St Kilian Part 2 – A curious turn

This is the 2nd part of six samples courtesy of St Kilian organized by Whiskey Jason. While the distillery trip was cancelled and I missed the official tasting experience, I was still super curious. 

The initial three were overall promising – particularly the 2nd sample was really enjoyable. We couldn’t wait to dive into the next ones…

4th Sample – Industrial

  • Colour – Quite pale
  • Nose – Oil refinery, heavy peat that was “in your face”, like a chemical processing plant, iodine, hot machine shop, cured leather, oily and very industrial, gun oil, adhesive, wood chips, parsley to strong cinnamon, cured meat and bacon
  • Palate – Embers in a cold fireplace, no balance, hard core metallic
  • Finish – Same

When I looked back on my notes, there was a quote… I hesitate to even share.. but the reaction to the 1st sip was “Ugh! Disgusting!” We really struggled with this one… after the really promising start with the initial three, it was such a shift in gears… a very curious turn…

5th Sample – Briney smoke

  • Nose – Butter fudge, creamy, vanilla, saline, briney fishy peat, cream of tartar
  • Palate – Spice, cinnamon, old smoke, hot buttered rum, such a contrast from the nose to discover such sweetness, heavy cinnamon
  • Finish – And yet the smoke lingers…

In this one the peat sort of snuck up on you… perhaps after the forceful peat of the previous one, this didn’t seem so strong. Yet as we sniffed and particularly after the 1st sip, the peat became stronger and stronger.

6th Sample – Pharmacy

  • Nose – Interestingly, it began light and fruity, then took a decidedly chemical bent… like an organic chemistry lab, shifting to a more medicinal direction, dish water, paper glue, rotten fruit and compost
  • Palate – Really bitter, on the front of the palate some sugars, yet at the back was tar
  • Finish – Slightly sweet

My goodness! How did it go from slightly fruity to compost and full pharmacy. 

We sat there stunned… perplexed… in such a quandary… what could the folks at St Kilian have been thinking? Clearly the direction of these drams was no accident but… why? What would posess pursuing a clearly industrial pharmaceutical bent? 

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St Kilian Part 1 – A promising start…

St Kilian is one of the newer distilleries in Bavaria… I had the great pleasure to meet with a couple of folks from there together with a fellow German Sharing Angel at Nurnberg’s The Village Whisky Festival in February 2020.

Fast forward to November 2020 and there were plans to visit the distillery. I was incredibly excited to spend a weekend learning about the distillery, their processes, ideas and overall approach to whisky making.

Alas as fall progressed into winter, COVID conditions deteriorated and the trip was cancelled. However very kindly, the folks at St Kilian dispatched samples and set-up a virtual tasting. Unfortunately the samples reached me late and I also missed the virtual session too.

However, I remained very curious so on a weekend with fellow whisky enthusiasts, we cracked open the 6 bottles, split each sample into 3 and we started to explore…

1st Sample – Bursting with flavours

  • Nose – Vanilla, fruity, creamy toffee, nice bourbon cream pie… then shifted to something more herbal, vegetal with ripe tomatoes, celery… then balsam fir
  • Palate – Creamy, fruity apple, dried plums, quince, a bit raw but still interesting
  • Finish – A bit of bitter almond?

Young, till a bit fiery, scrappy… and frankly quite a promising start.

We returned after some time and it had ten on almost an artificial sweetness, candy floss and vanilla on the nose but then a biting spice on the palate with a bitter nutty finish.

2nd Sample – Tasty treat

  • Nose – Very fruity, starts with overripe bananas, then shifts into hazelnuts, back to bannoffee pie, then the nutty quality became stronger and stronger with cashew, pecan nuts adding to the hazelnut, vacillating between roasted nuts and raw nuts freshly plucked from their tree, vanilla pod, fresh resin
  • Palate – Spicy yet nothing in the slightest bit harsh! Has more substance than expected from the aroma, fuller, incredibly tasty
  • Finish – Sweet spices of cinnamon, cloves, lightly bitter

We really liked this one – it had character and remained enjoyable. Even after we set it aside for some time and returned, it was bubblegum, wintergreen oil and still delicious.

