April 2022 saw Croydon’s inaugural whisky festival. With no more than a handful of the more familiar suspects, this bijou event showcased some of the whisky industry’s lesser-known up-and-coming distilleries from around the world – those that can easily get lost/neglected at much larger festivals. With that in mind, I find myself with Spirit of Birmingham, ‘Birmingham’s first grain to glass distillery‘.
This small family-run team are using ‘five carefully selected grains, in one mash bill, to make our dark beer, single pot still vodka and maturing whiskey‘ [website]. Currently filling just one barrel a month, one of those is/will be a Staffordshire oak cask made by (one of?) England’s last cooper[s]. Down the line, there’s even talk of the ‘T’ word.
Spirit of Birmingham Dark Mash Beer  Ob. 7.5%
- It’s unusual for a distillery to distil from beer produced in its own right [to be drunk], so it’s only right we try their Dark Mash first. You’d imagine from the nose that this would be rather sweet, yet it’s far more savoury to taste and effortlessly easy to drink. The strength being spot on, you’d never guess the abv as so high. Overall, delicious and memorable [from the point of view of a Whisky Loving Pianist].
Spirit of Birmingham Vodka  Ob. 43%
- C: Proving vodka doesn’t have to be predominantly scentless or flavourless, I found this to be more whisky-like than the distillery’s whisk[e]y-destined new make. Remaining double-distilled but pushed higher, here, the chocolate malt in the mash bill translates only very slightly to smell & taste in comparison to the new make [to follow].
Spirit of Birmingham New Make  Ob. Batch #8/35 58% [200ml]
- C: Essence of [SoB’s] beer personified. Having come off the still just three days earlier, the chocolate malt in their mash bill – on display and available to taste = breakfast – defines this spirit’s character. Unsure as to how this flavour profile will translate [and be received] in the longer term, I’d also be thinking of laying down other spirit varieties/characters in addition. With vast experience, previously, as a chef in the food & catering industry, I’m sure Mr Pancakes has it all under control. He is quietly confident.
I commend Spirit of Birmingham on its overall presentation, unique mash bill, the beer, as well as the team’s ethos, energy, and enthusiasm. This family-run passion project was a highlight of the show.
Next, we are off to Finland. Founded in 2014, Kyro is making whisky from 100% malted Finnish rye and using local wood to smoke the grain. As I’m due to taste Kyro’s official line-up at another tasting in a few days’ time, I go straight to the two cask samples.
Kyro 2017/2022 Un-Ob. VinSanto cask sample #Y5616 53.3%
- C: Yikes,… freaky fruity PX-ey/grapey burnt rubber,…. a controversial cask choice, it would seem. Others are more enamoured with it of course. Let’s move on to the oloroso cask.
Kyro 2018/2022 Un-Ob. Oloroso cask sample #KK4169 61%
- C: Made from heavily wood-smoked barley [I’m guessing], this is unnervingly filthy spirit. Imagine Balcones Brimstone meets Three Ships’ infamous ‘moscato’ cask [WLP].
Speaking to Mika about these cask selections, he tells me he brought these along for those insistent for a ‘special’ under-the-counter festival dram – something shocking/wacky/experimental. Fair enough. These are not typical of the distillery’s output or style. I shall visit Kyro properly, therefore, another time.
Moving to mainland Europe now, and to the Bruges Whisky Company – another new name for me. I’m guessing Rogia and Ryggia are brand names [WB],… and what’s with the tartan? As it turns out, there is Flemish tartan aplenty such as Flanders [most common], Pille, and De Clercq, for example. Further reading [perhaps]: xmarksthespot.
I don’t get too entrenched because reactions coming back from the stand aren’t particularly encouraging. BWC’s tequila-cask finishing experiment seems altogether conservative after trying a maple syrup cask-finished release. I wonder whether this [current] Willy Wonka whisky-making approach will struggle to capture the hearts & minds of today’s conscientious consumer? It’s not cheap either, with ratings and secondary prices having sky-rocketed. On the other hand, BWC may strike upon something unique/original in the process of trying ‘all the things’. Whilst consensus over the whisky here today was,.. mixed – early days of course – “lovely guys” was a more positive takeaway.
Just up the road from Croydon, we are with the East London Liquor Company. As well as gin/vodka/rum [much like Bimber when they started out], ELLC is making whisky using various grains – both malted and unmalted – distilled in hybrid stills, and matured in a combo of casks. Founded in 2014 [a year before Bimber], they easily have whisky already, and some.
East London Liquor Company Wheat  Ob. 47.2% WB85
Currently a 3yo, I believe this was aged in new French oak, Sonoma bourbon and Sonoma rye [though the ELLC reserve the right to alter the cask maturation programme at any time].
- C: Noted by the Foz as “cognac-y”, I also noted it somewhat like US whiskey meets,… pisco? It’s certainly different, a style I’m not averse to.
Scores 80 points
Officially quoted, the makeup here is ‘100% malted Norfolk barley, aged in a combination of regenerated French oak, red wine, Sonoma Rye and Bourbon, Kentucky Bourbon, and London Rye® casks‘. This is currently a 4yo.
- C: Another Nc’nean-esque/Euro barley eau de vie-styled malt. A somewhat short narrow affair, blind, I was initially guessing more madeira cask action. The Wheat wins it.
Scores 78 points
Upstairs, we find Armorik – French single malt whisky from Warenghem. Founded in 1900, the distillery has been making whisky since 1994 [tMWYB]. Armorik shares the same stand as Penderyn and Milk & Honey [WLP] because ‘Penderyn has partnered with Breton distillery Armorik, and M&H from Israel, as the sole UK importers & distributors for their whiskies and spirits‘. Further reading: penderyn website
- N: The nose shines brightly with plenty to mull over. Very pleasing start.
- T: A firmly malty nutty savoury-sweet number, likened to the new Glenturret 12yo [WLP85] in some respects. With a straightforward and considered [bourbon & ex-sherry] cask program, unlike the nose, this isn’t one you’ll necessarily find yourself agonising over on the palate, so kick back and relax.
- F: A little gacky and light on legs, but nothing is at odds.
- C: The nose is where this one excels. Overall, affordable anytime anywhere whisky. Recommended.
Scores 84 points
[Warenghem] Armorik Double Maturation  Ob. 46% WB81.43
- C: Young, fresh, sour,… this is decent enough whisky that finds itself under the shadow of the 10yo on this occasion.
Scores 80 points
Next door, Copper Rivet – absent – is making a light clear spirit [I thank you].
Also absent were Balcones, Uncle Nearest, and Westland.
Up next – in Part 2 – we are off to Wales, and then up to the [Scottlsh] Lowlands.