One of the few “craft” distilleries in Canada, Still Waters Distillery sets itself apart even further, whisky-wise, by focusing on single malt instead of the expected Canadian style. Founded in 2009, the distillery has a fairly small output, but last year started releasing bottlings of single casks. In another interesting twist, Still Waters features their “Cask Book” on their website, which is basically a searchable, trackable catalog of every cask of whisky they’ve filled. True, this kind of thing often only appeals to the most sordid whisky geeks, but you rarely get this kind of glimpse into a whisky makers production and warehouse – that alone makes it worth a quick look. Granted, they’ve only filled 129 barrels, the last being bunged in September of 2013 (come on guys, let’s pick up the pace), so the Cask Book is not necessarily a long read at the moment, but still, hats off to these guys for being transparent and sharing this info with whisky fans.
I reviewed Cask no.1 back in June of 2013 and was surprised by its complexity and depth even at such a young age, so I was excited to have the chance to try two other early casks to see how this young distillery was doing. Cask no.3 was aged for almost three years and three months in a new American White Oak cask and bottled at 46% instead of cask strength. Cask no.5 was aged for three years and five months in a first fill, ex-bourbon barrel, and was bottled at cask strength.
Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Cask#3
The Nose: Youthful and light, upfront there’s a nice combination of golden raisins, lemon juice, light floral honey, and slightly bread-y malt. Surprisingly strong wood notes, of fresh-sawn oak, cherrywood sap, and a bit of cedar with lighter spice notes of cinnamon icing, vanilla bean, and subtle clove.
The Palate: Even at 46%, there’s the expected youthful heat on the palate. There’s still quite a bit of lemon-y sweetness early on along with some sugary cereal notes, but they’re joined by some dark chocolate and nutty, slightly salty, slightly burnt toffee. Like the nose, there’s quite a bit of wood here as well, oak chips and sawdust, along with ginger, clove, and savory pepper.
The Finish: Continued lemon, raisin, clove and oak drift off in pretty much that order with faint beery notes loitering at the last.
Thoughts: It was interesting to compare my notes on this one to those of Cask no.1, I found enough similar flavors that you could almost say there’s a bit of a house style being developed. Taking into consideration that this is a very young whisky from very young (experience-wise) distillers, there is quite a bit to be impressed by here. Cask no. 3 is a bit rough-edged compared to no.1, but the pleasant citrus and faintly dried fruit sweetness along with the well-handled integration of a surprising amount of woody notes from the new cask makes this an interesting and appealing single malt.
Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Cask#5
Nose: Hmmm…there’s honeysuckle, floral honey, light malt, tart lemon icing, citrus pith all with a light dusting of cocoa powder. Decent spice notes of candied ginger, green clove, hints of fine ground pepper, fresh sawn pine are present as well. Unfortunately, aside from the high alcohol, there are also some strong, solvent-y/lacquer notes that are hard to get past initially. With a bit of time in the glass, this does blow off somewhat and reveals some lighter complexity. With water, much of that complexity is lost, lemon furniture polish notes emerge and overwhelm the relatively delicate spice notes.
Palate: Wow…hot stuff. There’s an early bit of sweetness in the form more honey and juicy citrus, but that’s quickly subsumed by the high-proof heat. A bit of baker’s chocolate and salty, candied nuts show up before the young, rough, hot, tannic spice rolls in. Quite peppery, along with dusty clove, more ginger, a touch of anise and grippy pine resin. Water does help, but really only by calming that high-octane alcohol burn, the youthful harshness remains.
Finish: Yep, still quite hot with just a touch of that lemon-y citrus. Lingering white pepper, raw ginger, and clove – quite dry and tannic at the end.
Thoughts: I was very impressed with the cask-strength Barrel no.1, it was both enjoyable on its own and pointed to good things to come from this small distillery, unfortunately this fifth barrel from Still Waters falls short in comparison. While no.5 has much in common with no.’s 1 & 3, it was also just too rough, spirit-y and hot. Even with water, that sharp-edged, solvent-y quality played too big a role. My guess is the re-fill cask used here didn’t do the spirit many favors. Still, on the positive side, even five casks in, some of the house style is evident, and so far that house style is good.