California-based St. George Spirits produces a diverse portfolio of spirits. They make three different vodkas, four different gins, fruit brandies, liqueurs, even shochu and basil eau de vie. That creativity extends to their whiskey offerings, as well, with Baller Single Malt Whiskey being perhaps their most unique. “It’s a California take on the Japanese spin on Scotch whisky,” according to master distiller Lance Winters. To my mind, there’s no other craft distillery intentionally trying to make a single malt for Japanese-style highballs, but that’s exactly what St. George had in mind when they designed this one, hence the name Baller and the samurai on the label. It’s a pot distilled single malt aged in ex-bourbon barrels and French oak wine casks, filtered through maple charcoal, and then finished in casks that held a house-made Japanese plum liqueur. It definitely sounds unique. Let’s see how it tastes!
The nose is certainly unlike any whiskey I’ve ever smelled. There’s lots of honeyed malt, an earthy pine straw quality, potpourri, and a lace of subtle wood smoke. Enveloping the whole thing is a unique plum sweetness, a slight apple cider vinegar note, and some vanilla bean. The fruity umeshu grows in intensity as the whiskey opens in the glass, and after a minute or two it’s all fruit and smoke. On the palate, the smoke is immediately noticeable with a smack of sweet creosote. Bright notes of lemon peel, grilled peach, and orange zest struggle a little against more savory saltwater taffy and chimney soot. The finish sees better balance as the smoke and citrus recede, becoming all stewed plums and drying oak. As a highball, the smoke turns to wet matchheads, but the brighter, sweeter fruit notes offer some welcome relief to the earthiness.
It’s a captivating dram. Worth a try for sure, but probably not an everyday sipper for most.