Germany’s Stork Single Malt 43%

There I was in Neumark in der Oberpfalz, having spent a wonderful day exploring… from Schloss Rosenburg, Ruine Rabenstein, Burg Prunn, Wellenburger Kloster to the Danube… True it was cold and snowy. True, everything was shut, so we could only tromp around the outside… but it was still such an invigorating distraction after weeks of being shut in.

That’s one of the remarkable things about the area I now live in Germany – castles and fortresses, ruins and monuments… oh my! There is so much history and such variety in relatively close proximity.

So too is the whisky industry… there are apparently now over 200 whisky distilleries in Germany. Without the guidelines / limitations of the Scottish Whisky Association, quite a bit of experimentation takes place…. often in quite small / micro distilleries.

And on that particular evening in Nuemark, I was introduced to one such new player – Stork Club Whisky from Spreewood Distillers, 60 KM south of Berlin.

So what’s their story? Steffen Lohr, Bastian Heuser and Sebastian Brack apparently were on a road trip in 2015 to buy a barrel of whisky… and found themselves inspired to take over Spreewood Distillers. Dedicated to Rye Whiskey, focusing on small batch, triple cask aged – ex bourbon, ex sherry and ex white wine – using two distillates – malted and unmalted Rye, primarily from the Brandenburg region.

What did we find from this distillery primarily dedicated to Rye?

Stork Single Malt 43%

  • Nose – Chestnut, a bit of varnish then settled down, becoming sweeter and sweeter,  fruitier, beeswax, honey, almond, a bit of green grapes – the white wine cask influence perhaps?
  • Palate – Fresh, fruity, surprisingly creamy, a dash of cinnamon spice… it was a very ‘drinkable dram’ with no harsh notes

We found it was a terrific ‘sipping whisky’…. friendly and easy going yet had enough character that you knew it would also make a great cocktail base.

Talk turned to quintessential “Lufthansa cocktails” famous in the 50s and 60s… pre-mixed and bottled yet served with a certain panache and style. Speculation that this Stork whisky     would be terrific in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan… perhaps someone should suggest this to the folks behind reviving these cocktails?

What do the gents behind The Stork have to say about their Single Malt?

  • Flavour Profile: Fresh Hay, Honey, Tropical Fruits
  • Cask: Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Sherry, Ex-White Wine Cask
  • Occassion: One for every evening
  • Raw Ingredient: Barley malt
  • Beer Accompaniment: Pilsner, Wheat Beer, Pale Beer

Now outside of Germany or perhaps parts of the US fond of a “boilermaker”, listing a ‘beer accompaniment’ for a whisky may frankly seem a little strange. But in a land known for its beer and more recently whisky, why not?

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Vita Dulcis 19 – USA Knob Creek Straight Rye 50%

Next up… another from the US  in my Vita Dulcis 2020 International Advent Calendar… And I’m in the home stretch with just a few more to go!

USA – Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey 50%

  • Nose – Sweet grains, then sour mash, herbal, ginger
  • Palate – Yup! There is that distinctive rye spice! Packs a bit of a whallop… then settles down, brown sugar
  • Finish – A bit of pepper

To me, this is a clear rye. 

I admit, I sampled it on two occasions – once on its own and I realized I simply wasn’t in the mood, so set it aside after a sip. And again this evening after sampling Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey.

When you think of a classic American rye… it is something like Knob Creek. At first it comes across as direct, no finesse… yes it isn’t just rye spice, there are herbs, wood elements and other things… that start to grow on you…

Distillery official tasting notes?

  • Colour : Shades of gold to light amber.
  • Nose : Expansive notes of herbs and rye with nuances of oak.
  • Taste : Bold rye spiciness with undertones of vanilla and oak.

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Vita Dulcis 18 – USA’s Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey 43%

Back in the day, this guy sat on a chair and started crooning out of tune. Family friends caught him in a Greenwich Village cafe in the 60s and… having no clue of what impact this singer songwriter would have on music and culture… I’m speaking of Bob Dylan.

And now? Whiskey…

I remember when 1st launched, friends reached out to ask what I thought?

My response? I won’t know til I try… and that’s what is fun about buying whisky advent calendars… chock full of samples you might not otherwise have an opportunity to try.

So what did I think?

USA – Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey 43%

  • Nose – Definitely rye, but with a lighter touch, sweeter… a bit of honey, vanilla, cream some wood, maybe a touch of mint or basil? Some cream
  • Palate – Again – clearly rye, yet has a lighter touch, less bite… mellows more readily, a bit of apple with a rye spice chaser….
  • Finish – A bit of citrus and licorice then mint

OK, I confess… I’m not a big rye fan. But this one worked. And I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did!

