In most liquor stores in Canada, the shelves are dominated by Canadian (obviously), American, Scotch, Irish and maybe Japanese whisk(e)y sections. Tucked into a dark corner or at the end of a lonely aisle, you might find another category. World Whisky. Many of the names may seem foreign to you, but lurking on these shelves are examples of fast growing and innovative whisky regions from all across the globe.
From Israel to South Africa, Peru to Germany, Sweden to Australia, archaic rules used to protect towering conglomerates or prohibition era laws that bafflingly still remain in place are being lifted. In other instances, nations without these laws on the books are discovering their love for the water of life all on their own, contributing to the whisky boom in their own way.
Adjacent to two massive whisky producing nations, England once had a whisky tradition of its own, but until the early 2000’s, the industry had been dormant for about a century. Families had moved on to other professions, the Blitz of WWII had levelled many cities and towns, post-war stagnation was an economic menace to so many. And with Scotch whisky being so dominant, what was the point of re-starting the stills?
All it took was someone to realize that England could once more stand tall on the whisky stage. That person was James Nelstrop, founder of The English Distillery Co. which was established in 2006. In short order, other entrepreneurs took up the call. There are now over 40 distilleries, many of which are either already releasing whisky or are planning to.
With such a fast pace of growth, there was an emerging concern amongst many of the distilleries that were part of the initial wave that “bad actors” would take advantage of the boom. This was not an unfounded worry, as could plainly be seen in Japanese whisky, for example. Some sort of regulations were needed.
If Japanese whisky was not an example to be followed, nor was Scotland’s, at least not to the letter. And let’s pray that they don’t follow the Canadian example, where the term rye can be whatever anyone says it is.
As a start, 16 distilleries banded together and formed the English Whisky Guild (EWG) earlier this year. Part of their mandate is to agree on a set of proposed laws and regulations to be submitted to Parliament that will ultimately drive the country’s whisky production moving forward. Along with The English Distillery Co. are names that may not be familiar to you now, but they will be. Soon Cotswolds, The Lakes, Bimber and Spirit of Yorkshire will be gracing your whisky shelves, if they’re not there already. Having tasted of few of these over the last year, I can tell you that you don’t know what you’re missing.
Over the next two Sundays, I will be focusing on one of the EWG’s founding members, Bimber Distillery, located in London. Their story is an interesting one that I’ll start to delve into next week. For now, it’s time to taste! Bimber made its debut in Canada this year with three expressions: The Apogee Pure Malt 12 Year (reviewed previously), a Canada exclusive, matured in ex-Bourbon, as well as the whisky sitting in my glass. This Small Batch ex-Bourbon is their third release in this series and was matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks. It is bottled at a healthy 51.6%.
Nose: Seeing that this has had a full maturation in first-fill ex-Bourbon, I was expecting a tropical nose and that’s certainly the case here. Very cantaloupe-forward when I first poured this into my glass. That’s settled down a bit and fresh pineapple has come to the fore. This being Christmas time, we always have mandarin oranges in the house. I’m getting the oils expressed from the peel. Ginger powder is in there too. It’s a little bit floral now. I’m finally getting some barely sugar and a rich cereal note. As this sits in the glass for longer, I’m getting orchard fruits. Red apples like Gala or McIntosh as well as a bit of pear. To be honest, I’m not getting a whole lot of cask influence here, besides a bit of cinnamon and some light vanilla, and frankly, I don’t care. I could nose this all night.
Palate: I was expecting a wave of tropical citrus on the entry, but this is surprisingly sweet. Table cream and honey mixed together. The heat from the ABV comes on very slowly. The beginning of the development is a tad floral and youthful, but by the mid-development digestive biscuits and orange marmalade start to arrive. The marmalade adds just a touch of bitterness to balance out the citrus, honey and spices (which are joined by allspice here). I’m getting a bit of pear half way through.
Finish: Pretty darn long. That slight bitterness from the marmalade (like high quality Seville orange marmalade) remains. That fresh pineapple note I got on the nose comes back, but only briefly. The tongue still tingles from the ginger, which lasts all the way to the end. Dark baker’s chocolate adds to that bitter note. I don’t want to oversell this bitter note though. There is still balance here.
With water added
There is still a good citrus twang, but it has been overtaken by the orchard fruits. The cask is a little more noticeable now, at least in terms of spicing. It’s lovely and light and fresh, like dew on a mid-spring morning. It’s still sweet on the entry, but the zesty character arrives a lot earlier. The cinnamon is a bit more intense and there’s a little bit of a milk chocolate note as well. The finish is a little juicier than without water added.
The vibrancy of young, ex-Bourbon matured single malt is something that whisky fans are finally waking up to. Combined with a fruity new make, you get this intense orchard/citrus combination that will leave the most pleasant tingle on your taste buds. Unfortunately, there aren’t many bottles left of this in Canada, and the same could be said of the next Bimber I’m going to review. Coupled with a bottle shortage, it’s going to be a while before Bimber reaches our shores again. When it does, definitely give it solid look.