The Hercynian Distilling Co. / Hammerschmiede are one of our favourite distillers in the world. The Elsburn distillery (formerly the Glen Els distillery, until a run-in with the SWA made them change their name) is located in a small village on the Elsbach river in the Harz mountains of central Germany. They are one of the most wonderful, locally focused and transparent producers out there, purposely using Lower Saxony peat to smoke their barley in their peated releases and really caring about barley varietals, enough to even tell you what grain has been used. A slow fermentation and attention to detail marks this highly small batch approach, with only the best and most interesting wood used for maturation. Generally speaking, all barrels are first fill, and ~60% of the distillery’s overall maturation is in sherry wood, with bourbon barrels, usually the most common in whisky, so rarely used that they are relegated to a small footnote in the 20% of other cask types the distillery advertises that they use. With Hercynian, you will know exactly what you’re getting and that is of the utmost quality. We couldn’t recommend them more, and hence this dram for our Whisky of the Week.
This particular expression is from one of the old Sauternes releases at 5 years old, one of several casks bottled for this release at cask strength 56% ABV, before the distillery was forced to change its name. You can taste the quality and effort that goes into this spirit from the get go, even at this relatively young age. And great young whisky always means a great distillery. The whisky is rich and unctuous, slightly chocolatey on the mid-palate, with the delicious surround of stewed peaches and apricots, mainly apricots, coming around to dominate and intertwine. The finish is long, also with some beautiful spice coming into this on the back palate towards the end. There is a hint of ground almond, almost amaretto style, across the palate, with the smoke - and this is predominantly wood-smoked, not peated - coming in gently around the edges to produce a slightly savoury note on this rich cooked fruit dessert. Adding a few drops of water really brings out those sweet, stewed apricots qualities, with a little more smoke interworked to provide a subtle edge that intensifies the flavours. The fragrant wood smoke, tasting mainly like beech perhaps with a little ash, actually characterises the long finish now, with nice subtle spice coming in as well. Overall, a beautiful, complex dram that showcases everything we love about whisky done well. Slàinte!