Monday, January 15, 2018

Independent Bottlers Goes Americana - Part #1

American Whiskey bottled by Independent Bottlers

The Independent bottlers have been buying and bottling whisk(e)y for more than a century now, so there’s really nothing new to it, but their main focus has always been on the Scotch distilleries. Lately, some of the Independent Bottlers have started to venture out, and have finally found their way into the American distilleries.
The first time I heard about an Independent Bottler who was bottling American whiskey - a Bourbon to be exact – was back February 2016, when The Scotch Malt Whisky Society released their B4.1 ‘Comforting coconut, bountiful banana’. A 3 years old Bourbon from Few Spirits in Chicago, and followed up with releases from Heaven Hill, Bernheim and Rock Town Distillery. Since then, Independent bottlers That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Singapore based The Single Cask, Glasgow based North Star Spirits and UK based Bartels Whisky have all been busy bottling whiskeys from America, so maybe it’s time we join the bandwagon and take a closer look at this new trend.
Over the new couple of month, we are going to provide you with the informations about the distilleries, the independent bottlers, and review the whiskeys that are being bottled by some of them. We kick this series off, by taking a closer look at Independent bottler; That Boutique-y Whisky Company, the Californian distillery; St. George Spirits and review a bottling of their two year old Rye whiskey. 

About: That Boutique-y Whisky Company:

“That Boutique-y Whisky Company is all about bringing great whisky to the world in a fun way, and one which is sort-of-informative (as long as you can see through the nonsense that's there just for the sake of our own silly amusement).”

That Boutique-y Whisky Company is a rather new player on the independent bottlers’ scene. That Boutique-y Whisky Company was founded back in 2012, as a sister company to the online whiskey retailer Masters of Malt.

TBWC bottles single malts, single grains and bourbons from a variety of distilleries, as well as marrying/vatting their “own” blends. TBWC got a habit of changing its name, to whatever style of whisk(e)y they are bottling, so when they are bottling e.g. bourbon, they all the sudden becomes That Boutique-y Bourbon Company instead. 

All of TBWC offerings comes in 50cl. bottles, each with its own graphic label created by Emily Chappell, that features persons from within the whisky industry, or tells the tales from the histories of the distilleries, or as TBWC likes to put it; “Each bottle has a fun and informative graphic-novel-style label containing humorous references, in-jokes and shocking puns”.

Until 2016 TBWC released their bottles as NAS Whiskies but started to age state them in April 2016, when they joined John Glaser of Compass Box transparency campaign. TBWC have furthermore promised to “list the breakdown of the various whiskies that make up each bottling as soon as the campaign is successful and EU legislation allows it.”

Now, instead of waiting around, while John Glaser is out there fighting the good guy’s fight to change the legislation, TWBC could easily have done a heck of a lot more in order to become more “transparent”, without breaking any current laws. If willing they could have revealed;
  • If they are adding E150 caramel coloring to their whiskies?
  • If they are using the chill-filtering method or not?
  • If the whiskies are bottled at cask strength?
  • If the whiskies are from a single cask?
  • The year the whisky was bottled?
  • Which types of casks the whiskies have been matured in? 
But when reading their statement, concerning age statement, and their fight for greater transparency, they do in my opinion sounds a bit ambivalent. “We still believe that flavour and overall quality are more important than age. It’s partly been driven by the interest of whisky fans, but is also part of our wholehearted support for the campaign for Scotch whisky transparency.”

Though I fully agree with the fine gents at TBWC, and I goes without saying, that quality is more important than age, both in regard to older as well as younger whiskies, because some older whiskies should defiantly have been bottled at a younger age, and vice versa, but I also believes in transparency, so I, as a consumer, knows exactly what I’m paying for.   

Click here to visit TBWC’s website

About: St. George Spirits

The legendary distiller Jörg Rupf founded St. George Spirits in Alameda, California back in 1982, and are by many considered to be the father of the craft distilling movement. Jörg Rupf started his distilling career by making “eau de vie” from pears, raspberries, cherries, and kiwi fruit on a single, 65-gallon Holstein pot still. Since then, St. George Spirits has little by little expanded their portfolio to include about a dozen of different distilled spirits.

In 1996 Lance Winters, a brewer and former nuclear scientist joints St. George Spirits. Rumors has it, that Lance simply shows up with a bottle of homemade whisky as his resume, and Jörg Rupf hires him for a one month trial period. Now, twenty-one years later Lance is the president and master distiller at St. George Spirits.

Jörg and Lance release their first official single malt whiskey; Lot 1 in 2000 and their Hangar one vodka line in 2002. Two years later St. George Spirits moves into its current location, the 65,000 square feet former Alameda naval air station. The year after, David Smith joins the team, as the chief custodian and guiding hand behind the St. George whiskey program.

In 2007 St. George broke new ground when they release the first legal Absinthe since the U.S. ban in 1912. 

Jorg Rupf retired from his 28-year career as a master distiller in 2010, the same year; St. George sells their Hangar one vodka to Proximo Spirits, mostly known for Kraken Rum.
The year after Lance and David go “barrel thieving”, as they put it, at some of their favorite Kentucky distilleries, to source barrels of bourbon for their now famous blended bourbon Breaking and Entering Bourbon.

St. George Spirits lineup includes several Gin’s, Vodka’s, Coffee and fruit liqueurs. A  Brandie, an Absinthe, a Bruto Americano and a couple of whiskies.  

Jörg has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Distilling Institute and is a five-time nominee for Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional by the James Beard Foundation. Lance Winters contributions to the spirits world have also been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, which has named him a semifinalist in the category of Outstanding Wine, Beer, and Spirits Professional for two years running (2016 and 2017).

Click here to visit St. George Spirits website

That Boutique-y Whisky Company. St. George Spirits. Rye. Batch 1
Bottle 248 of 400.

Distillery: St. George Spirits
Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Region: America
Age: 2 Years
Proof/ABV: 55%
Release: March 2017. Limited 400 bottles release.
Dk price: $74USD/461dkk

Points: 89,5/100

About the label art: Taken directly from That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s website:
“Back in 1982, Time Magazine did a very dangerous thing - they crowned a Machine of the Year rather than a Person of the Year. The 'Computer' was named Machine of the Year. This is an outrage because 1) it's practically inviting robots to take over the world, and 2) the Machine of the Year 1982 should obviously have been Jörg Rupf's still, with which he started St. George Spirits in California, USA! We've gone and bottled a rye from these American craft distilling pioneers.”

Oaky, with a ton of brown sugar, cinnamon and hints of raisins.  

A bit of a rye kick at first, followed by fruity flavors, freshly picked mint and nutmeg.

A dominating taste of blueberry muffin, that I can’t reconnect ever tasting in a whiskey before, that slowly transcends into a long mouth tickling dry rye spice sensation.

Overall impression:  
If you haven’t already picked up a bottle, get to it before it’s too late, and then get down on your knees and pray that That Boutique-y Whisky Company will get the opportunity to bottle a second batch of this damn fine Rye. 

Photos article & review by: Hasse Berg