Thanks to /u/devoz for the sample.
Virgin oak whiskies and I aren’t on each other’s Xmas card list. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I don’t fuck with them, but I don’t go out of my way to fuck with them. First off if you think slivers in your hand are painful… oh, we’re not going to do that joke today. Alright.
That all said, it’s not that I don’t like any virgin oak whiskies. The 250+ reviews (at time of writing) of bourbon that I’ve enjoyed should speak to that, at least on some level. Heck, one of the best Irish whiskies (a region I’m a big fan of) I’ve ever had was a virgin oak whisky.
When we look at the whiskies I have a bias toward, it’s obvious it’s whiskies that are cask strength, honey casks, and typically younger. This holds true to virgin oak whiskies as well. I was less of a fan of Pappy 23 than Buffalo Trace, for instance. It’s mostly because I was not awakened by the terrible scene in Evil Dead. Thank goodness. I have enough mental issues.
Enter Millstone 20 1996 Virgin Oak. I’m a big fan of what Zuidam, through their Millstone brand, are doing. They are putting quality into their product. So my bias towards a virgin oak whisky is against the recommendation of a friend who loved this.
Note he’s a bourbon drinker. But that’s enough for him to buy a bottle. It was supposed to be poured for the end of year tasting we typically have. I was supposed to stick to marketing and be able to afford a home by now. We know where all that went (I’m still renting).
Since that didn’t happen I’m trying it now. So is this a variant, and has the Netherlands avoided the terrible over oaking that can happen? Or is it another heavily oaked whisky that I’m going to whinge about, thinking I’m somehow entitled to better? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: € 190
Vintage: October 25, 1996
Bottled: July 12, 2017
Cask type: Virgin oak cask
Cask number: 1376
Number of bottles: 278
Colour: 10YR 7/8
Nose: Honey, sawdust, pear, butterscotch, cinnamon
Interesting. So first off, unlike it’s Kentucky based, similarly aged brethren, this starts with a sweeter note to it. Yes, there’s some raw wood, but it’s not “you’re skydiving into a redwood tree while having your teeth cleaned” level of wood.
Nice spice, nice fruit. Based on the outpouring of love that I heard beforehand, I’m hoping it’s a quieter nose.
Taste: Cinnamon, caramel sauce, wood, cereal
Again, good news: The wood is here, and yeah, it hasn’t really grown beyond a bit of cereal, but it’s fine. The spice here is nice.
The caramel takes centre stage. It’s who the phantom is singing to. It’s Batman in any movie or TV show that happens to have Batman in it. The camera is glued to it, if you will.
Finish: Plum, cinnamon, black pepper, wood, cloves, dry pear
The finish is where this starts to grow more and more. Fruit that doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a cheap finish or an overt amount of sherry from a very “wet” cask (personal beef at the moment). The spice is still there, the strong heat and wood is still there, but not too much.
Conclusion: Solid, interesting mixture of flavours. However I think I don’t love virgin oak cask whiskies enough to be the target. That said, worth a pickup. Easily worth the pick up. Again, I’ve had a hard time finding Millstone that I haven’t at least enjoyed enough to be a daily drinker.
Is this the best Millstone I’ve had? No. But if you’re a bourbon fan, or know one, and want them to expand their horizons, then yeah. Give it to them. Heck, give it to people like me too. It’s the balance that should be in older virgin oak casks. It’s cheaper and oddly enough (even though it’s an Alberta exclusive) easier to get than the others.
Gonna be fun making eye contact with my buddy after he reads this, I tell you what.
World Whisky review #416, Netherlands review #7, Whisky Network review #2149