What do the producers have to say?

Breaking with tradition, we finish our Straight Rye Whiskey in toasted oak cigar barres, air-dried in the low-lying mountain region of Vosges, France. This proprietary finishing results in a smoother, ore approachable rye with notes of orange peel, coriander, and spice.

Would I agree? I’m surprised to admit, yes…

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Kentucky Rye – Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye 50%

We all know about the angel’s share…. the portion of whisky that evaporates while quietly maturing in barrels – typically 5% a year in the case of Kentucky bourbon.

The brand “Angel’s Envy” is a multigenerational affair – Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson came out out retirement from a lifetime in the whiskey industry to collaborate with his son, Wes, on a bourbon finished in Port barrels. Wes’s son Kyle then also joined the family business.

The story goes that after tasting their inaugural whiskey, Lincoln joked that they’d “finally gotten a better deal than the angels.” Hence Angel’s Envy brand was created by Louisville Distilling Company, now a subsidiary of Bacardi Limited.

After Bourbon finished in Port, they turned to Rye finished in Rum casks and Cask strength series finished in Port. Our host selected the Rye finished Rum… and this is what we found…

Angel’s Envy Rum Barrel Finished Rye 50% Batch I0T, Bottle 291

  • Nose – A very strong unmistakable burnt caramel, treacle, maple syrup, bananas and cream, some salted caramel, coca cola, rich, sugary and creamy
  • Palate – Like a fine rum… it was one of those drams we can call “desert in a glass”, bread pudding, nutmeg, coconut cream
  • Finish – Sweet spice that lingers

There was zero question the rum had a strong influence here. And no ordinary rum – this was clearly quality stuff. We thought of rums like Criterion and others Lucas has introduced to the world such as Long Pond.

I have to admit this was unlike any rye I’ve ever tried. It was simply sinfully sweet… and yet when it came to the cigar, wasn’t happening. The very elements that made it so unique, were the same elements that prompted us to steer clear of pairing with a cigar. This Rye demands to fly solo, no accompaniment.

I stumbled across this insight from the folks at Flaviar:

Angel’s Envy Rye starts life as a quality, but rather traditional mix of 95% Rye and 5% malted barley. Bulleit, Dickle… a lot of the top guys use this mix because it works well. This is where Angel’s Envy works their magic. First, they age it a full six years in medium-char American oak. Then they finish it for an additional 18 months in Rum casks, but not just “any” Rum casks. These are “THE” Rum casks from Plantation Rum… the ones that started as Cognac casks from Maison Ferrand. So Angel’s Envy Rye is third in a line of super-premium awesomeness in those casks, emerging 7 1/2 years old. No more sales pitch, you just think about that for a minute and get back to us.

What the makers of Angel’s Envy share as their tasting notes?

  • Appearance – Crystal clear quality with a rich, reddish amber color
  • Nose – Aromas of citrus, caramel candy, maple sugar, vanilla, oak, hazelnut, spice, and sherry wood
  • Palate – Sweet rum, sherry wood, and soft oak
  • Finish – Both sweet and dry, as well as quick and easy

What else did we try in our Kentucky Rye evening?

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Kentucky Rye – Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 56.5%

Our host set himself a very clear goal – to bring together a quartet of Kentucky Rye that reflects the range of possibilities…

Next up was a single barrel from Wilderness Trail at full cask strength… Spoiler alert! This was simply exceedingly drinkable, pairing perfectly with a cigar!

In this case the magic lies in a few things these folks are doing a bit differently….  They talk of their unique yeast strains, proprietary Infusion Mashing Process, chemical free steam, largely locally sourced grains from nearby farms (except barley from the northern US)… but what is truly unique is the use of sweet rather than sour mash.

Sour mash uses spent mash from the previous batch in the new one, reducing bacterial infestations and the preferred method since the 1800s. Sweet mash is ‘fresh’ each time and considered ‘risky’ due to potential for contamination. Hence the guys at Wilderness Trail designed their whole approach around a highly sanitized process that enabled them produce spirit that is “softer” and “more flavorful”. You can read more about this in Fred Minnick’s Forbes’ article.

As always, what matters most is what we found in our tasting….