3rd Sample – Tropical punch

  • Nose – Oh my! Tropical fruits – pineapple, mango… cinnamon red candies.. very prominent banana, a hint of rubber, overall sweet with a hint of alcohol, vanilla cream, a bit of roasted chestnut, candle wax, soooo sweet… then had a hint that was almost like a bandaid adhesive 
  • Palate – Initially the bananas on the nose carried through on the palate, a hint of smoke, raw chestnut, green walnut, became sweeter and sweeter
  • Finish – Strong cinnamon finish

The colour of this last dram was quite significantly darker than the others. What was curious was the smoke. It was more like the kind of smoke that settles on the walls of a room that had someone smoke in long before rather than anything direct. 

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The Belgian Owl – Intense 72.7%

I am pretty sure that The Belgian Owl Intense has to be the strongest whisky I’ve ever had – by alcohol strength that is! Most distilleries will reduce the new make spirit by adding water before maturing in barrels – hence even in younger cask strength whiskies we see ABV hovering around the 60%s or less. Not so with Belgium Owl who have bottled at a whopping 72.7%! What did we think of the whisky?

The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Aroma – We initially thought of a dusty attic, very different. Nutty, resins, as it opened up, becoming increasingly pleasant, sweetly vanilla, a floral perfume, toffee, strawberries, Victoria sponge cake, cream, pure desert, really interesting and inviting. It kept shifting – from desert to sweet grass and honey, back to cinnamon, then caramelized bananas
  • Palate – Salty buttery caramel, cinnamon, chocolate milk, toffee, vanilla, bananas
  • Finish – Initial burn, then very sweet soft caramels
  • Water – While surprisingly smooth without water, it is even better with – bringing out a buttery cinnamon roll… over time there was almost a “perfume” on the palate

Had we sampled this “blind”, I highly doubt anyone would have guessed the ABV. It was way too delicious with different dimensions and not at all harsh. In many ways this was the most interesting of the quintet – bursting with character yet surprisingly not overwhelming.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

The Belgian Owl Intense is a single cask whisky stored at its degree of ageing, specifically selected by Etienne Bouillon. Each cask is unique and unveils its own character. We would like to promote some of these casks, we are sure you will be delighted.

The choice of bottling at cask strength is a completely natural choice for us. We can offer you a tasting as if you were here with us, in our whisky storehouse, undiluted, straight from the cask. This sensation is intense and unforgettable. We hope that these emotions will accompany you wherever you are.

Overall when we considered the five different whiskies in our The Belgian Owl quintet, we thought:

  • Trying the spirit with Origine provided interesting insights into the underlying qualities
  • Their flagship Identité at only 3 years is friendly with delicious aromas
  • For us, the 3-year single cask Passion was the only disappointment, coming across as a bit unbalanced and ‘not quite there’ the way Identite nailed it… and curiously lacking “passion”
  • When we first tried the 4-year Evolution, we loved how it was a clear step forward from Identite, building on what we appreciated with the added maturity really augmenting the experience on the palate in particular
  • And with Intense? Remarkable! At 72.7% we thought it would be too intense – not at all!

This set was kindly provided by The Belgian Owl – to me in Germany, my tasting companions in Paris and hopefully soon by folks in India too. However, the views here are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

The Belgian Owl – Evolution 46%

We kept up our exploration of The Belgian Owl with their oldest expression… and before you start thinking of venerable 20 year old whiskies, for this distillery, forty-eight months is sufficient time to produce something worthy of exploring!

The Belgian Owl Evolution 48 months, first fill bourbon 46%

  • Colour – Bright copper
  • Aroma – Ahh! Though initially a bit shy, as it opened up was well worth a wee wait. Lots of pears, herbs, vanilla, slowly evolving from floral to fruity and then back to more floral. Much like the Identite, the primary fruit was pears joined by exotic tropical fruits. We also found some quince. lovely honeysuckle, sweet spices of cloves, aniseed… then back to herbal and even a hint of pine.
  • Palate – A sharpness in a good way! That light spice, malty wood, slightly bitter… all combined in a more classic Scottish character.
  • Finish – A long soft, subtle spice, quite interesting with a hint of mint and liquorice
  • Water – No desire to add

Here was a “proper” whisky! One that wasn’t Scottish but gave a generous “nod” to a classic Scottish style. The kind of dram that invites you back to more – well balanced and interesting enough to keep you curious.

We thought of this as the “adult” version of The Belgian Owl – mildly reminiscent of Linkwood – more from the sentiment it evoked than directly comparable. Clearly one that could be a crowd-pleaser.

