It’s always nice to remember one’s roots.
Like most drinkers, I started with the popular “Glens.” Unlike the more mature markets then, I didn’t have a choice as the local selection then was lacking. I’m not sure if older versions of Fiddich 12 and Livet 12 were partially aged in ex-sherry casks like they are now. But a lot of the online chatter said they weren’t. If they were, it’s certainly not obvious with the color. My sense of smell and taste were also not that developed yet to detect it.
The single malts that got me into ex-wine cask influenced single malts were the Glenfiddich 15 and the Glenmorangie’s 12 year olds. The Fiddich 15 was partially aged in ex-oloroso sherry casks, while the three Glenmorangie 12 year olds were separately finished in ex-port, ex-oloroso sherry, and ex-sauternes wine casks.
Over time, more ex-wine cask influenced expressions from other brands/distilleries like Glendronach, Springbank, Edradour, and Laphroaig became known to me. It’s obvious that the market had fallen in love with this style, peated or not, sherry bomb or not.
However, if you’re quick to go through various styles and expressions, you’re going to be left wondering what’s next. Are these ex-wine casks going to be the end of the road for whisky maturation?
A couple of answers came a few years later and – unexpectedly – from America. One of these is High West’s A Midwinter Nights Dram. I was fortunate to have been able to buy a bottle back when Dave Perkins still owned the brand. It’s High West’s Rendezvous Rye finished in French oak and ex-port barrels.
Yes, ex-port cask finishing is common, but mostly only in single malt. Also, when this came out, there were no other port cask-finished rye. There was Angel’s Envy, but that’s a bourbon. Consider this, too: with rye whiskey being needed to be aged in new oak, this is like a new oak whiskey finished in French oak and ex-port. I can’t think of a single malt that has done this yet.
The other is St. George’s Baller single malt. This is their take on creating a Japanese whisky. They age their 100% American barley in ex-bourbon and French oak wine casks. Then they finish this whisky in casks that held house-made Japanese-style plum liqueurs (umeshu).
Other types of finishing like ex-brandy casks, ex-French red wine casks, ex-Madeira and ex-Mizunara casks eventually became popular. However, I have to thank that lull as it allowed me to get bored with whisk(e)y and look into other spirits.
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram (Act 2.9 Scene 192) – Review
Color: Amber with a pink hue
On the nose: Pronounced aromas of rye spice, cloves, leather and orange caramel. Underneath are subtle aromas of strawberries, sakura, honey, vanilla and adzuki beans. After that is a brush of grilled lime and lemon halves.
In the mouth: The ethanol is a bit sharper here. But the notes aren’t as intense on the nose. This allows me to taste more of the subtle notes hiding in the whisky. I get medium tastes of strawberries, sakura, adzuki beans, plums, dates, Fuji apples and Tup Tim Krob (Thai water chestnut served in ice and coconut milk). After that, light tastes of rye spice, more adzuki beans, vanilla, caramel, orange zest and honey. It goes on and on. At the end, more caramel, vanilla & oranges along with cloves and leather reach out.
This is uncommon for me as most of the rye whiskeys I’ve tried are more expressive on the nose than in the mouth. Its being a rye is more prominent on the nose, while the cask finishing flavors are more expressive in the mouth.
It’s been a while since I last had this that it’s caused me to forget how lovely this is. The Midwinter Nights name evokes an image of me drinking the Rendezvous Rye out of a sturdy vessel made up of dried strawberries while lying down on a fluffy bed of snow decorated with sakura petals and strawberries.
I can’t remember how much this cost when I bought it, but currently prices range from $89.99 MSRP to almost $300. If you can get this at retail, then I say this is an 8, although, I’m only basing it on this release. Ever since Dave Perkins sold High West, I haven’t bought a bottle from them, so I can’t compare current releases to old ones.
St. George Baller Single Malt – Review
3 years old. 47% ABV. USD $49.99 from K&L Wines.
On the nose: Fruit bomb with a sharp ethanol finish. I get light to medium aromas of lemon peel, lemon zest, dried apricots, dried mangoes, ice wine, Fuji apples, star fruit, and honeydew melon. After opening up more, it becomes more acidic. Yet, I get subtle hints of coffee, roasted malt, and orange syrup.
In the mouth: Very similar to the nose but the finish isn’t as sharp. I get light to medium tastes of dehydrated lemon peel, dried apricots, dried mangoes, green apple skin, ice wine, Fuji apples, star fruit and honeydew melon. As this got to breathe, I got subtle tastes of roasted barley, honey, more green apple skin, cereals, and leather at the end.
An interesting but one-dimensional single malt. I don’t get any off flavors but there’s just too many fruity notes which may have come from the umeshi-influence. I think if there were a bit more pronounced malty and/or ex-bourbon cask flavor, this would be better and more balanced.
The pale color plus tons of fruits make me momentarily think this was something like a Gewurztraminer crossed with a Sauvignon Blanc.
Not bad for the price and age. I can see why a lot of online reviews scored this poorly, but I can also see why some people love this. There’s just too much fruits to make me enjoy this regularly. I’m curious how more recent batches have changed, as I bought this in LAX at the end of 2018.