The rain was pattering down a fair bit. My makeshift umbrella, a copy of the Evening Standard, was not holding up very well at all. Out of North Acton tube, a quick skip past Acton Cemetery, a right turn by the body shop, past a chopped up silver BMW and following the trail of a pungent sweet smell indicative of yeast in action.
Hardly sounds like directions to a whisky distillery.
But there I was in one of the most unassuming and unexpected of environments, together with 12 of my fellow Soho Whisky Club members, at the very first whisky tasting session at Bimber Distillery.
I say whisky; I lie. As regulations go, it will be at least another 742 days before the very first bottle of whisky can leave the warehouse doors.
Bimber Distillery, on the rather whimsically named Sunbeam Road in North Acton, London was established in 2015, distilling one of the city’s first whiskies in over a century. They received their whisky license in early 2016 and laid down their first cask on the 29th of May 2016 (I believe I got the date right…)
As founder Dariusz Plazewski explained, making moonshine was a bit of a family tradition back home in Poland, and he’s poured all that experience and knowledge into creating Bimber, not to mention a quite few bob.
Polish for moonshine, Bimber has a really down-to-earth and hands-on approach to their setup. They actually made their wooden washback by themselves! They are known to char the barrels themselves if they felt a specimen didn’t quite meet their level 3 char expectations. And their two stills? Designed by the founder, of course.
The venue itself is fairly modestly sized, with a bar, office, mash tun, washback, stills and casks all in a single warehouse.
Product Line Up
By all measures, Bimber is definitely a craft operation with a big focus on the providence of their barley all in the name of producing a high quality new make. From four tonnes of malted English barley from Warminster Maltings every other week (grain sourced exclusively from a single farm in Berkshire) comes just one cask of new make a week.
The only possible blip in their provenance credentials is the water – good old London Tap. Not that it affected the flavour of the spirit, as I quickly found out.
Four cask types – charred virgin oak, ex-PX cask, ex-port cask and ex-bourbon cask (Woodford Reserve and Forresters, if you’re interested) and a flagship blend of three of them on top of that, one can imagine this will remain fairly low volume for a few years to come. Other notable points include a seven day fermentation period, and use of first fill casks only with no plans for a second filling.
Interestingly, the focus on getting the new make right means their whiskies are intentionally designed for bottling and drinking at 3-5 years of age. 30% of their casks are retained for long term.
New Make (63.5%, 0 y/o)
Casked at 63.5%, their new make has a very robust character indeed.
Very pungent berry and floral nose, with a suprisingly smooth initial delivery for such a high ABV. Same berry sweetness on tongue, with a gentle fiery bite if you breathed into the sip and an unexpected bitter kick at the end.
All in all, very pleasant. You can almost imagine that this was infused with some sort of berry – that was how fruity it was.
Signature Oak Edition (46%, 6 months)
Casks number 7, 8, 31 and 39 were blended with reverse osmosis water to form this 6 month old blend.
Featuring a high proportion of virgin oak and ex-bourbon cask, and a little bit of sherry cask, it still retained a lot of the fruity characteristics of the new make. The delivery felt a little bit unbalanced, being a tad bit muddled in terms of flavours.
Having a second tasting of it at the end of the evening, one can hazard a guess why – you could definitely make out the constituent virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks. I think a couple more years and a good duration of vatting might help gel the flavours together that little bit more. But good, nevertheless.
Virgin Oak (63.5%, 357 days old)
The new make is still dominant but has been tamed slightly by the level 3 char (one notch down from alligator), giving way to a smoky kick with some caramel coming through. Quite delicious! This was my favourite dram of the evening.
Drawn from the cask earlier in the day, which was a nice touch!
Port Cask (63.5%, 357 days old)
Beautiful rose coloured spirit, the port cask was the definite crowd favourite. Sickly sweet over ripe fruit on the nose with a dry raisin taste which is typical of port casks. The sweetness of the new make complemented the flavours from the barrel very well.
Certainly one to watch over the years.
PX Sherry Cask (63.5%, 357 days old)
There was a lot of expectation from me coming into the tasting. Often the most hyped about and most exclusive cask type for whiskies, PX casks are increasingly becoming a extremely valuable commodity. So much so that PX producers have taken to producing sherry, casking it and then throwing the liquid away, just so they can have a cask that they can sell to whisky makers! The oversupply of sherry is almost begging for a budding entrepreneur to try and market the stuff. Bimber only managed to get 10 casks last year… who knows how many they can get this year?
Sadly, I felt the sherry cask just didn’t quite match up to its other cousins. The PX definitely imparted a creamy silky mouthfeel, and a bit of a meaty body to it, but not quite enough to make it truly stand out, I felt. Early days yet!
Bourbon Cask (63.5%, 357 days old)
The only specimen where the robust fruity character of the new make is no longer apparent. Another a crowd favourite, it had a slight smoky kick and managing an effortless swagger in the caramel and slight old world spice stakes.
All in all, a very promising delicious young spirit, and one imagines a bright future ahead for Bimber. They are currently taking pre-orders for Batch 1 and 2 of their flagship signature oak edition, their planned annual single cask strength releases, and also marketing a cask ownership scheme as well.
Price wise, yes, you can certainly buy cheaper spirits out there, but the opportunity to quite literally buy a piece of London whisky history makes it worth while, I feel.
Historicity aside, 30 minutes from your office in Central London to your own craft whisky cask sleeping in a distillery warehouse for a wee dram… imagine the bragging rights on that!!!