When we reflected back, considered Identite more of a “smell” whisky whereas the Evolution is more of a “taste” whisky… one that gives much more as you sip.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

Nothing on their website however this was the oldest of the quintet at four years. In keeping with their house style, matured only in ex-Bourbon casks and like Identite was likely a combination of a few casks.

What else did we receive as part of our The Belgian Owl quintet?

This set was kindly provided by the good folks at The Belgian Owl however the views here are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

The Belgian Owl – Passion 46%

After a decidedly promising start with both the Origine spirit and signature expression – Identite, we shifted into a single cask from The Belgian Owl. Similar age as Identite – a mere three years – it gave a window into the alchemy in a single ex-bourbon cask.

What did we think? Did it bring out our passions?

The Belgian Owl Pasion 36 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538337 46% Bottle 29

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Aroma – A bit closed, then as it opened fruity – particularly pear – first ripe pear, then baked pear, shifting more into tropical notes with banana, a hint of passion fruit and then clear pineapple tang, joined by some caramel and wood notes
  • Palate – Light spice, still smooth like the earlier whisky but somehow lacked the character and substance
  • Finish – Sweetish – think of red candy dye
  • Water – To be honest, we didn’t even think of trying with water

After thoroughly enjoying Identite, our expectations had risen considerably. What did we discover?

It was clear it came from the same whisky family, however, it was curiously flat, and whilst smooth and sweet, we also found it a bit imbalanced. Something that was so well rounded in Identite was absent here. It was still overall quite pleasant but didn’t have that easy-going, cheerful character that was so incredibly appealing in Identite.

One quipped it didn’t exactly arouse our “passions” though was actually quite a decent dram.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

The Belgian Owl Passion is a single cask whisky, specially selected by Etienne Bouillon. Each cask is unique and unveils its own character.

What else? They use unpeated distillate in pot stills and exclusively mature in 1st fill ex Bourbon American white oak (Quercus alba).

What else did we receive as part of our The Belgian Owl quintet?

  • The Belgian Owl Origine Pot Still unaged spirit 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Identité 36 months, first fill bourbon 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177
  • The Belgian Owl Evolution 48 months, first fill bourbon 46%

This set was kindly provided by the good folks at The Belgian Owl following a virtual tasting with friends scattered from Europe to India. Whilst we hope to revisit together with The Belgian Owl team to explore and understand further, our tasting was held without any specific insights or influence, hence views are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

The Belgian Owl – Identité 46%

The Belgian Owl has a “signature” whisky – their primary and most accessible expression of their identity – aptly named “Identité”.

After sipping the surprisingly smooth and fruity “Origine”, we cracked open their 36-month-old expression….

The Belgian Owl Identité 36 months, first fill bourbon 46%

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Aroma – Sweet vanilla, quite ‘active’ and cheerful, balsam fir, grains, becoming fruitier as it opened up, powdered sugar with vanilla – think of marshmallows, a quick chase of citrus then plums, toffee, even a bit of coconut oil before shifting back to vanilla, lightly floral. a bit of talcum powder then back again to vanilla
  • Palate – Smooth with substance, a trace of butter, more of the toffee, coconut, pear, nicely fruity, wonderfully balanced, easy-drinking – quite “happy go lucky” in style
  • Finish – Light spice
  • Water – No need

Overall we really enjoyed the evolution of the nose. Whilst it settled on quite a pronounced vanilla, the journey to that point was a happy one. It was nicely rounded on the palate… the kind of whisky you enjoy sipping… suddenly realizing your glass is empty without quite knowing how!

During a second tasting, we had a remarkably similar experience however the whisky had become even more perfumed, with spring flowers and a more herbal quality joining the fruitiness and vanilla.

Overall this is just an easy enjoyable dram… one we were happy to explore.

What more do we know? From former Caperdonich pot stills of 1898, the whisky is matured in American white oak – Quercus alba – for just three years.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

This indispensable drink is the result of the way we use our know-how to introduce the distillate to the oak wood.

  • Nose – Without any doubt, the key words here are freshness, nesses and precision. The delicate tones of roasted oak and toffee melt into the fruity signature of Belgian Owl: conference pear, muscat, crystallized angelica and apple jam. When the whisky further opens up in your glass, you’ll discover the aroma of vanilla pudding and amber banana.
  • Mouth – Surprising thanks to the perfect balance of different aromas that the nose already brought to light and that develop further in the mouth: Spanish honey, vanilla and coconut ice cream, candied ginger, apples fried in butter and plum tart.
  • Finish – A long finish that returns from the savours in the mouth to the pleasant taste of the malt distillate, leaving a fruity and woody echo of the Hesbaye region as its legacy.

