Derek Grout and Peter Upstill (and their team) have done it! Harvest Spirits released their first Single Malt Whiskey from Harvest Spirits! Oh, boy!
OK, so my first question is, what is the history of Single Malt Whiskey? This is what Wikipedia says:
Distillation of whisky has been performed in Scotland and Ireland for centuries. The first written record of whisky comes from 1405 in Ireland, while the production of whisky from malted barley is first mentioned in Scotland in an entry on the 1494 Exchequer Rolls, which reads "Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor, by order of the King, wherewith to make aqua vitae".
Single malt whisky is associated with the Scottish tradition, although there are also Irish and other single malts. Penderyn, the only whisky commercially produced in Wales, is also a single malt.
From the 15th century onwards, whisky was heavily taxed in Scotland, to the point that most of the spirit was produced illegally. However, in 1823, Parliamet passed an act making commercial distillation much more profitable, while imposing punishments on landowners when unlicensed distilleries were found on their properties. George Smith was the first person to take out a licence for a distillery under the new law, founding the Glenlivet Distillery in 1824.
In the 1830s, Aeneas Coffey refined a design originally created by Robert Stein for continuous stills which produced whisky much more efficiently than the traditional pot stills. Quickly, merchants began blending the malt whisky with the grain whisky distilled in the continuous stills, making the first blended Scotch whisky. The blended whisky proved quite successful, less expensive to produce than malt with more flavour and character than grain. The combination allowed the single malt producers to expand their operations as the blended whisky was more popular on the international market.
Single malt distilleries also exist in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Japan, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA and Wales.
And then, what is the definition of Single Malt? Again, Wikipedia:
Single malt whisky is a whisky made at one particular distillery from a mash that uses only malted grain, ordinarily barley.
Single malts are typically associated with single malt Scotch, though they are also produced in various other countries. Under Scotch Whisky Regulations, a "Single Malt Scotch Whisky" must be made exclusively from malted barley (although the addition of E150A caramel colouring is allowed), must be distilled using pot stills at a single distillery, and must be aged for at least three years in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (150 imperial gallons; 180 US gallons).
While the Scotch model is usually copied internationally, these constraints may not apply to whisky marketed as single malt that is produced elsewhere. For example, there is no definition of the term single with relation to whisky in the law of the United States, and some American whiskey advertised as single malt whisky is produced from malted rye rather than malted barley.
OK, now let's talk about Harvest Spirits' John Henry Single Malt Whiskey. It's made using a beer made by Adirondack brewing, which is made from 75% New York smoky 2-row malted barley. It's double distilled. Then aged for two years. Approximately one month in new barrels, and then the rest in older applejack and bourbon barrels, or what they refer to as re-fill barrels.
Now, before I go into my review, I want to state out right that I am a bourbon guy. Generally I am not a huge fan of single malt. But I do like some.
That said, I like this whiskey for everything it is not. If you are looking for a big, smoky, mossy, peat monster, you will absolutely be disappointed. If you are looking for a big, bitter, biting, hot going down your throat single malt, then this is not for you.
On the other hand, of your looking for a light, lovely, floral nose with Sourdough bread, caramel apple, and lots of spiced fruit, then this is your whiskey. It's a lovely, elegant, complex spirit, with layers of delicate flavors and no sense of grain alcohol or anything like that.
If I've heard anything about brown spirits coming out of the Hudson Valley and the rest of the north east, its that they are not allowed to age long enough in the cask to acquire the complexity to compete with other spirits from Tennessee or Kentucky. I think the point with John Henry is two fold: 1. This is, in Derek Grout's wheel house, a more delicate and complex whiskey, instead of the caveman-ish club some would prefer. 2. Derek and Pete's palates across the board have always been to the more refined, elegant, delicate side, and this take on scotch whiskey is more than admirable. It's down right lovely!! Strike that! It's damned good!
Good things come in small packages. John Henry Single Malt Whiskey is now available in 750ml, 350ml and 50 ml bottles. Stop by the tasting room ASAP and get your hands on Batch#1.
And tell the rest of the guys Hi! for me!