It’s nice when the tables are turned. While it’s often my job to send samples out to bloggers on the rare occasions we do so at work, I don’t usually expect to receive any myself, especially not from another blogger. However, my mate Sjoerd of Malt Fascination also moonlights as one of the folks behind the Usquebaugh Society. They, like many of the whisky-mad Dutch clubs, occasionally bottle whiskies, and samples of their latest pair dropped through my letter box the other day. To start with, a single cask Millstone Rye, distilled in 2007.
Thanks to my yearly visits to Maltstock, I recognise a few of the folks who run the Usquebaugh Society and have bumped into them in both the Netherlands and the hinterlands of Scotland. They generally seem to have some idea on what makes a good dram, judging by the whiskies they’ve forced on me in the past, and the latest releases have been chosen to celebrate the club’s 25th birthday – both good signs for the quality of the whiskies.
The first release is from Zuidam, the Dutch liqueur distillery which is increasingly making waves in the world of whisky (and whiskey). While I quite like their single malts (and dropped one into my first Whisky Squad session many moons ago) it’s their rye whiskies that are getting all the love, and rightly so. With the advent of their more recent releases they’ve started to seriously rival the US whiskey makers when it comes to rye, and even started to win me over to drinking it on its own rather than only in cocktails – I’m usually a bit of a rye wuss. We bottled a single cask at work earlier this year, and ever since then I’ve been a convert.
The Usquebaugh Society bottling is a fairly typical small batch Zuidam rye: it is unlike all of their other bottlings and an experiment. Despite its relatively youthful six and a half years of maturation (to the day), it’s bottled at an unusually low cask strength of 43.4%. The reason is suprisingly simple: rather than filling the cask (a new American oak cask in this case) at the usual strength of about 63% ABV – the US legal maximum is 62.5%/103 proof and in Scotland they commonly fill at 63.5% ABV – they have instead filled at 46% ABV. According to my copy of The Science and Commerce of Whisky, this should lead to a much slower maturation, as the liquid won’t extract as much flavour from the cask as quickly. Does the whisky agree?
Nose: Lots of sweetness and fruit up front, with some sharpness behind – midget gems, toffee and Christmas trees. Hidden within the sweetness are pink and purple Chewitts and marshmallows.
Taste: Dark chocolate digestive biscuits to start, turning quickly to bitter oak, balanced by a mix of golden and maple syrups, although with a touch of black rubber. The biscuit come back for a bit, along with some sweet pastry Granny Smith apples, cinnamon sticks and brown sugar.
Finish: Quite light, with a cinnamon tingle, apple skin and resinous oak.
If I hadn’t seen the age on this then I would have billed it as much younger – it has some of the flavour of a young American whiskey, matured in warm climes in a small cask: intense oak sweetness without the mellowing that you get with time. However, it doesn’t have the youthful, spirity flavours that I usually find comes with the new style of American whiskey, making me like it significantly more.
The combination of a Dutch climate, lower filling strength and decent time in the cask seem to have brought out the youthful oaky notes, but also allowed the spirit to get some general maturation done, reducing the off notes you would otherwise find. One to look for if you’re a fan of spicy young rye or are wanting to be converted. Fortunately, they still have some left and they’re even letting non-members buy it…
Zuidam 2007 Rye for the Usquebaugh Society
Dutch Rye Whiskey, 43.3%. €50 for non-members – buy it here.