This is the stuff ardent whisky lovers dream of! Only the second single cask to ever come out of the James Sedgwick Distillery, brought to us by a collaboration between the distillery and Checkers. Many have tried/asked/begged/pleaded/demanded, but no one has got it right until now. I sat down with Hein from Private Barrel Co to get the inside scoop on the new Private Barrel Co James Sedgwick Distillery 6 Year Old Single Cask.
Interview with Hein Herbst – Co-creator/co-founder of Private Barrel Co
WTF: Welcome Hein, Private Barrel Co look to be set to deliver a couple more great whiskies to the market!
HH: Yes Mark, acquiring the James Sedgwick Distillery release has been three years in the making. A series of chance encounters and happy coincidences led to us securing the whisky from Distell. I’m very, very happy with this one.
In February 2017 we got approval to go ahead, the selection process took place on 23 August 2017 and it’s taken since then to get the 640-odd bottles out of the cask and ready to be released to the world.
The plan was to launch it this week to coincide with World Whisky Day, but due to some packaging issues, it will hit the shelves in June.
WTF: Can you give the readers some insight into the selection process for a PBC whisky? What factors does the team bring into consideration? Did you have an age in mind? Were you driven by how much it would cost the consumer? Or do you just want to find a good spirit?
HH: I think the brand is at a point now where it is mature enough that we don’t have to prove anything via an age statement any more. For a while already I’ve been looking for interesting, young spirits. The hunt for a young Islay whisky is still high on my list.
The idea is still the same as it was in the very beginning: Find something that’s different from what the distillery normally does.
With the JSD 6yo, we didn’t want to compete with any of Andy’s Master Collection whiskies – the 10yo PX Cask Finish or the Pinotage Cask Finish – or any of the current range – the Select, 5yo, Bouborn Cask and 10yo.
We knew that it was going to be a young spirit, younger than anything we had done before, purely because of the South African climate/environment (WTF: warmer climate, faster maturation).
So the brief was to find something that they hadn’t done that was interesting and would be guided by Andy. This led to us making a selection from 3 casks that were presented to us as choices.
The process was a lot different to what we’ve done before. For our previous releases, we would get sent samples, along with all the information about each sample and we would look at the total picture: cost, where it was from, was it something we’ve done before. The panel would then sit and taste our way through the samples and make a decision based on all the criteria, with the whisky obviously having to taste good too.
In this situation, Andy sent me three samples. I said thank you very much for the samples, could you please send me some information on what I have in front of me? The answer came back: “Andy says no.”
This of course took us far outside of our comfort zone! But, we have great faith in Andy and what he does, so decided that we would go with this approach. That in mind, the tasting panel – comprised of a few Checkers representatives and industry experts Karen Chaloner and Mike Orrey – convened at the distillery with Andy and the plan was simple. For this release, unlike previous ones where we would deliberate over a time, we would taste the three samples blind and make a decision on the spot, and that would be that!
We did the tasting and came to a decision. Then Andy led us down to his experimental warehouse where we were shown three big casks, all under wraps. From their size, we could see that they were sherry butts. Andy unveiled the one we chose, and the remaining two were kept a secret. Our cask turned out to be a fino sherry butt.
As I said, the whole process was very different to what we’re used to, but it was a fun process.
WTF: Was it a difficult choice? Choosing the fino over the other two casks? Were they all good in their own right?
HH: Yes, definitely all good in their own right. All casks were 6 year olds. This was in the end almost a popularity contest – the discussion shifted back and forth, with one cask being eliminated and then just having to choose our favourite of the remaining two. Less analytical, more of a case of which sample made the greatest impression. We – the panel members – felt a bit exposed ourselves… Everything out in the open, the decision made in an hour from when we sat down to taste the whiskies for the first time. Very different to our usual approach. It was nice.
WTF: And can you give us more details on the cask and maturation of your selection itself? Was it fully matured for the six years in the fino butt, or matured in a bourbon cask then finished in the butt?
HH: The first three years were in old American oak casks, and then three years in the fino sherry cask.
WTF: Let us take a brief interlude and hear from the man who’s foresight and ingenuity created this spirit in the first place – the 2018 Global Icons of Whisky Master Distiller/Blender, Mr Andy Watts!
Andy’s Side of the Story
Just over a year ago we got a message from the sales force that this collaboration was to happen. As you know, I have been laying down certain parcels of innovation over the last few years for a time for the day when the call would come for “that special something”.
I brought in my first set of sherry casks in around May 2014 from Miguel Martin in Spain. A supplier I have remained with since for the quality of wood and finish those casks give to my whisky. Back then I split the container of casks between several sherry styles and then filled them with various base whiskies from un-matured spirit through to older stock.
This included a 3 year old malt which I re-vatted into various sherry styled casks. This malt had spent its first 3 years in older American Oak and then I transferred (under Customs and Excise supervision) this spirit into a selection of sherry casks.
