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Best Dram Staoisha Cask 247

What do you get when you cross Scotland, Jamaica, and Germany?

No, that’s not a joke (though best punchline in the comments section will win a prize). I find myself wondering this because the subject of today’s review will, in some form, touch each of those nations. How could this be? Well, it’s a Scotch whisky, finished in a Jamaican rum cask, and bottled by an independent bottler from Germany.

Viewed in a certain light, it’s a testament to what makes whisky great. From remote corners of Scotland comes this magical liquid that delights fans the world over. Whether you’re enjoying a dram in Glasgow, Guangzhou, or anywhere in between, you’re part of a global community that reveres this delightful elixir.

Sorry to get all “It’s a small world after all” on you, but sometimes we here at Malt set aside our critical faculties (also called negativity, pessimism, and other words) and feel the love. For as grumpily cynical as the world of whisky can make us, ultimately all of us originally came to this pursuit with enthusiasm and passion.

That passion fades, though, with time and experience. I’ve had enough milquetoast official bottlings with jacked-up price tags to warrant blanket suspicion of that format. Among the indies, the dwindling supply of primo casks means that even established bottlers with a reputation for quality (think G&M, Cadenhead’s, and Signatory Vintage, to name but three) sometimes put out releases that fail to meet my expectations. I also learned early on that an exotic maturation or cask finish can be little more than a slap of paint on a whisky that would otherwise fail to find a USP.

Rightly or wrongly, I am approaching today’s dram with all my accumulated suspicions. To start, it’s from a distillery that has mostly underwhelmed me, whether I have encountered it in official or independently bottled form. It’s called Staoisha, which is code for Bunnahabhain’s heavily-peated whisky. Han clued us into this secret in his excellent review of a Malt, Grain & Cane bottling of this same name.

As he noted in that review, Bunnahabhain normally bucks the Islay stereotype by typically using less peat than is associated with other well-known distilleries on the island. Only about 20% of production is peated; that which doesn’t make its way into the official Toiteach A Dhà expression is instead bottled independently under the Staoisha moniker.

I can’t say that bottler Best Dram’s reputation is influencing me one way or another; I had never heard of them before I began researching this whisky. A bit of Googling produced a photo of the back of one of their tubes, which contained this information:

“Best Dram was founded in 2014. The independent bottler is owned by Michael Reick and is based in Dülmen, Germany… All our whiskies are non-chill filtered, bottled at cask strength and have no added colouring.”

Mr. Reick is better known as Whisky Druid. A perusal of Whisky Druid’s Instagram page reveals bottlings under the Best Dram label from distilleries such as Tullibardine, Ledaig, Caol Ila, Invergordon, Deanston, and Balblair, as well as a number of others under the Whisky Druid and Scotch Universe labels.

Based on the information above, he was apparently an early mover to the fan-come-upstart-independent-bottler movement, though this field is increasingly crowded. As whisky has become more popular, every man, woman, child, and dog seems to have decided that they need their own vanity IB brand. More demand equals more competition for casks, which means that increasingly marginal casks – the types that would have previously supported official expressions, or which would have become stock for blending – are now making their way to us.

Finally, the cask: this is an ex-Jamaican Rum cask, as mentioned above. The rum cask has become increasingly fashionable as a finishing cask, though it seems the results are only as good as the original whisky. In this case, I’m open minded about the possibilities. I could see the sweetness of the rum cask influence as a good balancing counterweight against the smoky notes from the peated malt.

Final details, before I dive in: this whisky was distilled October 2013, bottled October 2020, aged 7 years. It is from cask #247, a first fill Jamaican rum barrel. One of 239 bottles, it was bottled at cask strength, 56.9% ABV. I saw it online for €75 ($79), which is the price I will use for evaluation. This was a sample from Graham, who once again has my sincere thanks for his generosity.

Best Dram Staoisha Cask 247 – Review

Color: Medium-pale hay.

