ABV: 44% Distillery: One Eight Distilling Region: USA
I often find myself reading producer press releases which go to great lengths to highlight the ‘innovation’ and ‘experimentation’ that has taken place in the creation of a product. More often than not, I wonder whether these buzzwords (which are excessively overused by every industry) really do represent actual advancements and progressions. Often they’re simply banded around to persuade consumers of some level of uniqueness. Then a product comes along which raises my eyebrows. The sort of product that were it made in Scotland would have the SWA up in arms and like cause some level of furore. Innovation and experimentation or just simply excessive madness? Eitherway today, we’ll be looking at a whiskey that’s been finished in a barrel which previously contained cocoa nibs.
One Eight Distilling based in Washington DC opened in 2015. Named after Article one, section eight of the US constitution (which specified the powers of Congress to lay and collect taxes, duties and excises as well as to provide common defence and welfare for the United States), One Eight are aiming for a terrior approach to distilling – sourcing all their ingredients from within the DC area. With only four years under their belts, they’re not reached this goal as yet, and are currently sourcing both grains and liquids from outside of the state to produce their line ups of gins and whiskeys.
One Eight Distilling’s ‘Untitled’ series pitches itself on experimentation with small batch spirits. Everything is currently sourced (and to their credit their clearly indicate this), but then manipulated, transposed and in some cases thoroughly bastardised before bottling. 13 expressions have been released to date – some seem relatively ordinary – high rye bourbon finished in sherry casks, liquid from Tennessee re-racked into tawny port – interesting, but hardly radical. But, other bottlings in the series are frankly much more madcap and anomalous.
Untitled Whiskey No. 12 has been made in partnership with Harper Macaw, a DC-based chocolatier with some solid sustainability credentials. One Eight Distilling loaned Harper Macaw some ex-bourbon barrels, which the company filled with cocoa nibs sourced from Vale do Juliana in the Amazon. The resultant product is a 75% cocoa solid ‘Bourbon Barrel Aged Chocolate’. After six months of cocoa nib ‘aging’, the chocolatier then returned the barrels back to One Eight, and the distiller filled them with sourced 7 year old wheated bourbon. The untitled expression was then bottled at 44% ABV. The product is very much a local DC-based thing – whilst on my travels around the state I saw a variety of One Eight expressions on shelves, travel further afield of DC or Maryland and you’re highly unlikely to spot any.
Nose: There’s a perceptible interplay between sweetness and sourness here - steeped cherries and plums provide a fruity backbone for bitter earthy chocolate, lighter petit fours, milky latte and toasted cereals. Spices permeate throughout - cinnamon, nutmeg and anise – never quite settling on a dominant aroma. Reduction adds notes of bakery with buns and sponge cake whilst sweetening things up with fondant icing.
Taste: The arrival delivers a somewhat jagged combination of soured fruits (cherries particularly, but also raisins and figs), bitter dark chocolate and wood lacquer. Cocoa nibs undoubtedly come through strongly – unsweetened hot chocolate, mocha, Ovaltine – expressive, but ultimately astringent and acidic (rather like the base ingredient itself). Creosote and yacht vanish present some overt barrel influence – planky and with a somewhat synthetic edge. Running throughout and extending into the finish, spices infiltrate once more – cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Reduction isn’t required from an ABV point of view, but it does provide a more level playing field for the flavours to play on – sweetness is increased and whilst the chocolate element is also heightened, its delivered with less obvious bitterness and sourness.
Finish: Medium in length, packed full of chocolate and fading spices, and with drying cedarwood and herbal tea.
Untitled Whiskey No.12 is a fascinating aberration. The precursor liquid? (solid) comes through throughout offering intense dark bitter unprocessed chocolate whilst still allowing the profile of the wheated bourbon room to express itself. That said, whether the two components actually sit together in harmony is highly questionable. To my taste, there’s just too much biting acidity and astringency here, and the wood influence feels strangely artificial and out of place. A radically different whiskey that completely fitswith the series’s billing of being about ‘play and experimentation’, but not successful enough to convince me that ex-cocoa nib casks are a natural selection to mature whiskey in.
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