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 15017 Kentucky Straight Rye 56.5%

  • Nose – What a nose! Toffee, caramel, juicy
  • Palate – Fabulous! Sweet desert, soft and sooo smooth, quite chewy… and while certainly was from the Rye family, there were other things going on that blended together rather well, some sweet spices, tobacco leaf and caramel
  • Finish – Long, sweet with a lovely spice

We quite enjoyed this one. You could hear appreciative words around the room “Fabulous” “Wow what a finish!” “Zero burn” In short, it went down rather well with the most balanced character – sweet but not too sweet, spice but not too much spice, quite delightful on the nose, substance on the palate with a terrific finish.

As usual, we set it aside to try the last one – Angel’s Envy – which was pure burnt caramel and treacle. When we returned to this one, what stood out was how everything simply worked together – each element adding its bit but none too much. It was no surprise when the Gurkha Seduction cigar was paired with the Wilderness Trail.

I was curious about this one as it clearly held its own… It was sweet, well rounded with a a lovely balance… again it was only when I sat down to write my tasting notes that I learned this combines corn and barley from a sweet rather than sour mash – clearly accounting for its character.

Definitely one to watch out for!

What did the folks at Wilderness Trail have to say?

Our Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskeys are offered as a Cask Strength release. We have the lowest entry proof we know of in Kentucky. We barrel at 100 proof to highlight the balance of the grains and alternate solubility expression from the barrel. Our three-grain recipe is 56 percent rye, 33 percent corn and 11 percent malted barley. Our rye mash bill is one we created for a broader balance of flavor to offset the typical high ryes commonly found. We use Kentucky-grown Heritage rye from our local KY Proud farm. We enter the new, air-dried #4 char, 53-gallon barrels at 100 proof for our Rye Whiskey and age until maturity in our barrelhouse. We age our Rye Whiskeys on the upper floors of our Rickhouses A & B, arguably one reason for their vibrant expression at 3 + years. We plan to age our Ryes as long as our Bourbons — in the 6-8 year age range — but we do plan to introduce some 3 and 4 year old Rye Whiskeys as Cask Strength releases. We just keep finding wonderful honey-barrels with great expressions that need to be explored.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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Kentucky Rye – New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye 50%

Our host started our evening by asking if we were familiar with the quartet of Kentucky Rye we were about to try? Most of us had heard of Basil Hayden’s – more for their Bourbon than Rye – however I simply had to admit I had never heard of New Riff distillery before.

We can be forgiven for that living in India as this is a new entry into the Kentucky whiskey world – having started only in 2014 as a small, independent, family owned distillery. This bottle was picked up from the distillery and likely one of their initial batches from Spring 2019.

The idea of “New Riff” is to build on Kentucky bourbon and rye making traditions… They use 95% rye and 5% malted rye, aged for at least four years in 53 gallon toasted and charred new oak barrels, no chill filtration and “bottled in bond.”

Just in case you are curious, “bottled in bond” is a label for an American-made distilled beverage that has been aged and bottled according to a set of legal regulations contained in the United States government’s Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, as originally laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.

So what did we find?

New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye (Spring 2019) 50%

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Started a bit soft, hint of tobacco – perhaps charred oak? Fruits, tart and sweet candy, has a nice hint of spice, back to the candy…
  • Palate – Banana, that distinctive rye spice, then became sweet and syrupy
  • Finish – VERY dry, sour mash, dry dust rag…
  • Water – Rather than add water, we first took a good swig of cold water then sipped the rye… Ugh! No no no no no no! Very bitter, all that dry element accentuated further…. for us at least, having this neat is perfection!

Overall most found it quite nice though not complex. The nose and palate were the strongest with the finish almost a bit TOO dry.

There was something almost rustic about this one. There was no question this was a rye however it was not in the least bit harsh… even at 50%. Perhaps its age or other elements accounts for the happy absence of “kick” found in some rye that cry out for a mix! And I also had a sneaking suspicion this rye would easily hold its own in a quality cocktail.

We set it aside to continue our journey through Kentucky ryes… on the revisit we found the spice remained… again one that made me wonder, what would it be like in a cocktail?

What did the folks at New Riff have to say?

  • Appearance: Extra rich, unfiltered deep amber color.
  • Nose: Spicy and detailed, showing mint, black pepper, and vanilla with hints of orange and oak.
  • Taste: Cinnamon spice, vanilla and sweet toffee moving into a bold mouth feel with rich Rye spice, caramel and toasted oak. Complex flavors drink older than four-year-old.
  • Finish: Bold Rye spice with vanilla buttercream and lingering brown sugar, plus a mineral-grassy Rye tone that fades slowly.

What else did we try in our journey through Kentucky Rye?

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Kentucky Rye – Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

Our host shared he wanted to start with the Basil Hayden’s one as it was an ‘outlier’ in flavour profile and approach. He also shared the reason he wanted to focus on Rye is the ‘liberties’ that can be taken to explore a range of combinations without any major restrictions.

