Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky – Jazz in a Bottle, Theatre for the Nose

20080602-wasmundsMore fully: Wasmund’s Rappahannock Pot Stilled non-chill-filtered Single Malt Whisky, Batch #78, aged 11 months, 96 proof.

For more details on this whisky and the distillery that makes it, go here: http://www.copperfox.biz

To begin… Reviewing this whisky from Copper Fox Distillery is becoming a full-blown project for me. This is my third attempt to parse the experience this unfolding rose of a whisky offers, and this time I’m determined to get it right – because I truly savor this alchemical stuff…

And yet, Wasmund’s is a very different animal from my favorite Scotch whiskies, Kentucky bourbons and Virginia ryes. Though it describes itself as single malt whisky – and that, technically, is what it is – it is nonetheless, in terms of aroma complex and flavor profile, its own category, and it may be this solitary, sui generis character that keeps calling me back. It’s as American as any other great example of American culture – it’s a 750ml bottle of jazz, a bottle of be-boppers stretching out on a hoary ballad in several time signatures at once.

Don’t like jazz? Think Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers without the frenetic pacing, but at 96 proof.

When I first opened the bottle, about two weeks ago now, its appeal was, so to speak, its unsavory first impression. There was a sense of something being almost wrong – and yet, at the same time, a promise of many unfolding, intriguing layers to come.

Like the appeal of a woman both bashful and bumptious, seductively dressed but standing aloof, the aromatic layers in this stuff didn’t want to give themselves up too easily.

This is where I start to question my sanity. The push-pull, fight or flight, cognitively dissonant seduction here, especially in the nosing, is not rational – so why do I nose it again and again? Really! Smell that! Is that embalming fluid?

But, wait: I have no idea what embalming fluid smells like!

And still, like a slave to love, the nose goes back to its steadfast labors – again, and again…

This is a truly Gordian libation!

Fortunately, after five or so minutes in the glencairn glass, that scent of something ‘wrong’ that rose up at first nosing dissipates completely and unfolds itself rather as somewhat overripe fruit – overripe apple, definitely, but also pear and maybe even a touch of apricot. Overripe, over-cooked, earthy, organic.

And yet, as the nose continues its assiduous probing, even that overripe fruitiness opens up like the roof of an observatory to reveal not just chocolate, but a chocolate factory. It’s all here, from Quik and dark cocoa powder to creamy white chocolate.

And now the tempo of unfolding scents accelerates and the pages of this book-length whisky turn faster…

In fact, what is next reveled is time of day: Evidently, it is lunchtime at this chocolate factory, and what’s served for lunch here is apple pie. There is definitely a good, tasty, old-fashioned slice of apple pie in my glass. With a bit of cinnamon on it, but very little sugar, if any. This is good, but not sweet, homemade apple pie.

Tilting my nose back out of the glass, I think I discern a wisp of cherry – fresh cherries – or am I just imagining that because I know cherry wood was used in the very hands-on process behind the making of this whisky?

No, it’s real. Returning to this whisky on subsequent evenings, I am assured that the aroma of fresh cherries is most definitely there. It is even more prominent as the open bottle blooms.

And what’s that now? A malty pecan nuttiness develops.

Ay, caramba! – Oh me oh my! – the aroma complex of this whisky is so deliciously broad and intricate! And now that I’ve discerned all of these edibles in the aromas rising from the glass, other aromas begin to reveal themselves: Fine leather, polished wood, and maybe just a bit of – charcoal? Yes, fruit wood charcoal.

I’m beginning to imagine a very complex, earthy scotch – Highland Park, say, or maybe Springbank, aged in cognac barrels. But I don’t know if such a whisky exists, and this Wasmund’s single malt wouldn’t really fit that description anyway…

Without question, this is the most time I have ever spent nosing a whisky made in America. Eyes closed, you will never mistake this for an American bourbon or rye whisky. None that I’ve tasted, at any rate. This is something different. As complex as a great single malt scotch – but, as I suggest above, it doesn’t really resemble scotch, either. Let it suffice to say that this is more scotch-like than bourbon-like or rye-like.

Though it has no aroma of peat, I’m beginning to think I would put this in the category of the deliciously odd with such wonderful “acquired taste” single malts as Ledaig 10, Longrow 7 Gaja Barolo and a few others. But maybe the word “odd” isn’t quite fair. Unique is a better word for these whiskeys.

Finally raising the sparkling mahogany-gold fluid to my lips, I find the palate this whisky brings forth is not quite as complex as the nose (how could it be?). It does not, however, disappoint. On the tongue, we finally get our first suggestions of sweetness. Though there was indeed a somewhat cloying sense of sweet in the overripe fructose nose, this is a dry sweetness, a very malty sweetness. There is a little bit of black raison paste in there, and fruit – pear and cherry and apple – a slight but interesting bitterness, and generous amounts of oaky spice. And a tiny smidgen of nutmeg and cinnamon.

The finish is fairly long and spicy. And it has a pleasant warm burn that fills the mouth and gets down in the throat but does not make it to the chest. I really like it when a whisky carries that warm burn right down to my chest, all around my heart, but this one stops pretty much just below the Adam’s apple.

Which, really, is just the tiniest quibble. Don’t let it stop you from seeking out and savoring this great whisky. If you’ve read this far, you know it took me on quite a journey, as enjoyable as any I’ve been on with drink.

And, to think, all this complexity, flavor and succulence cost me less than $40 at my local whisky emporium – Andy’s Market in Taunton, MA. I name the place because I am in awe of the place and it’s owner. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside – despite its location on the outskirts of a sooty old mill city in southeastern Massachusetts – there is a measured expanse of pure heaven for the whisky drinker. Just sayin’…

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