*Sincere thanks to Quaker City Mercantile and New Liberty Distillery for the sample.
We will get to this somewhat unique whiskey in a moment. The first order of business, however, is deciphering the tangled web made by producers, owners, and marketers of this brand. Or maybe it’s not such a tangled web, maybe it’s a shrewd, new, diversified way of navigating the spirits industry. Or maybe it’s a fairly tangled web. At least to me it is, but then again, I have an art degree, and no one’s ever accused me of being particularly shrewd when it comes to business. In any case, tangled web or no, the many people and companies involved with this brand, and their relatively novel approach deserve a quick look alongside the whiskey.
The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is distilled by the New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia, PA. New Liberty was founded in 2013 alongside a craft spirits consultation company called Millstone Spirits Group. According to Millstone co-founder and New Liberty co-founder and master distiller, Robert Cassell, the idea behind Millstone is to provide hire-able expertise in “distillation, distribution, marketing and sale of distilled spirits.” New Liberty’s focus is whiskey, specifically rye whiskey and the revitalization of Pennsylvania’s distilling tradition. It’s interesting to note that Cassell, along with Tom Jensen, another founder of New Liberty and Millstone Spirits, founded Ireland’s Connacht Whiskey Company in 2015.
So, yeah, some of the people behind this one have many booze-making irons in the fire, but just wait, it gets even more involved. In the beginning of this year, New Liberty announced a partnership with Quaker City Mercantile, a Philadelphia ad agency and marketing firm that also owns a retail space in Philadelphia called Art in the Age, and a New Hampshire distillery named Tamworth Distillery. Quaker City Mercantile has a rather fascinating history. Having created the Sailor Jerry brand of spiced rum and then sold it to William Grant & Sons, the agency became instrumental marketing partners in two other William Grant & Sons’ brands, Hendrick’s Gin and Milagro tequila. In 2009, the agency became part owners of the Narragansett brewery, and recently also managed to be picked by MillerCoors to shine up the Miller High Life brand.
There you have it, in a probably all too brief nutshell. There are certainly a dizzying array of companies involved with this one, but it’s a somewhat interesting array. In particular, Quaker City Mercantile seems to relish blurring lines that are usually more distinct, but at least in this case, it’s a blurring that makes a lot of sense. The partnership between New Liberty and Quaker City has resulted in a revamped tasting room at New Liberty, and a major re-working of Art in the Age into a tasting room and home bar supply retail shop. Quaker City Mercantile is handling the design work for New Liberty and Tamworth products. The collaboration between those two distilleries will yield several new spirits which they plan to release every couple of months. The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is the first of these collaborative bottlings.
This one is made from a “Munich style” malt that came from a small, artisan, Pennsylvanian malter called Deer Creek Malt House. Munich Malt is a popular beer-making malt which is traditionally both germinated and kilned at a relatively high temperature, creating the familiar nutty, malty, bready flavor profiles found in many German lagers, bocks, and Märzens. The Penna Dutch Malt has been aged in new charred American oak barrels, and is made up of whiskeys ranging from a mere six months old all the way up to two years old. It’s also been bottled at a very respectable 50.1% ABV.
The Nose: Lots of grain and distillate character, nicely tempered by sweetness, wood and a little spice. That toasted barley quality certainly comes through, this has some very pleasant coffee notes. There’s a subtle, interesting raw grain, dried grass quality as well, slightly herbal and almost rye-like. The sweetness comes through as malt syrup, rhubarb cobbler, light molasses, and Swiss Miss (no marshmallows). Subtle wood and spice notes of damp oak and vanilla bean, nutmeg, peppercorns and allspice. Adding a little water brings out even more grain and new make character, but also gives it a more expected “single malt” feel.
The Palate: There’s a rough sweetness initially. Dark orange blossom honey, chocolate-covered cherries, coffee-flavored hard candy, and subtler hints of dried red fruits. While that young grainy character is present, it’s less prevalent that it was on the nose. More chocolate, dark and semi-sweet, along with candied, roasted nuts. The oak is lightly grippy with cinnamon, clove, star anise, and black pepper. As with the nose, a little water brings out more traditional single malt character, toning down some of the fruit and chocolate.
The Finish: Medium-ish, with toasted grain, café au lait, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and dusty, lightly tannic oak.
Thoughts: A nice surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I found this a little unexpected. The distillate quality seems very good and the Munich Malt definitely gives this some character with the coffee and chocolate notes throughout. While it does have a youthful straightforwardness, it’s not hot or harsh, instead it’s surprisingly smooth, sippable, and somewhat unique at strength. It does a good job balancing the interesting young grain with the oak and spice. With a little water, this seems to lose a bit of complexity and novelty, falling back into more of an expected young single malt profile. I found this an enjoyable whiskey right now and, if they stick with this expression, I’m curious to see what a few more years in wood could bring to it. The price is steep at $50, but relatively in line these days with offerings from craft distilleries.
***Bonus Cocktail Whatzit! On a whim, I mixed up a damn delightful twist on a Boulevardier using the Penna Dutch Malt, Campari, and Tattersall Distilling’s Amaro in place of sweet vermouth. A little more bitter than the standard, the malt’s high ABV stood up well to the sweetness of the other two, and the herbal Amaro nicely complimented the roasty notes of the whiskey and tied it all together.
- “A hybrid of 19th century mercantilism and 21st century brand artistry.” Quaker City Mercantile. N.p., n.d. Web. June & july 2017.
Busch, Jim. “The Magic of Munich Malt.” MoreBeer! N.p., 28 Aug. 2015. Web. July 2017.
- “Deer Creek Malthouse – Pennsylvania Craft Malt.” Deer Creek Malthouse. N.p., n.d. Web. June & july 2017.
- Schultz., E.J. “MillerCoors Taps Philadelphia Agency for High Life Help.” Ad Age. N.p., 20 Sept. 2016. Web. June & july 2017.
- Vadala, Nick. “Philly distillers’ partnership to bring changes to Art in the Age, New Liberty Distillery.” Philly.com. N.p., 24 Jan. 2017. Web. June & july 2017.
- “Welcome to New Liberty.” New Liberty Distillery. New Liberty Distillery, 21 Apr. 2017. Web. June & july 2017.