Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky (Cask No. 1)
Review: Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky – Cask #1 86.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published Aug 13, 2013
In Canada, we are not allowed to call the water of life we produce, “Canadian Whisky” until the spirit has seen the inside of an oak cask for 3 years. The result of this restriction, is that it is very difficult for a new distillery to gain traction in Canada as the producer must wait three long years before anything that is produced can be labeled, Canadian Whisky.
Recently however, we have seen new innovations being introduced which are helping to lower the barrier to new production. I am speaking of course of the new technology of the micro distillery. These micro-distilleries are more economical at smaller scales, vastly reducing the up front capital required to produce new whisky. This means that the Canadian entrepreneur now has a greater ability to realize his/her dream of becoming a whisky distiller in Canada.
Thefolks at Still Waters Distillery proudly proclaim themselves to be the first of these small Micro Distilleries in the Province of Ontario. Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein commenced operations in the fall of 2009 and produced their first new-make spirit just two months after they received their custom German-made pot still. The year is now 2013, and this means that the Still Water’s Distillery, being in its fourth year of operation, is just now bottling their first batches of their own 100 % Hand-Crafted whisky which they have aged the required 3 years in oak barrels.
In the case of the Still Water’s Single Malt Whisky, the distillery has chosen to bottle each of the first barrels of whisky as Single Cask offerings.
According to the Still Waters Website:
“STALK & BARREL SINGLE MALT WHISKY is made from 100% Canadian two-row malted barley. It is mashed, fermented, and distilled by hand in small batches in a small copper pot still. All our whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks on site. When ready, each barrel is bottled individually as a single cask offering in individually numbered bottles. Some casks will be bottled at cask strength, while others will be bottled at a minimum 46% alc./vol. We never add colouring nor do we chill-filter our whiskies.”
I was rather fortunate in that I received my sample of the Stalk and Barrel Single Malt Whisky from the very first cask (Cask 1) to produce Single Malt whisky at the Still Waters Distillery. This cask was a previously used American bourbon barrel, and the whisky it produced was bottled at 63.2 % alcohol by volume. This is a 3 Year Old Canadian Single Malt whisky, the youngest allowed by Canadian law.
Note: Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein pride themselves in not only being the Master Distillers and the Master Blenders of their craft spirits; but they also take pride being the distillery’s Chief Bottle washers and Bottle Fillers. In fact, there is not a single aspect of the business that they do not either personally oversee or do themselves. Barry and Barry bring their spirits from grain to bottle in small batches, sourcing locally grown grain, then mashing, fermenting, distilling, maturing, and bottling their spirits right at the distillery. And yes, they bottle and package every spirit they produce by hand!
In the Bottle 4/5
The Stalk & Barrel Single Malt whisky is bottled in the clear, medium-tall glass bottle pictured to the left. Each bottle is individually numbered by hand, indicating the Cask number and the bottle number. The packaging is quite acceptable, especially considering that this is the first Single Malt the Micro distillery has produced.
In the Glass 9/10
When I poured a little of the Stock & Barrel into my glencairn glass, the whisky displayed itself as a medium to light toned amber spirit, represented by a light hue of orange within a golden-yellow. The initial aroma surprised me as I was expecting to sense a spirit similar to some familiar form of Scottish Single Malt. However, there was something very “Canadian” about the nose. In fact the initial aroma reminded me strongly of the 100 % corn whisky blends from the Highwood Distillery in Western Canada. The first breezes above the glass carried scents of sweet butterscotch bathed in corn syrup with tantalizing oak spices and almond scents meandering within.
As the glass sits, the power of the 62.3 % alcohol by volume becomes apparent giving the whisky a strong push of alcohol. Pushed along as well are strong autumn scents of freshly harvested grain and grassy hay fields ready for cutting. I sense fresh barley and the chaff separated by the combines. The grassy notes are reminiscent of green foxtail, and millet still standing in the fields, with some ripened cornstalks nearby ready for picking.
When I add a touch of water, some vanillans, a few hints of maltiness, and little dabbles of anise are aroused from their slumber. There is also a light herbal scent which teases me with hints of heather and green tobacco.
It is however, the butterscotch and to a lesser extent the underlying corn and almond impressions which continue to dominate the breezes. Obviously the American Bourbon cask which held the spirit for three years has left an imprint upon the newly bottled whisky.
In the Mouth 52/60
Sipping the whisky at full strength is difficult. I can clearly taste sweet butterscotch, corn and almond in the initial delivery; however, the push from alcohol and spicy heat chases other impressions away. To tame the whisky, I added a dabble of water which brings a heather-like grassiness into focus, as well as strong impressions of fresh barley and grain.
I decided to take my time, and the whisky rewarded me by revealing a light maltiness within the spicy heat as well as a gentle sweep of vanilla custard. The wood spices remain strong carrying impressions of orange zest, spicy tobacco, and traces of lowland sawgrass. All of these flavour impressions seem to bobble up and down in a whisky that has far more character than a 3-year-old spirit ought to possess.
One openly wonders just how good this whisky would have tasted had the barrel been allowed to rest even a few more years.
In the Throat 12.5/15
In the finish, both the young age of the whisky, and the high alcohol content make their mark as there is more than just a little burn making itself felt in the back of the mouth and down the throat. The exit includes trailing flavours of butterscotch, corn and honeycomb with additional hints of herbal grassiness, almond flavours and perhaps a hint of menthol.
The Afterburn 9/10
The Stalk & Barrel Single Malt whisky impressed me with the consistency of its character throughout the tasting session. The same descriptors kept appearing whether I was nosing the whisky, tasting the whisky, or just observing the left over aftertaste. This kind of balance throughout the sampling session is quite impressive. By the time I was finished, I was quite smitten by what I had encountered, and I hope that this sample from Cask 1 is a harbinger of greater things to come.
For another perspective upon The Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Davin de Kergommeaux, of Canadian Whisky has published his review of Cask 1 today as well. You may read his review here:
As well you may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)