I’ve been on a few distillery tours. These range from the slick, polished well-worn scripts of the “standard” tour (from the likes of Glenkinchie) to the Disneyland presentation of Macallan.
One of the most memorable tours was with Karen McWilliam at GlenDronach days before she left for Glenallachie; Billy Walker did well to attract Karen. The tour was memorable for the honesty, depth of knowledge, and passion, as much as for pointing out where Brown-Forman were already making changes. A tour of Bimber, the subject of this article… well, that’s another thing altogether.
Most Scottish distillery visits are a great day out through a beautiful landscape, which helps set the scene for the history. Of course the usual lines about the “spirit of place” being crucial for the taste of whisky apply here. “Spirit of place:” the idea that something completely intangible exists that gives any particular whisky it’s character. Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline.
Certainly, Dr Nick Morgan raises this idea in his new book written for the Whisky Exchange, “Everything You Need to Know About Whisky.” Dr Morgan argues that spirit of place is a real thing, whilst terroir is debunked as a completely nonsense idea. Nick’s been at odds with Mark Reynier for long enough, and certainly dislikes any use of wine terms within whisky. But, terroir has been scientifically proven in the peer-reviewed scientific paper “The Impact of Terroir on the Flavour of Single Malt Whisk(e)y New Make Spirit”.
Bimber Spirit of Place
Perhaps neither concept is incorrect, but do either even matter? If you took a distilling process with its origins in the Polish woods, placed it within a capital city with some of the worst air pollution in Europe, and used good old London tap water, surely the spirit of place would be a negative influence on flavour? Wouldn’t the lack of terroir undermine the distillate? Not least because terroir is the influence of the environment (soil, microclimate and place) on the growth of a crop alone. It does not relate to the location or environs of the distillery.
In the case of Bimber Distillery, the presence of burnt-out cars does not seem to influence the whisky at all. Bimber has become one of the great success stories of the modern English whisky movement. The quality of the new make and early release young whiskies is superb, and a large following of founders, collectors, passionate fans, and speculators follows their every release.
I recently visited the distillery and can only characterise the experience as an affirming one, in the sense of affirming all of the good things I head heard about the place. Affirming the industrial and utilitarian nature of the location, affirming the warm welcome to any visitors, and especially those with membership of the Klub programme. Affirming the small scale of the place, a tour can be achieved by standing in one spot and turning in a full circle. Importantly, affirming that Bimber will do things their way.
Sharing drams at the whisky tasting that followed the tour certainly felt like a two way conversation, with the vibe being more like a social event that a formal tasting. There is a spirit to this place, but it’s a vibe; a stature, rather than something mysterious related to flavour.
Bimber doing things their own way has been profitable, and the company recently announced plans to develop Dunphail distillery in Forres in Scotland. Already under construction, Dunphail will take the best of Scotch whisky distillery practices and marry them with the experiences and lessons from Bimber. Matt McKay, Director of Whisky Creation and Outreach at Dunphail Distillery, has said the distillery will be resolutely unique and certainly not a Scottish Bimber #2.
Bimber do not shy away from of a bit of hype, which includes launching a single cask series of 270 casks, released periodically. Each one a reference to a particular London underground station. A headache for the collectors: each batch is a release of three stations, but only one of three can be bought at a time via ballot. Despite the challenges, these stylish bottles are most sought after. Alongside the journey of this hype train (if you pardon the pun), Bimber brought out a new product.
Bimber Apogee XII is a blend of 12-year-old Highland and Speyside single malts (read: generic blending stock) married together in those sought-after Bimber ex-bourbon casks. Released with minimal fanfare and with very little emphasis on the Bimber link, the company certainly cannot be accused of taking advantage of their fans.
This is described as a “product of England,” interestingly, despite the whisky being sourced from Scotland. At the same time, it cannot be called Scotch either, as the additional maturation and bottling will have occurred in England. I’m not inclined to get all nationalist about this statement, but it caught my eye! More interesting, perhaps, is the styling of the bottle: rather like a Japanese whisky release, it is clean, eye-catching, and whisky-shelf-friendly. Perhaps the styling is a nod to the best way to drink it, in a highball?
Priced at around £60, this is aimed at the premium age statement blended market. It’s a full £10 more expensive than Billy Walker’s Lum Reek 12. It’s £10 more expensive than Loch Lomond 12 year old Single Malt Scotch reviewed here it’s a healthy £15 more expensive that Wemyss Malts “The Hive,” (last reviewed here by Mark in 2013) and £10 more than Old Perth 12… none of which have been married in Bimber casks, of course. Also consider Bimber Bourbon Cask Small Batch Single Malt Whisky retails for about £65-70, and is still available, too.
Apogee XII – Review
A 12-year-old blend of Highland and Speyside whiskies rested in ex-Bimber single malt ex-bourbon casks. 46.3% £60
Colour: Antique gold.
On the nose: Honeycomb, sherry, then fresh juicy green apple, ripe pear, toffee pennies, ripe honeydew melon, sweet floral notes such as lilies in bloom, a little dried ginger and dry vanilla.
In the mouth: Smooth, light bodied, fleeting on the tongue; toffee and slight oak spices with a fairly short finish.
This had a lovely nose; a balance of sherry and spirit character, bright and refreshing. A classic spring/summer sipper and no doubt lovely in a highball. Neat on the palate, it fails to live up to the nose unfortunately, and of course there is the marginally high price. In total: it’s average.
Lead photo courtesy of The Whisky Shop.