Distiller: Bainbridge Organic Distillery. ABV: 45%. Age: 3-4 years. Grain bill: 100% unmalted organic Washington barley. Price: $495.
American whiskey aged in Japanese oak? Now things are getting interesting.
Actually, things have been interesting in American microdistilling for some time. Great single malts from the likes of Westland, Stranahan’s, and New Holland; bold young bourbons and ryes from FEW, Wyoming Whiskey, Spirit Works, Kings County, and others; wild and delicious experiments from folks like Seven Stills, Copper & Kings, and Coppersea Distilling…and now Bainbridge Distillers is breaking new ground.
Their Yama Mizunara Whiskey ages Bainbridge’s unmalted barley whiskey for 3-4 years entirely in 10- and 15-gallon barrels made from Japanese oak (Mizunara) wood, which is rare, expensive as hell, and hardly ever seen outside of Japan. (Bowmore’s $1,000-a-bottle Mizunara Cask is one of the few exceptions.) Accordingly, the price of admission ain’t cheap: $495 a bottle. But Bainbridge isn’t getting rich off this—they’re putting most the profits from Yama into the preservation of a historic site where Japanese immigrants settled on Bainbridge Island, called Yama.
My first taste of this had an alarming varnish note, but with 30-40 minutes in the glass, it dissipated (whew). A bit of water helped too. The nose is sweet and a bit hot. Vanilla icing, toasted almond. Fresh raw leather. Lychee. On the palate,there’s plenty of coconut, a product of the lactones in Mizunara wood. Candied pear. Grated ginger. Toasted oak, and some sandalwood. The finish is medium-short and slightly sour. Toasty, with dry lemon rind and the espresso residue at the bottom of a cup. Very nice.
Don’t come to the Yama expecting a Japanese single malt profile: you have to abandon expectations to appreciate it properly. But I’d argue that’s true of American craft whiskies across the board, and that when you meet them on their own terms, the rewards are considerable.
Kanpai to Bainbridge for an experiment that boldly bridges two worlds! – BO
Bainbridge kindly provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.