At that stage everything was experimental. As the months passed I could see this whisky was transforming into something special.
When the request came along for Checkers I selected 3 different casks based on their ideas and also a possible price point that they had in mind. They wanted a single cask so I selected 3 and submitted “blind” samples to Hein and Checkers for evaluation. They had a selection evening with their panel at the distillery and we unveiled the cask which they had chosen as the 6 year old Fino.
The initial strength was at 64.5% and they chose the final strength of 54.6% based on their panel tasting and the complexity of the whisky. To this day the other casks have not been revealed to them by me.
So to recap, we have a slightly peated Single Malt that spent its first 3 years in Older American Oak, followed by 3 years in a seasoned Fino Cask.
WTF: And now we resume normal transmission…
WTF: One of the most interesting things about the whisky, is that it isn’t a Three Ships PBC release. Can you tell us more about your decision to use the distillery’s name on the bottle?
HH: I’m glad you picked up on that. I’m very passionate about wanting to showcase James Sedgwick Distillery itself – this is a JSD release, it came from the distillery, it isn’t a Three Ships branded whisky. And with the Private Barrel Co range, if we put a name on the bottle, it’s going to be the name of the distillery it came from. It just made sense. And if we get the opportunity going forward – if I can harass them enough – and we can secure some grain, then it will be released as JSD Grain. It is also a win for Distell, as this is not a threat or competition to either the Three Ships or Bain’s brands.
WTF: Can you tell us how you settled on a price of around R700? Single cask, high ABV, fino butt for finishing I’m guessing?
HH: This is the highest ABV that has ever come out of the distillery, at 54.6%. Cask strength was 64.5%. As purists, you want it as close to cask strength as possible, but that was just too high an ABV. The final ABV also plays a role in price (factoring in taxes, etc).
Another factor was being mindful of their own Master’s Collection releases and their price points. We had to be fair and not price them (or ourselves) out of the market.
WTF: Hein, thank you for your time. Next time over a dram hopefully.
HH: Thanks Mark, always a pleasure.
My Tasting Notes for the PBC JSD 6yo
Ain’t she a beauty?!
I would like to take a moment to thank Hein who stepped up personally and sent me the last of his JSD Fino cask sample for the review. You’re a good man Hein!
Bear in mind that these tasting notes are for the 64.5% ABV cask sample, which I added a bit of water to. So they won’t exactly match the bottled whisky, but should be close enough.
Nose: Fino sherry is a light, dry sherry and it comes across in the nose. Lightly toasted almonds, demarara sugar, toffee, saltanas and figs. Beautiful floral and fruity notes abound, with a slight sharpness (from the 64.5% ABV).
Palate: Watered down a bit as the 64.5% is a punch in the face! 🙂 Fresh and lively on the tongue, sweet wine notes come through and a swirl of fruits that were picked up on the nose dance across your tongue. The toffee is still there too.
Finish: Drying, as would be expected from the fino. A hint of a spicy zing.
Thoughts: I really like it. The quality of the spirit, the constant innovation and foresight that Andy puts into creating his whiskies just shines through once again. A whisky that the distillery and Checkers can be proud of. I can’t wait to put this in a head-to-head with the Three Ships 10 year old PX Finish Single Cask!
Private Barrel Co JSD 6yo Front and Back Labels
The basic tasting notes on the front of the bottle are provided by Andy himself and are a simple guide for consumers as to what to expect. Taken straight off the label, they read as follows:
|Cask No: Single Cask||Cask Type: Fino Sherry Butt|
|Age: 6 Years||Number of bottles: 648|
|Aroma: Dry almond nuttiness||Palate: Floral & fruity notes|
|Finish: Rich, dry & slightly spicy||Crafted by: Andy Watts|
What?! You’re still here? Not sure whether you should get yourself a bottle after all you’ve read?
Let me try to sum it up in a sentence for you:
It’s only the second single cask to ever be released from the distillery, at the highest ABV ever to be released from the distillery, spent half its life in a fino sherry butt, was created by the whisky genius that is Andy Watts and is priced well…
GO BUY THE DAMN WHISKY!!
As a bonus, you can place your orders via email and qualify for a 20% discount (while stocks last of course). Here is the official statement:
Due to unforeseen circumstances there has been a delay in our 2 new #PrivateBarrelCo releases. Please send your order to email@example.com so we can reserve stock for you (at the 20% off promotional price) and deliver it to your address of choice, at no cost, once available.
When you do get your hands on a bottle – and you’d better hurry, there are only 648 of them – drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts of the JSD 6yo.
And that’s a wrap folks! I’m a firm believer that the more you know about something, the more you can appreciate it. Hopefully this inside story adds just that little extra to what is already a wonderful dram.