Gouden Carolus Belgian Single Malt Whisky – Review

*Thanks to Sam Filmus and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

**Correction! Thanks to Ruben Luyten of WhiskyNotes and Lew Bryson, it was pointed out that the first Gouden Carolus whiskey came out in 2007, not 2009. According to Ruben, these first experiments, made in another distillery’s column stills, were not good, so Het Anker had their own stills made by Forseyths, and brought in Superhero consultant Jim Swan to get their whisky on the right path.

Gouden Carolus is best known as a Belgian beer brand produced by the Het Anker Brewery. Located in the Flemish city of Mechelen, the brewery’s history dates back to 1471 when, apparently on the site of a hospital or monastery or both, beer was made. Commercially, the relevant history of the brewery starts in 1872 when it was purchased by a man named Louis Van Breedam. In 1904, Van Breedam renamed it Het Anker, which of course is Flemish for “the Anchor.” Het Anker introduced its “Emperor Beer” brand at some point after WWII, and in 1960, renamed that one Gouden Carolus, which of course is Flemish for “Golden Charles.” The Charles is this case being the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who ruled a good chunk of Europe for a good chunk of the Sixteenth Century. Today, Het Anker is still owned by the Van Breedam family who’ve expanded their small empire to include a hotel and brasserie at the brewery, and a distillery out at the old family farm.

Het Anker debuted their first single malt in 2009**, but that one was distilled by another distillery. I believe the first Gouden Carolus Single Malt distilled at the Het Anker distillery popped up in 2013. From the beginning, this single malt has been made from the mash of their well-regarded strong pale ale,  the Gouden Carolus Tripel. According to the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program Guidelines, the Belgian Tripel is “a pale, somewhat spicy, dry, strong Trappist ale with a pleasant rounded malt flavor and firm bitterness. Quite aromatic, with spicy, fruity, and light alcohol notes combining with the supportive clean malt character to produce a surprisingly drinkable beverage considering the high alcohol level.” This version of the Gouden Carolus Belgian Single Malt Whisky was made from the Tripel’s mash, presumably before the addition of any hops or adjuncts, and was then matured in two different types of casks. First, it spends an unspecified amount of time in first-fill bourbon barrels, then, an unspecified amount of time in special “Het Anker” casks which are ex-wine casks that have been re-conditioned and re-charred. An obvious move would’ve been to try this whisky alongside the beer from whence it sprang, but alack, the Gouden Carolus Tripel is rarely seen in my neck of the woods. It seems the general consensus is that it’s a very good beer which perhaps goes beyond its adherence to the style by adding a few more citrus/fruity notes.

The Nose:  Somewhat restrained and youthful, with quite sweet, malty grain notes and ripe fruits. There are lovely peach notes, floral honey, glazed cereal flakes in milk, and a little Mandarin orange. Behind that, lighter hints of vanilla syrup, toasted marshmallow, and rising bread dough. The oak is subtle, fresh cut boards, with a bit of coriander and candied ginger.

The Palate:  The sweetness carries over to the palate with a silky mouthfeel and more ripe stone fruits and honey. The orange is more pronounced and the grain more toasted rather than milky-sweet. The palate is where I got the greatest sense of “beer”, though it was not necessarily beer-y. I think there was a faint, resiny, almost pine-y hint in the background. There’s more oak here, too, tannic and drying with vanilla bean, ginger, and a little black pepper.

The Finish:  Medium-ish, with toasted grain, vanilla, and black pepper lingering the longest.

Thoughts:  Much lighter, and frankly, much more interesting and satisfying than I expected. I’ve tried several whiskies made from specific beer mashes, and while they’ve all been intriguing, they often don’t strike me as something I’d want to drink much of. They usually just make me want to drink the beer. The Gouden Carolus Single Malt, on the other hand, doesn’t strike me as overly beery, instead integrating and balancing some of the fruity and malty esters common to the Tripel style with some oak and spice notes. I really enjoyed the ripe stone fruit quality and the complex, beguiling earthy notes of the palate. It did come across a little restrained and youthful, but then again, I’d hate to see some of the more interesting mash-influenced flavors get crowded out by more common oak-influenced flavors. Ultimately, this is unique stuff. If perhaps not fully realized, it’s still very pleasant on a summer night and shows a well-made complexity and balance that should indicate even better things to come. Recommended.

Gouden Carolus Belgian Single Malt Whisky, Belgium, +/-2018

46% ABV

Score:  84


Sources:

https://www.bjcp.org/docs/2015_Guidelines_Beer.pdf

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