Pretty much, I have little fear when it comes to inserting things into my mouth. Since a young age, I can recall whenever eating out, the wackiest and weirdest thing on the menu would be selected. After all, why not push the boundaries and step outside your comfort zone? It might be the only opportunity to try something new.
I’ll admit to a little fear and trepidation when the prospect of this unique flavoured whiskey landed on my doorstep. The packaging was damaged and I could have informed Alexandra (who went to great lengths to purchase and dispatch a sample) that it was lost in transit, or better still confiscated. But no, I decided to see it through to its logical conclusion. I also had visions of her sitting in some sterile underground headquarter, observing proceedings with an evil laugh and glint in her eye. In some ways, I was reminded of a quote from Ernest Hemmingway that “the fun of talk is to explore”, and so it should be the case with whisky, or in this case whiskey. So, hold on tight.
The best thing is just to quote exactly what this is, straight from the horse’s, or beaver’s, mouth below from the Tamworth Distilling website. Castoreum has been used by humans for many things, in essence an essential oil with a strong aroma, the beaver uses it to mark its territory. I do wonder what the marketing departments of Edrington and Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton would have come up with in terms of packaging and press releases for such a concept as this:
‘Eau de Musc proudly features an old-world flavoring technique that uses the oil extract from the castor gland of the North American beaver, which exudes a leathery, raspberry taste, and acts to fortify the whiskey flavors. The full-bodied, two-year aged bourbon whiskey has a bolstered mouthfeel with a vanillin nose and notes of spice. The addition of birch oil, raspberry and Canadian snakeroot, a woody spice akin to ginger, comingle with the natural fruitiness of the castorerum, making the finish warm, crisp, and incredibly palatable. New Hampshire life is ruled by the wilderness, and beavers are widely prevalent, extremely territorial, and prone to overpopulation. Therefore, rural communities like Tamworth work with licensed and responsible trappers to manage the population in order to sustain the local ecosystem. To source the castoreum for the limited-edition release, the Tamworth Distilling team works with Anton Kaska, a professional trapper and outdoor skill instructor who is known for his commitment to sustainable practices. Anton provides the distillery with the castoreum sacs, which would otherwise be discarded, to produce the infused bourbon whiskey.’
So, it does take a moment to swallow and comprehend the range of additives in this particular whiskey, as unique as they are. Flavor as our American chums like to spell it, can be added, but at the risk of losing the ability to label as bourbon. Although, there does seem to be some variation on this, as Fred Minnick suggests his excellent Bourbon Curious book:
‘the so-called flavored whiskey category (which I detest) confusingly uses the terms bourbon and straight bourbon on its labels, bourbons are often mistaken for having flavoring. Further adding to the confusion, in rye whiskey, the government does allow additions of colouring, flavoring, or blending materials of up to 2.5 percent by volume of the finished product’.
The situation seems a little greyer stateside, but what about the Scottish approach when it comes to whisky flavoring? Referring to the classic reading material that are Scotch Whisky Regulations from 2009, and specifically Regulation 3, it notes:
(h)to which no substance has been added, or to which no substance has been added except—
(ii)plain caramel colouring; or
(iii)water and plain caramel colouring.
Now, we could descend into the minefield that is caramel colouring, which in itself will be derived from sugar or some related compound and brings about the possibility of flavor. A topic for discussion in the pubs and forums across the world – can you taste and smell the presence of artificial colouring? The industry experts say no, but I’m not so sure. When it is applied in sufficient qualities (see the godawful yet Phil’s favourite Bowmore Black Rock) then it does change the flavour and impact on the aroma. Arguably the rules are too liberal, which coming from me and my criticism of the Scotch Whisky Association seems ridiculous. But how do you determine what is an acceptable level of colouring added to a whisky? How dark or influential do you want this additive to be and where should a line be drawn? Technically from the rules above, there is no such line and it is open to interpretation.
I’ll pull back from the rabbit hole of artificial colouring in scotch, as I’ll save that for a future Loch Dhu review. In Scotland, we’re known for being frugal, or tight as some call it. I’m sorry to shatter your dreams, but the glens aren’t full of free-roaming haggis, nor will you see any in captivity. More of a peasant food, nothing was wasted and a glorious dish was born. So, I can appreciate why oils from a beaver gland might be useful and not wasted, but is this something that we want to see in whiskey today?
Leaving this aside for now, it is time to delve into the most remarkable of whiskey’s on paper in recent times. Even with the George Dickel Tabasco Brand Barrel Finish whiskey, which was an experience. I am intrigued to the whole point behind this for Tamworth Distilling, is it just gimmick or promotional stunt? The base whiskey itself is around 2 years in age and is straight bourbon. It is bottled at 88 proof (44% strength) and in dinky 20cl bottles. It ain’t cheap, retailing at $65 if you’re really in search of a new experience this might be the one.
Eau de Musc Castoreum Flavored Whiskey – review
Color: bashed gold.
On the nose: a really dense musky arrival, reminicient of Alembic stills. Redberries, cracked worn leather, sunflower oil, chocolate, dirty vanilla, Turkish Delight and an overpowering sense of wood and something musty.
In the mouth: an earthy autumnal arrival, dried bark, mothy, more berries and a harsh wood element. There are coffee beans, an oiliness, cherries and quite uncouth in places.
The concept is unique and the experience itself is right up there as well. I’m not a fan of the final result, as its too heavy in flavours that aren’t to my own liking, or actually feel like they don’t belong in a dram. Even though there is a natural vibe to the additives, the end result feels unnatural and doesn’t sit well on my palate.
This is why you try new things and push out the boundaries. Only then can you judge and place a whiskey such as this and what follows. The sequel is already out there in the form of Lait de Romalea, which is infused with milk excreted as a defence tactic by the Easter Lubber grasshopper. The mind boggles not only how Tamworth come up with such an idea, but how many grasshoppers were milked to make such a whiskey. It just goes to show there is a market for concepts such as these and the asking price. If Ardbeg need someone to come up with new ideas for their annual release, then look no further than New Hampshire.
So, I’m thankful for the experience. It will be a memory to draw upon, when someone asks me about the most unusual whiskey that I’ve ever had. Next time though Alexandra, send me some Wild Turkey.
Lead image kindly provided by Tamworth Distilling. And I suppose I should say some form of thanks to Alexandra for giving me the opportunity to review this unique concept. Plus, there is a commission link in here for a book and not the whiskey!