Hence this was not simply matured in a Port cask…. it actually had Port simply blended with the Kentucky Straight Rye and Alberta Rye!

Which I somehow hadn’t clued into until after our tasting… no wonder our notes keep coming back to cherries and port!

Here is what we thought…

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

  • Colour – Such a vibrant ruby red it was unreal! (the photo does NOT do justice to the colour!)
  • Nose – Started off a bit peculiar – like it was whiskey at all! Then shifted into orange, cloves, a bit musty and metallic, old wood polish, then increasingly the black cherries of the port became more and more pronounced, peaking behind was some vanilla custard… after the 1st sip, it took a sour almost sharp quality, lots of wood, vanilla and above all cherries
  • Palate – Sour fruits, dark cherries, spice comes in from behind… better on the 2nd sip, oily, sweet… while quite linear had different dimensions, becoming sweeter and sweeter with each sip, the port element remains strong, wood and even a bit of whey
  • Finish – Definitely there

Fresh out of the bottle it was a good place to start – while the three elements were not melding together cohesively, it did make for an interesting interplay. Unlike most where port is an accent from being matured in ex-port pipes, this was full on port… which clearly is due to it literally being added to the mix!

We set it aside and when we returned? It was like coconut water that has gone a bit off… after the cask strength and diverse other ryes, this one at 40% seemed watered down… back to being slightly queer or different.

While it may not be for everyone, it was certainly interesting to try! After later reading the notes it might go well on the rocks, perhaps with a twist of orange or as a cocktail such a Sazerac of Whisky Sour.

What did the folks at Basil Hayden’s have to say?

Blending is an art form, and our Dark Rye is your chance to own what might very well be a masterpiece.

It all begins with Kentucky Rye, providing a firm foundation of spice, oak, dried fruit and subtle molasses undertones for this release to build upon. From there, Canadian Rye from our award-winning Alberta Distillery is skillfully layered in. A touch of California Port, and its complementary notes of ripe fruit, provides the third and final layer to a whiskey just as at home on the rocks as it is in a cocktail.

Full in flavor, yet delicately nuanced, you’d be wise to grab a bottle of our Dark Rye to experience this magical blend for yourself.

  • Color – Deep, rich amber with ruby undertones
  • Aroma – Oaky notes balanced with dark berries and molasses
  • Taste – Complex blend of caramel, dried fruit, and oak with back notes of spice and a rounded mouth feel
  • Finish – Lingering dried fruit with a hint of sweetness and rye spice.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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Random whisky tasting at KODE

When we started our different whisky tasting clubs in Mumbai it was at a time where the offerings readily available beyond whiskies personally brought into the country were rather limited. Fast forward and today it is possible to have a respectable flight… right here in the city… for a price.

That shared, we likely won’t see many single casks entering anytime soon… in part because to import requires donating a “sample” for testing purposes. When a product has only say 100 bottles in the world and to sell at best a handful in a particular state, it becomes impossible to justify such a “donation”.

So while the more unusual limited edition specimens likely won’t show up anytime soon,  the overall range is sufficient for those curious to be inducted into the world of single malts and whiskies in general.

Which is exactly what we sat down to accomplish one fine evening at KODE in Mumbai early April.

My sampling companions and I warned the waiter that we would be requesting different bottles, sniffing then selecting so to be patient with us. And they were.

We began with a clear progression from light to distinctive profiles…

I’d initially thought to start with Compass Box Hedonism as it is such an unusual yet light whisky. They were just out of stock, so shifted instead to a readily accessible “appetizer”:

Our palates now acclimated, our real journey began with:

I then wanted to shift gears to start to discern more subtle complex flavours… It was wishful thinking to hope Glendronach 18 year might be available however did have a choice between the 12, 15 and 21 year... We went with:

  • Scotland – Glendronach – Glendronach 15 year “Revival” 46%*

Then split into the following to cater to the emerging different palate preferences of my sampling companions:

As conversation veered towards talk of casks and the difference between a Scottish single malt and Bourbon, I thought it would be good to do a wee detour to the US to contrast what we sampled so far with Bourbon & Rye:

Then proceeded to compare the nuances between very similar whiskies from Glenmorangie that have different finishes:

  • Scotland – Highland – Glenorangie Lasanta 12 year 46% – Olorosso & PX Sherrry finish
  • Scotland – Highland – Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 year 46% – Port finish

And finally we closed with a split between revisiting whiskies that “stood” out for my companions:

*Just in case you were wondering what all the “asterisk” mean… each of these bottles were brought into India thanks to Keshav Prakash with The Vault Fine Spirits. I’m incredibly proud of what Keshav and his team have achieved and have made a huge impact on the range now available in Mumbai. Thank you!

