation, there’s also the increased costs for a start up distillery. I would expect a great deal of money to flow back to investments and more so than would be the case for older established distilleries.
But in the end, you are the consumer and are in control of spending your money. As long as the necessary transparency is there, u are perfectly capable of making weighted decisions on which spirit to spend your hard earned dollars on (or eur in my case).
All this aside, im watching new releases from Bimber as i was very impressed by their recharred cask release. First whisky i had that made me feel i was walking in a pine forest.
Lovely stuff :). I don’t care if it’s only three years old. It’s superb stuff and better than many older whiskies I’ve had (as John also agrees to it seems)
Thank you for the kind words. I agree with what you’re saying. The high price point is still them paying for a lot things the old distilleries are most likely done paying for. They’re also paying more for labels and bottles as the quantity they’re ordering isn’t as huge as the big boys.
Yes, this is a damn good 3 year old. I think it’s better than some of the 12 year olds we know well in the market.
“one cannot and must not expect a soup, or a stew, to be good just because truffles or foie gras were put in there as the finishing touch.” I love this stock making analogy. You’re so right. I’d have said “you can’t polish a turd” – I think yours has more poetry about it. At the end of the day, it’s it’s 3 years or 30 years old, if it ticks the right box then it ticks the right box.
I’m hoping to source a bottle of the Recharred which falls into my typical price range, I’d love to compare it to the Filey Bay 2nd Release I’m sipping now (more on that later). I’m such a lazy sod – I live only a short trip from the distillery, and I haven’t been! Now with Covid19 it might be a while before I can visit – oh well.
Thanks for the kind words. Agreed, if the whisky is good it’s good! No matter the age.
I’ve heard good things about the re-char so I hope you go for that. I’ll need to get my hands on a Filey Bay so I get a better feel for English whisky. Yes, damn this virus.
The Polish name for moonshine is bimber
Thank you for the tidbit!