What else did we receive as part of our The Belgian Owl quintet?

  • The Belgian Owl Origine Pot Still unaged spirit 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Passion 36 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538337 46% Bottle 29
  • The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177
  • The Belgian Owl Evolution 48 months, first fill bourbon 46%

This set was kindly provided by the good folks at The Belgian Owl, however the views here are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

The Belgian Owl – Origine Spirit 46%

New make spirit or moonshine can be pretty harsh stuff. And yet there is something quite revealing about sharing with the world the ‘base’ or ‘origin’ of your whisky as an undisguised spirit.

We opened The Belgian Owl “Origine” curious to see what we would find…

The Belgian Owl Origine Pot Still Unaged Spirit 46%

  • Colour – Completely clear
  • Aroma – First thought – sour mash, starchy potatoes, cereals, then became increasingly fruity, a touch of saline
  • Palate – Remarkably smooth… not in the least bit harsh, quite pleasant

One lady observed how it was a bit reminiscent of a rye vodka she had tried. As for the palate? Was it harsh? Not at all!

We speculated it would make a brilliant base for a dirty martini or perhaps jazzed up with some lime and ice.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

  • Nose – This unaged distillate takes you to the place where it all starts: the heart of the barley that grows in the Hesbaye region. The aroma of malted barley is surrounded by the scent of freshly-baked bread and shortbread. When this Spirit Drink further opens up, you discover fruity, fresh hints of ripe pears, greegages and cidar that then melt away into an echo of newly mown grass.
  • Mouth – The initial sensation in the mouth is sweet, characterized by the beautiful oily nature of the distillate. Bit by bit, fruity notes from the orchard rise to the top.
  • Finish – Long and very well balanced in which the fruit from the orchard is in perfect harmony with a touch of licorice

Whilst a bit fanciful, we would overall agree with the description. Quite a promising start!

What else did we receive as part of our The Belgian Owl quintet?

  • The Belgian Owl Identité 36 months, first fill bourbon 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Passion 36 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538337 46% Bottle 29
  • The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177
  • The Belgian Owl Evolution 48 months, first fill bourbon 46%

This set was kindly provided by the good folks at The Belgian Owl – to me and our tasting companions scattered around Europe and India. However the views here are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

French Fancies – Rozelieures Tourbe 46%

Living in Europe means we have great access to an incredible range of European whiskies. Our latest venture was to France – with a duo from a small farm distillery in Lorraine – G Rozelieures.

After their rather delightful Subtil, we were curious what their peated expression would bring. And were not disappointed…

Rozelieures Tourbe 46%

  • Colour – Still light, but deeper gold than Subtil
  • Nose – Mmmm pine, sweet grass, caramelized smoked ham, getting smokier as it opened up, herbal, even fruity with a dash of cinamon
  • Palate – Initially the peat was quite subtle, shifting into pine, some warming spices of cinnamon and star anise, elegant and sophisticated,
  • Finish – Just carries through

Overall it was well balanced, with a nice continuity between what we enjoyed in the aromas, also in the palate and finish.

Happiness! We definitely will need to explore more from this distillery.

What do the folks at Rozelieures have to say?

This exceptional peated whisky is powerful and has a balanced structure. The Bourbon casks along with the French new oak casks from Lorraine bring fresh and delicate vegetal notes: a delightful taste.

  • Nose : flowered malted, spicy
  • Mouth : fruity, spicy, peated
  • Finish : smoked, spicy, pear

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French Fancies – Rozelieures Subtil 40%

Our first introduction to G.Rozelieures whiskies was a bit ‘disguised’ via the brilliant Maison Benjamin Kuentz (D’un) Verre printanier (2020) 46% and Fin de partie (2020) 46% – both of which we absolutely loved!

So we simply had to explore more! One of our lovely ladies took it upon herself to track down two to start – one without peat (Sbutil) and another with (Tourbe).

What do we know about these folks? It is family run, distilling for multi generations in the village Rozelieures in Lorraine, France. The barley is grown locally with whisky distilled on their farm. 

A quartet of minis made their way from Paris to Nurnberg and our Whisky Ladies Euro Chapter explored together one fine Friday evening. What did we try?

