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Monday, April 17, 2023

Bunch o' Bimbers, Part One

Okay, I'll try this again: I'm back! And I feel like I'm out of practice here, not with drinking whisky (because, yeah, there's whisky in Japan), but with typing up whisky reviews.

I'm going to review seven Bimber products this week. The pours were ~15mL, so I'm going to use grade ranges for each. To begin, here's one of the final paragraphs of my previous Bimber post:

I'm right where I was with early Kavalan and Wolfburn. These are ultra-young whiskies, no more, no less. Palates and preferences vary widely, but I'm again left wondering if some whiskies are graded on a steep curve because we want to see new distilleries succeed. We then lose our independence and turn into cheerleaders. But, ultimately, what good is that? The bar is lowered, clear-eyed standards vanish, and we (the drinkers) are left with countless single-digit aged whiskies selling for three-digits.

Having tasted a few Shizuokas while in Japan, I saw this issue arise again. Trying 3-4 year old whiskies satisfies an intellectual curiosity, but not much more. I hope Bimber, the much-hyped London distillery, can prove me wrong.

Today, I have samples of three Bimber casks exclusive to the United States. The good folks of Columbus Scotch Night were able to source these for an in-person event in late 2021 when we'd thought Covid-19 was behind us. Lol 🙁.

One virgin oak cask, one bourbon cask, one sherry cask:

Bimber NAS, virgin oak cask #95, bottled in 2020, 253 bottles. 58.6%abv

The nose starts with a mix of bananas, kiwis, and pineapples, then shifts to flowers, cinnamon, and cracked pepper after a 20 minutes. Diluted to 46%abv, it's all bananas and cinnamon.

Barrel char, bananas, and lemon candy form the neat palate. But once reduced to 46%abv, the whisky tastes like barrel char and ginger powder.

It finishes very sweetly, like bourbon infused with bananas and lemon peels. At 46%abv, we're back to bananas and cinnamon.

When neat, the nose and its fruits worked well, but the palate was oddly flat. Adding water only worsened matters, turning this thingamabob into a British attempt at craft bourbon.

Grade range: C (around 74-76)

Bimber NAS, ex-bourbon cask #154, bottled in 2020, 254 bottles, 59.1%abv

Again, the nose works: apricots, roses, eucalyptus, and lager. Once reduced to 46%abv, the whisky shifts a bit. Roses move ahead of the apricots, and confectioner's sugar appears in the background.

The floral and sweet palate, leans heavily on oak spice and coconut milk, growing very very sugary when diluted to 46%abv.

The finish has a good length to it, full of spices like cinnamon, cayenne, and nutmeg. At 46%abv, the bananas appear again, alongside the cayenne.

My favorite of the trio, this whisky's young nose shows off less cask influence than the other two, and the spices worked in the palate's favor. Again, the key is keeping it neat.

Grade range: B- (around 80-82)

Bimber NAS, ex-sherry cask #45, bottled in 2020, 293 bottles, 58.9%abv

I know this smell. A newly opened box of Sunmaid black raisins. Maybe a few dried cherries too. But then things take on a gluey, sweaty sock character. At 46%abv, it smells of raisins and roses.

A curious palate, with raisiny cream sherry, bubblegum, ginger ale, and some bitterness in the background. Diluted to 46%abv, the palate becomes pruny sweet with a slight leafy bitterness.

The neat finish offers raisins in cream soda, while the diluted finale has prunes and tannins.

At least some weirdness keeps this from being one of the most generic sherried styles I've had in a long time. More weirdness and fewer prunes, please!

Grade range: C+ (around 78-79)

Were these whiskies not $160-$200 per bottle, I'd say they could be interesting windows into par-baked products, but at that price the buyer deserves much more. Perhaps the bourbon cask was closest to a completed whisky. It was somewhere between 3 and 5 years old when bottled, so perhaps at 6-8 years it'd offer up a fresh take on single malt, but what's the price point going to be at that age?

This wasn't a great start, with that virgin oak cask being a unfortunate (though unsurprising) weak point. Gonna keep my hopes up, moderately, for Part Two.