It’s hard to believe that California’s St. George Spirits has been producing booze for 40 years, but here we are. To mark the occasion, the company has launched a 40th Anniversary Edition of its iconic St. George Single Malt Whiskey, limited to 1982 bottles (get it?) which ” bring together decades of craftsmanship and our ever-growing collection of unique and varied finishing casks to create a singular spirit that is a true collector’s item for connoisseurs of American single malt.”
What’s in the bottle? It’s a blend of single malts drawn from samplings of 600+ casks, only 14 of which were selected for inclusion.
The mash bill for the 40th Anniversary single malt is the same one we have used since we started laying down barrels in 1997: 100% two-row barley at five precise roast levels: pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, black patent malt, and alder/beechwood-smoked malt that we get from Bamburg, Germany. What sets this whiskey apart from our annual Lot series releases is the special quality of the casks we used to make it. For more on that, read on.
The hallmark of our single malt cooperage has always been ex-bourbon barrels, which we prize for their ability to showcase the delicate flavors we coax off the still. While we use some French oak as well, the signature of our aging is the way it stays out of the way—befitting a distillery that began as an eau de vie house. That said, we love what finishing can do to a whiskey, and for this 40th Anniversary release, we’ve amplified the fruit notes that have always been part of our whiskey with Cognac, apple brandy, and umeshu barrels. Port and sherry casks add even more fruit notes, along with depth and richness, while the California Sauternes-style casks that we began using with our 35th Anniversary release pull the diverse flavors together with a weighty, unctuous quality that delivers a long finish.
This is the first time we’ve used umeshu casks in our Lot series, and it was an important decision. According to head distiller/blender Dave Smith, “We were inspired to finish a portion of our anniversary single malt in umeshu cask as we discovered that our Lot Series mash bill married perfectly with the stone fruit tones of umeshu and brought balance to the rich weight of Lance’s house-made tawny port casks.”
Let’s delve into this complicated rarity.
If you’re familiar with St. George single malts (or have read the above), you know you’re in for something unusual here, and the nose backs that up. Hefty wood aromas don’t immediately connote oak, but rather nod toward cedar planks and almond wood, then moving into notes of peppered bacon, raisins, and a grassy, burly hop quality. The palate mixes all of these elements into a slurry, taking that bitter, earthy hop-like quality and filtering it through a surprisingly deep and complex amount of fruit. The sweet-and-sour umeshu plum notes are easily evident, backed up by notes of cherry cola, currants, figs, and — later — a mix of chocolate and licorice. The finish takes on an almost candylike character, which is quite a shift from the brooding, earthy introduction.
It’s quite a complex animal that demands — and rewards — time spent in analysis. And at this prices, you’ll definitely want to plan to spend some time getting to know the stuff.
B+ / $500 / stgeorgespirits.com