The above picture isn't a publicity shot... it's a picture that my friend took behind Wasmund's distillery, where they have a small table and chairs
set next to the local stream.
If you're tired about hearing me talk about Wasmund's Whisky, great! Because that means you've been reading my blog. This will be one of my final posts concerning their products. There are just too many things to say about them. But today, at least momentarily, I will be shedding my fanboyism and will try to soberly review one of their products.
Wasmund's Single Malt
Wasmund's Single Malt is the only whiskey in the United States that is malted and distilled under the same roof. The enterprise rests on the foothills of Appalachia in a small town called Sperryville in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The small distillery is run by a half dozen people, most of whom are family. They take local barley, malt it with local water, smoke-dry it with local fruitwood, mash it with more local water, distill it, age it in local barrels, and bottle-proof it with more local water. The whisky itself is usually less than a year old in age; the small barrels and fruitwood chips present in each barrel accelerate the maturation. The final product is a unique whiskey and does a fine job of turning professional heads. I'm sorry for the inconsistencies in spelling "whiskey". Rick Wasmund, classically trained in Scotland, insists the absence of the "e" when referring to his specific whisky. Thus, I will attempt to walk this tight rope.
In the Glass
Wasmund's whisky is of a color much more dark and red than your average whiskey, or even single malt. It's like some old Scot poured a glass from his favorite bottle and threw in a dash of coffee and red wine. It swirls readily and its legs are minimal; this is just too young of a whiskey to wow you with texture.
The first thing you notice is smoke, but instead of a slight peat smoke like that of Scotch, you get an assault of wood smoke on the nose, like walking into a restaurant that sells BBQ, or Wasmund's own distillery, for that matter. Continuing on, there's a warm presence of dried leaves, and an earthiness so earthy that it borders on dirt (in a good way). A long sniff reveals foundations of subdued malt/barley and dried apples(probably because of the applewood used to smoke the malt). Lastly, you finish with the hard-to-describe smell of fresh running water, often found near a stream or in a wet cave.
Much like your nose, your tongue will be overwhelmed with smoke. But this time you'll be able to discern the flavor of dried cherries in it(because the malt is also dried with cherrywood). Again, you'll notice flavors of dried leaves as well, which is my personal favorite. You'll taste more earthiness in a slight flavor of moss. Lastly, you'll find the maltiness, and finish with a sweetness that's not unlike the taste of marshmallows.
Wasmund's Single Malt is unlike any other whiskey, stylistically. Its sometimes-rough and thin mouth feel will confuse you when the incredibly complex flavors and aromas hit you, perhaps to its detriment. This is neither a whiskey with which to become inebriated nor something to hold in your hand as you socialize with friends or family at some party; it's to be drunk alone, in the quiet, in contemplation and concentration, where all of its flavors can be noticed and recognized. Drinking Wasmund's is like cracking open a textbook and learning something, then having your opinions challenged and again reinforced... it's a didactic and introspective experience. Although I have to say, making Wasmund's Old Fashioned doesn't hurt the whisky's character. At a price cheaper than most Scottish 12-year Single Malts, Wasmund's Single Malt is invaluable as a conversation piece and a study of spirits in general, and a bold statement on what an American single malt can be. Word has it that Wasmund's products are available in most of the eastern Midwest and mid-Atlantic East Coast, and their distribution is spreading. If your local store doesn't have it, they can probably order it.
With the review over, I'm going to add a few more points on why I think this product is so important to the culture of spirits today:
1) Innovation. Though Wasmund uses old methods that are tried and true for inspiration, his product mimics nothing. While its geography is American and its style is European, it does not taste remotely like either. Even better, the uniqueness of his product is not a gimmick. Brush your gaze across the vodka shelf in your local liquor store and you'll see plenty of recently-launched and soon-to-be-discontinued brands that were forged completely on a business model powered by brand marketing and not product quality. Wasmund's accolades and admittedly humble popularity come from the fact that he's making a product unlike any other, and a good one at that. In a land where Bacardi and Jim Beam dominate the industry... this is a breath of fresh air.
2) Local economy. I won't harp on this, because I myself tire of hearing it sometimes... Wasmund creates his products using completely local ingredients, which not only guarantees freshness, but displays a preference of quality over price; local ingredients aren't always the cheapest anymore, what with today's age of Walmart-style transportation networks. It also makes sense to help energize the economy around you and not one far away... after all, when everyone around you is living well, you probably will too.
3) Terroir. This is the most important, and a result of reason #2. Terroir is the effect that a landscape has on the taste of a food product. For instance, if a winery in France packed up and moved their personnel, equipment, and grape seeds to California to reestablish their enterprise in exactly the same way... their wine would taste different. Maybe not much, but it would taste different. The difference in soil composition, rainfall amounts, and even the chemistry of the air would impart slight variables that would ultimately change the character of the wine. Many people claim that the water in New York City is what makes the pizza there so delicious... I for one think that claim is a bit exaggerated, but nevertheless, it's still terroir. Wasmund's whisky is packed with terroir. Every single input ingredient in the process is strictly local... and by "local", I mean within about a 50 mile radius, if I'm not mistaken. Even though it might sound crazy, the taste of Wasmund's whisky transports me to the Appalachians in the fall, and I suppose that's no surprise. Their whisky doesn't let you forget where the product was made, and that's something exciting. The 2009 International Review of Spirits commented that Wasmund's "finishes with a very long, slowly evolving, mossy river stone, peat, cocoa, cereal, and pepper fade." So in the end, the word "earthy" manages to describe this products taste, ingredients, and process.
Wasmund's went on in the aforementioned contest to score 93 out of 100 points.