New distillery owners usually hone their skills over several years, either by apprenticing at other distilleries, getting a degree in brewing and distilling or both. Bimber founder/distiller Dariusz Plazewski got to skip right over that. From his father and his grandfather, who were moonshiners in his native Poland, spirit making has been in his veins for decades already.
Bimber, literally the Polish word for a traditional moonshine, has a long history in Dariusz‘s native country. One that is intertwined with its culture, its geography and its people’s staunch defiance against authoritarian regimes.
Poland, sandwiched between great powers, has had the misfortune of being partitioned many times over the last 250 years or so. This unique and tragic history spawned a deep culture of rebellion, in one form or another. In Soviet times, this came in the form of open protest movements, most notably in the Gdańsk shipyards, where Lech Wałęsa gained international notoriety. He later became the first post-Soviet president of Poland.
A more secretive rebellion could be found in many homes and in the vast forests, which cover over a third of the country. Since at least the 19th century, Poland’s moonshining culture has been passed down through many generations. Traditional family recipes and distilling techniques have remained almost unchanged.
Every type of authority tried imposing fines and jail time, preached the dangers of moonshining and the health risks it entailed. Yet they could never shut it down.
The moonshiner’s defiance was, by necessity, hidden from view. Shared by family and friends and even used as a source of currency when the shelves were bare during the depths of Communist oppression, Bimber became one of the nations’s most cherished spirits, one that has long outlived the Soviet regime.
And so Bimber lives on in Poland but, thanks to Dariusz, the hands-on, small batch, do-it-yourself spirit of moonshining is being applied to English whisky making as well, albeit in a legal way this time.
PWS Imports were very lucky to obtain a Bimber cask exclusively bottled for the Canadian market. Limited to 281 bottles, it was distilled in September 2017 and was bottled in 2021. Coming from a single first-fill ex-Bourbon cask, it’s presented at a cask strength of 58.7% ABV. It’s sitting in my glass as I write this so let’s see what we have here!
Nose: I’m getting the same cantaloupe note that I got on the Small Batch. There’s some honey dew melon as well. The barrel char from the American oak is presenting itself as a subtle campfire smoke. Not the kind of smoke you get from peated whisky though. There is a bit of fresh sawdust in here. Don’t know how else to describe it.
I have to say, I’m getting some unexpected notes here. I would expect some of these from new American oak, not first-fill ex-Bourbon. Apart from the melon, this is a very different animal from the Small Batch. Moving on…
As this opens up, I’m getting some more expected aromas. Sponge toffee, vanilla and cinnamon. Barley sugar candies are starting to come up now.
I have no idea what I’m going to get on the palate with this one. The nose is so layered. Guess it will be a layered palate then!
Palate: There’s a lot going on during the first sip. The entry is honey and citrus and let me tell ya, that citrus doesn’t stop. The transition to the development is a bit sharp and impatient, but when it does arrive, it’s this combination of the citrus, dark baking spices (cinnamon, clove, allspice, yet light on the nutmeg) and the most amazing dark chocolate truffle coated in cocoa powder. Cracked black pepper makes an appearance towards the end of the development.
Finish: The black pepper and baking spices continue their journey, but that intense, zesty citrus and dark truffle dominates during the second half of a long finish. At the end, I’m getting that slight smokiness that I got on the nose.
Sadly, I didn’t have enough of a sample to try this with water, but I really wished that I did. This whisky took me on quite the ride. There is no way I would guess that this is only four years old. Also, I’m really curious about the barrel this was matured in because I’m getting a few notes that are characteristic of new American oak. Sadly, this one is pretty much sold out. Hope you know someone who will pour you some!