On the nose: Indeed, the first whiff is a marriage of subtly smoky aromas with darkly sweet accents of caramelized sugar. There’s a green, grassy note that morphs into a maritime scent of saltwater and iodine. Each time this leans in the peated direction, it is pulled back toward that sticky sweetness. Some incredible herbaceous notes as well; intense eucalyptus, bay leaf, and camphor in here.

In the mouth: Starts with a pertly salty bite, like jumping into the ocean and getting a mouthful of seawater. There’s also a moment where the malt sings out early on. Toward the middle of the mouth, this has a short burst of lemon before it becomes a full-on peated Islay experience. Iodine and gentle smoke are once again accented by the sweetness of brown sugar. This blooms with a radiant heat in the back of the mouth, where the peat smoke broadens out to coat the throat and the inside of the mouth. There’s a faint aftertaste of flat Coca-Cola here – in a good way – that serves as a final reminder of the rum cask maturation.

Conclusions:

I like that this is more Islay malt than rum cask overall. Where the latter does impart its character, it is in the form of notes that complement – rather than overwhelm or detract from – the underlying malt. It’s also a reminder of how good and flavorful young Islay whisky can be, though this is by no means to indicate that it has any juvenile awkwardness, or is in need of additional maturation. What it is, it is, and that is: very good, indeed.

Score: 7/10

Whatever preconceptions and misgivings I brought to this tasting were quickly dashed by this excellent whisky. Fun to nose, delicious yet challenging in the mouth, and with a great balance of malt and cask. I can’t promise that every foray into an unknown indie bottler’s range will be this successful, but it is whiskies like this one that keep me exploring optimistically.

Image courtesy of Whisky Erlebnis.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    welll…. a freshly distilled fermented virgin cane honey or molasses distillate is everything – but not sweet.
    First sugars contained in the virgin cane honey or molasses are converted into alcohol during fermentation. Second what sugar might be left in the fermented liquids does not distill it remains in the still and would burn to caramell on contact with the hot metal. There is no way it can get into the new make rum.
    When filled into charred oak casks the new make rum would probably disolve sugars that came into existence when the wood was burned or charred. That would impart a cerain sweetness.
    The European Commission has updated the spirit rules and decreed that a distillate from virgin cane honey or molasses can only be called rum if the content of sweetening compounds does not exceed 20 gramms per litre. Sweetening compounds are sugar vanilla extract caramel glycol and other stuff that is mixed into the distillate after maturation.
    If these compounds exceed 20 grams per litre the product must be called spirit or spirit on the base of rum.
    The interesting question is now – when is the time these sweetening compounds are added. And is the rum or the spirit put back into cask for harmonising for a certain time before bottling?
    We all expect something more or less sweet when we talk of rum because we expect sweetness because of the fact that it is made from sugar cane. But where does the sweetness come from? It is an aquired taste over generations and not natural.
    Rhum Agricole from the parts of the Carribean that were or still are under French government is an example for unsweetened rum – most of the time. It is made from sugar cane juice or virgin cane honey without the detour over making sugar from it and is not artificially sweetend most of the time.
    Thes rums contradict the expectations one has when thinking of rum as something sweet.
    So where does the sweetness come from in a whisky that is finished in a rum cask?

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    1. Taylor says:

      kaskallander, thanks much for this extensive comment. I’ll be the first to admit when I am out of my element; John is our resident rum expert, and is thus better placed to comment. For whatever it’s worth, I do find some aspect of “sweetness” in rum fairly consistently, though what part of this is imparted by the raw material versus the cask (or, indeed, the interaction of the two) is beyond my ability to say. Cheers and thanks for reading!

  2. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    no sweat Taylor. We are bombarded with so much bottlings that there seldom is time or curiosity enough to questsion what they are offering.

    So my comment really burns down to the question: what is a rum cask exactly?

    Perhaps John finds the time to look into this matter.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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