Walk into any decent liquor store nowadays and you’ll find the walls lined with spirits produced at craft distilleries from every corner of the country. This wasn’t always the case, however, particularly when it comes to American single-malt whiskey (a style that’s very close to finally becoming a legally defined category). Craft is booming in the U.S., with over 2,000 distilleries currently in operation, according to the American Distilling Institute. Some have flickered out and closed up shop, while others have been gobbled up by larger drinks companies and made their founders very rich. But there are a few independently owned OGs still going strong. One such example is St. George Spirits, a Bay Area operation founded 40 years ago, long before bourbon had become the popular behemoth it is now. To celebrate four decades of making gin, vodka, liqueur and, of course, whiskey, the distillery just released its 40th Anniversary Edition Single Malt Whiskey, a limited-edition bottle that’s well worth checking out.
Lot 1 of St. George’s single malt whiskey was released in 2000, back when you could actually find a bottle of Pappy for less than $100. In 2004, St. George moved to its current location in an airplane hangar at the Alameda Air Station just outside of San Francisco, and that’s where this whiskey and many other spirits are distilled today. The new 40th Anniversary Edition is a unique take on the distillery’s core single-malt whiskey expression.
For this release, head distiller and blender Dave Smith sampled more than 600 different casks maturing in the warehouse, whittling it down to 30, then ultimately choosing just 14 to blend together. That’s a lot of sampling, but it’s just one of those tasks that’s impossible to make sound boring to any whiskey fan because each individual cask is going to offer something new and singular. So, yeah, cry us a whiskey river.
The mash bill is the same one that St. George has been using since it began making whiskey in 1997: 100 percent two-row barley that’s been roasted in five different ways including pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, black patent malt, and German alder/beechwood-smoked malt. While some of these sound like delicious dessert syrups, the names really refer to the particular way the barley has been roasted (chocolate malt indicates that it brings out chocolate flavors in the barley, for example).
What really separates this new release from the other St. George whiskeys are the casks in which it was matured, ranging in age from four years to one of the oldest barrels at the distillery. Ex-bourbon is the main type of barrel used at the distillery overall, but for this release a variety of others were selected and the team provided some insight about the reasons why.
The port barrel is considered to be the “heartstring” of the new whiskey; the apple brandy cask delivers fruit and menthol flavors; the cognac cask provides fresh green notes; the sherry cask is thought of as a “unifying, connecting” element; the California-style Sauternes cask brings sandalwood and Earl Grey tea flavors; the umeshu Japanese liqueur cask adds tropical fruit notes; and the ex-bourbon barrel is the grandmama here, the fourth laid down in 1999 when distilling was getting underway.
“Special releases are about sharing our heritage and making a statement about where we are today, as well as where we are going,” said Smith in a statement. “We were inspired to finish a portion of our anniversary single malt in umeshu cask as we discovered that our Lot Series mash bill married perfectly with the stone fruit tones of umeshu and brought balance to the rich weight of Lance’s house-made tawny port casks.” The whiskey is very unique and truly unlike most other single malts you’ve likely tried before.
On the nose, cherry, grape, chocolate and big floral notes jump out at you. The palate starts off with rich dark chocolate and caramel flavors, followed by fig, raisin, citrus, and just a whiff of smoke, all underpinned by a pronounced bright hoppy character.
This is a very complex, crisp, and almost savory sipping experience…provided you can find a bottle. Just 1982 were produced (a not-so-subtle tribute to the distillery’s founding year), bottled at 48% ABV, with a highfalutin price of $500.
That’s something you’re probably more used to seeing on a bottle of Michter’s 10 Year Old Bourbon, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, or other unicorn bottles. But why shouldn’t American craft single malt be just as rarified? And if you like some altruism with your whiskey, St. George is donating $40,000 to the STEPUP Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing assistance to under-represented groups in the spirits industry.
Cheers to that, and another 40 years of St. George whiskey.Learn More and Get it
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