A couple of weeks ago, thanks to our friend Davide (by the way: follow his Instagram @whisky_munich account), we received a set of six samples from Bimber, a very young English crafted distillery, based in London, active since 2015. We particularly like the concept behind this start-up: Bimber has an exclusive contract with a Hampshire grower, who supplies him with Concerto and Laureate varieties of barley, making the whisky produced a “single field” single malt; the malting is carried out manually, in the traditional way, on a floor at Warminster Maltings; the fermentation is particularly long (168 hours! ) and takes place in vats built by the cooperage inside the distillery; the stills, built ad hoc to maximize the contact between spirit and copper, are rather small (1000 litres wash still, 300 litres spirit still); finally, the maturation takes place in London warehouses, designed to have different average temperatures in order to vary the ‘speed’ of maturation. This is a quick, and in some ways cold, profile of the distillery: a few conversations with the owner gave us an account of a start-up born essentially out of passion, the result of years of study and taste for real craftsmanship – just the picture of the kiln below is enough… And in short, on paper everything is fine: now it’s time to taste it. As usual, since we’re talking about two new makes and cask samples of 35-month-old barrels, we won’t give a numerical rating, but we’ll limit ourselves to tasting notes and general impressions.
Bimber New Make (Batch n. 140, 60%)
Well… it tastes like new make! Apart from the obvious, even in our limited experience of new make, it seems to us very clean, very intensely fruity (besides the obvious pear, there is something reminiscent of wild strawberries, or strawberry hard candy; American grape); there’s also a clear citrus component, in addition to a sweetened lemon, also something even sweeter, like cedar. Ah, do not forget – of course – a frank cereal without edges and without mineral leaks. Very round. The palate is also definetely sweet, with more barley and citrus fruits, white sugar – there are clear notes of red fruit, like cherry (even on the nose, we had the sensation of a cherry eau-de-vie, a kirsch…). A barely bitter hint of cherry stone. Very good, it’s sweet but not cloying. Have you ever experienced a “dry sweetness”? Dry in the same way is the finish, all on the grain of cereal.
Bimber New Make ‘Peated’ (Batch n. 140, 60%)
Curious. Unexpectedly you’re stroke by a much sharper note of lemon (and citrus peel: it has notes almost reminiscent of a very dry London Dry gin). Then there is a balsamic side, much more herbaceous compared to the unpeated version, which complements the intense sweetness of cereal. Again a sense of juniper, and perhaps even a hint of cocoa beans… Peat is gentle, a sense of burning that is definitely not exasperated. On the palate it becomes more fruity, following the pattern of the other new make, with peat that – besides a sense of smoked bread – offers balsamic notes, which still remind us of juniper. The finish is divided between a certain sweetness of barley and a persistent minerality.
Bimber Ex-Bourbon cask Sample (Cask #15, 55%)
Wow! The very first impact is… bourbon! Very sweet, it shows notes of Rossana candy, caramel, toffee, an intense fudge. Definitely they used a heavy hand with wood! Then comes back a note of cherry, already present in the new make, which reminds us of a bowl of ice cream and sour cherries. Slowly rises a note of Elah candies (licorice and mint flavored). In short, a universe of sticky sugars, under which it strenuously fights the vegetal character of the distillate (growing with time). The palate, where you do not perceive alcohol (this is something we like a lot), is very bold, the barrel is certainly hyperactive (even too much: sometimes you feel like you’re sipping… a bourbon!). There’s still a vegetal-balsamic vein, maybe juniper, struggling under an avalanche of caramel, vanilla cream and butterscotch. Lots of wood, lots of sweet cinnamon. Long finish, still hyper-loaded toffee.
Bimber Ex-Virgin Oak cask sample (Cask #7, 57,1%)
Even here, sweetness is the master, there’s no escaping: paradoxically, you feel the two degrees more and at the beginning it appears more closed. After a while, it opens up, and it evolves in a less “easy” way comparing to the Bourbon Cask. We did not expect this: in Virgin Oak, the distillate seems to stand out more, with black cherry kernel, chlorophyll chewing gum, still herbaceous notes… Some hints of sweet spices (propolis, rhubarb). With time, fruity notes emerge, such as cooked apples; also custard. On the palate it is less spicy than the previous one, it also seems more ‘conventional’: notes of sweet fruit (cooked apple), more custard, toffee and caramelized apples. Still very oaky, but here the wood appears more bitter.
Bimber Ex-Sherry cask sample (Cask #38, 55,4%)
Really very, very convincing: there’s a clear note of apple pie, maybe a little bit burnt, with a slight hint of apple vinegar (almost reminiscent of hyper-sugar balsamic vinegar, encrusted…). Apple is the protagonist, with fresh ripe red apples and apple chips. It’s sweet and thick, caramel and red fruit jam (cherry, raspberry). Cereal and milk chocolate (Ciocorì?). The palate replicates this very bold sherry profile, breathing vively and fresh in the barrel.
Bimber Ex-Sherry PX cask sample (Cask #26, 57,1%)
It continues in the direction of the previous one, with a really strong and seductive fruity dimension, but it shows more evident spicy notes: cinnamon and nutmeg above all. It is very full, too. And it’s focused on apple and cherry sensations. The palate confirms the style: many spices, cinnamon, cinnamon apple, nutmeg… Exuberant fruit, still played between a sweet apple juice, wild strawberries, cherry. Balsamic tips that stand out strong, both on the nose and palate. Good, even more bold than cask #38 but definitely pleasant. It doesn’t look 35 months old…
Having to sum up a work in progress, we must admit we were really impressed. The new make, especially the unpeated one, is spectacular, delicious (maybe too much?!), clearly reminiscent of some excellent fruit distillates and obviously does not lose the strong identity of the cereal. Not an edge, not even by accident: honestly we would drink it as a white distillate, barely adding a mixer just because it’s summer. The barrel samples, on the other hand, are obviously very intense and bold: the wood is very solid, especially the Bourbon cask is amazing because it almost tastes like bourbon! Some characteristics of the new make are also present under a thick blanket of aromas given by the maturation, demonstrating that the spirit has a clear personality, despite the ‘speeded up’ maturation. Which allowed Bimber to go on the market quickly, but it didn’t affect quality and identity. The sensation is that these barrels are ready: a longer maturation would probably unbalance the whisky towards the wood. On the other hand, we know they are experimenting with different barrels, even refills, so let’s expect longer maturations to come. In short: great! We will follow with curiosity the evolution of the brand… Thanks to the Bimber team for the gift, the support and the passion.