Rozelieures Subtil 40%

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Apple custard, sweet and slightly sour, some salty caramel, gooseberry, a bit tart, something we first described as ‘strong’ honeysuckle then settled on quince, cereals, vanilla… more and more a delightful pear came to the fore, some nutmeg, basil and mint, floral, fruity and increasingly sweet
  • Palate – A nice ‘easy drinker’ fruity – particularly quince… it also had a wine-like character
  • Finish – Apple sauce and light spice

Overall it was summary – fruity, a bit floral, some herbs and sweet cereals… delicious and dare I say refreshing on the palate? Yet it isn’t a push over, there is something quite compelling and interesting about this one – enough to bring you back again and again. 

Typically a whisky at 40% is a mass produced travel retail affair. Not this. It is boutique in the best sense – unique, intriguing and inviting. A perfect aperitif and well worth exploring.

So what do the folks at Rozelieures have to say?

This Whisky presents itself as the first unpeated single malt produced in Rozelieures. This vintage has been aged in old Bourbon, Cognac and new oak casks. This novelty keeps more than ever this fatty in the mouth, become characteristic feature of the farm-distillery. This Whisky is distinguished by its subtle and floral aromas.

What else did we try in our French focused evening?

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French Fancies – Glann Ar Mor 46%

If you had told me in 2015 when I first discovered a dram from this Bretagne distillery at Singapore’s Auld Alliance during a special blind world whisky flight, that a few years later I would be living in Europe and tasting an unpeated Glenn Ar Mor expression virtually with friends in Paris, I would have thought your completely crazy!

I was firmly based in Asia, more likely to move from Mumbai to Singapore than Nurnberg! However that evening was clearly responsible for a growing curiosity and appetite for European whiskies – and more specifically those from France.

That cask strength Kornog was remarkable – and kicked off a hunt to track down more so that whisky explorers in India could also experience its distinctive character.

Were we successful in finding a Kornog bottle? Yes! An intrepid lady managed to wrangle via the UK a different expression – the Kornog Taourac’h Trived 10 BC 46% – which certainly captured our attention!

On a roll, we plotted to acquire another. Full of high expectations, we eagerly cracked open the Kornog Taouarc’h Pempved 14 BC (2014) 46% – and were desperately disappointed.

So we were a wee bit wary about this Glann Ar Mor unpeated expression…with expectations tempered by a less than stellar last brush however remaining curious and overall optimistic. What did we think?

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Glann Ar Mor 46%

  • Nose – To be honest, it started off a bit peculiar – greeting us with white asparagus, slightly musty with a curious elusive spice, quite vegetal we also found mushrooms and saline, some apple cider or overripe mangos. It started to shift, more caramel, some rhubarb, perhaps even some herbal hints.
  • Palate – Young, wine-like, effervescent… the mushrooms we caught in the aromas were also there in the taste. There was even a kind of stone or granite flavour. Yet just like the nose, as our palates adjusted, we began to enjoy it more, discovering a tasty toffee
  • Finish – More of the same qualities from the palate, slipping into pine

It started off… well… a bit strangely… However as it opened up in the glass, we warmed up to it more and more.

In short – it was distinctly different. There was no doubt this was far from Scotland, with a unique personality. And yet, if we had to make a comparison it would be to Talisker – something about the seaside quality was at least “kissing cousins” in character.

We nearly set it aside to move on to the next French whisky, but stopped for a moment to read the bottle notes. It recommended adding water… really? So we did…

The transformation started slowly… morphing more and more as the minutes ticked by:

  • Nose – Sweeter, friendlier, fruitier… with the aromas becoming increasingly fragrant with a light perfume, vanilla
  • Palate – Much smoother, infinitely more accessible, the fruitiness on the nose follows through on the palate, accompanied by a slightly salty element
  • Finish – A nice bitter sweet almond joined the flavours with a light spice

Our conclusion? Definitely different however absolutely worth adding water! It made a huge impact… even more pronounced when we returned to compare the glass without water and the glass with water. We couldn’t help but wonder… is this really the same whisky…?

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I believe we had their standard Glann Ar Mor expression, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, with only limited additional information on the distillery website sharing:

New bottling of the unpeatted single malt from GLANN AR MOR DISTILLERY matured in Bourbon cask. Nose floral and malted. Mouth : fresh, fruity with vanilla, and maritime. Finish : greedy and sophisticated.

This bottle was purchased in Paris with a sample generously sent to me in Germany by my tasting companions.

What else did we try in our French focused evening?

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