KODE – Freestyle Bar and Kitchen

Ground Floor – 11, Oasis City, Kamala Mills – Entrance #2, Lower Parel,, Mumbai, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400013. Tel: 077188 82924

PS It may seem like an insane quantity of whisky but keep in mind we were splitting 30 ml singles – focusing more on sniffing, swishing and savouring.

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Waldviertler J.H. Single Malt 41% + Rye Malt 41%

Next up from Austria was a duo from Waldviertler J.H. with their 5 year Single Malt and 6 year Rye Malt.

Both come from the Austrian distillery J Haider in Roggenreith, north of the Danube river. It was founded in 1995 by the Master Distiller Johann Haider and his wife Monika Haider. While new to us, it seems the distillery has become such a tourist attraction that by 2011 it had 80,000 visitors a year (FYI double Glenlivet)

What did we think?

Valdviertler J.H. 5 year Single Malt 41%

  • Nose – Plastic, glue, why tried to say honey?? Perfume but more of an industrial, chemical variant than fine perfume, amaretto, syrupy, dusty grain
  • Palate – Raw wheat, gehu (guar gum), quite crude (one called it ‘battery acid’)
  • Finish – Unrefined

To say it didn’t hit the spot was an understatement. To be fair, this group of Whisky Ladies have little familiarity with rye. At best the Canadian know if from youthful follies of Rye and Ginger(ale).

And this Austrian Rye was decidedly young… something we would describe in hindi as ‘kaccha’ meaning it is raw or uncooked… for something that really should be prepared properly.

Yet like many of these experiments, it was interesting to try… just wouldn’t go out of our way to repeat.

Here’s briefly what the distillery has to say:

Single Malt J.H. and Dark Single Malt J.H. are made from 100% barley malt. When the malt is roasted lightly, caramel tones emerge, while dark roasting produces coffee-caramel tones.

Valdviertler J.H. 6 year Rye Malt 41%

  • Nose – Surprisingly similar to the Rye, but more honey, antisceptic, gummy adhensive, with a whiff of flowers like rajnigandha jasmine
  • Palate – Malt grain, ply or cardboard, rancio, completely ‘kaccha’
  • Finish – Holds… but why? In truth for this finish holding isn’t a good thing

What can we say without sounding discourteous… this was simply not a single malt for us. Far too raw, like hooch that touched wood.

Here’s briefly what the distillery has to say:

Rye Malt J.H. is made from 100% malted rye, light roasted(41%. alc.). 
Flavor: This rye malt whisky is unique in Euroe, its mellow sweet honey note evolving from the special malting of the rye, hamonising perfectly with the light vanilla flavor of the sessile oak (local oak).

Like Wiser’s Uuahouua Pinot Noir, you can purchase the Rye Malt from the Austrian Supermarket for approximately €62 for the 700 ml bottle.

Here’s what they have to say:

The Original Rye Whisky J.H. is the best-selling whiskey and has added much to the family’s success. Ever since 1995 the family business of family Haider has been distilling whisky at the highest stage possible, making them and their exquisite liquor an international pioneer. Family Haider started to destil Schnaps in the 1990’s using a … Alle Produkte von Waldviertler Whisky Haider

Learn more about the distillery from Whisky Intelligence’s “Milk or Whisky? Austria’s first distillery Walviertler Roggenhof”

What all did we enjoy in our Après-ski evening?

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Whisky Ladies Après-ski

With December, one often thinks of winter, skiing, coming in stomping off the snow, peeling off toque, scarf, mittens and many layers, settling down in front of a roaring fire to enjoy a drink, food, great company… all the while making merry.

Our Whisky Ladies decided to embrace a decidedly northern theme of “Aprèsski” with European whiskies where one can also enjoy winter sports, even though it remains a balmy 27’c in Mumbai.

We began our evening with mulled wine made by our Swedish host and lebkuchen smuggled in from a recent trip to Germany… then quickly shifted gears to a rather remarkable line-up with a few whiskies anchoring the session with full pours and a couple of small shared samples picked up by a Whisky Lady while backpacking around Austria!

Here is what we tried:

*While matured in France using European barrels, strictly speaking the new make spirit is from Scotland… with the  most annoyingly difficult wax on the cork which required a ‘proper’ corkscrew to pop open. How peculiar! As is the whisky too…

As for the others, just click on the links and read what we thought!

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