Those of you that know me, have watched some of my videos on the YouTube channel, or follow me on social media will no doubt know of my fandom of the Bimber Distillery in London.
For me Bimber encompasses so much of what I love about the flourishing English Whisky scene. From the washbacks that were made by hand by skilled carpenter and owner Dariusz Plazewski (and team), to the direct fired Portuguese stills that empty in to stainless steel milk churns, Bimber screams innovation whilst sitting snugly alongside tradition.
Bimber’s home in London is also the home of one of the world’s most important and impressive public transport networks – The London Underground. Deep beneath the bustling streets of one of the world’s largest cities lies 250 miles (400 km) of track serving 270 stations. For context, as the crow flies London to Paris is 214 miles. That’s a lot of track.
Bimber has taken the bold decision to enter into a costly (but from their point of view hopefully lucrative) licensing agreement with TfL (transport for London). This enables the use of some of the Underground’s iconic station names, logos and references. With this in mind they have released their first ‘Spirit of the Underground Collection’ which features 4 bottles of Single Malt drawn from single casks all matured in ex bourbon barrels. These bottles, somewhat predictably, sold out within seconds and cost a slightly eyewatering £125 a bottle.
I was fortunate enough to take part in Bimber’s Tweet Tasting of the range hosted by the Whisky Wire so had an otherwise challenging chance to try all four initial releases.
All whiskies were bottled at natural cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour and drawn from 4 individual American oak ex-bourbon casks. I have to say as well that they are some of the most attractive bottles I’ve seen in some time. Fantastic design.
Waterloo – 58.% – £125 (Sold Out)
Paler in colour than the other three in the lineup. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Waterloo station be it through work or pleasure but we can all bond in the fact that we’ve heard that 1970’s ABBA hit of the same name that may want you to insert a sharp object into your ear canal.
Nose: Bimber but not as I know it. It’s light, flighty and prickly in places. Vanilla comes through with cream and a slight spice. Warm copper coins now become dominant. Over time becomes buttery and allows some of the Bimber core notes of cola cube and spice to come through.
Palate: Thick, syrupy. This one for me drinks to the strength – punchy and a tad hot. The cola cubes are now back but feels a little rough around the edge compared to other single casks and general ex bourbon releases I’ve tried from the distillery. Black pepper and toffee finish come through at the end.
Finish: Long, warm with spices and honey.
Overall: You can tell this is produced using good spirit but for me, not their best release. This probably shows the most youth I’ve seen from a Bimber in more recent times and feels a little conflicted and hard to keep track of.
Baker Street – 58.1% £125 (Sold Out)
Home of the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Will this be a Hound of the Baskervilles akin to the Waterloo?
Nose: Already more refined than the Waterloo. Icing sugar, mango, banana and crème brulee. Cherry pie possibly? Ginger, cola (yes again) and something that reminds me of fresh churros. Already a massive improvement.
Palate: Good texture. Again very spicy up front but turns swiftly sweeter. Black pepper makes another appearance alongside golden syrup and a mild chilli heat. Honey comes in with Biscoff and pecan nuts.
Finish: Again long and sweet but with a hot intense spice.
Overall: A noticeable improvement on the Waterloo for me. However does still feel a little lacking in places and sometimes a case of chasing the peaks and troughs.
Score: Good/Very Good
King’s Cross – 58.5% £125 (Sold Out)
Being on the West Coast Mainline who’s trains go into London Euston, I’ve never set foot in Kings Cross which services the East Coast Line and yet sits a mere 200m or so to the East. That aside, it does contain a mystical 3/4 platform from a certain magical book and movie franchise. Will this cast a spell on me however?
Nose: Lemon zest, sherbet, the bottom of an empty sweet jar. Honey comes in with a touch of lavender and spices. A tad hot to the nostrils.
Palate: Again good texture and again it instantly let’s you know it’s there. A big spice hit followed by vanilla coke (yes I’m a heathen), nutty toffee and tinned fruit salad. Fresher nectarine and orange zest see things into the finish.
Finish: Long with soft cinnamon warmth and nuts.
Overall: A good dram and sits somewhere between the Waterloo and Baker St for me so far. Still, this does show it’s frailties and strengths in equal measure.
Oxford Circus – 58.9% – £125 (Sold Out)
Now, Oxford circus. If we take the steps up from the station we’re greeted with a medley of red double decker buses and bustling pavements thanks to this joining the West End – famous for it’s theatres, Oxford Street -London’s up market shopping street, and Regent street -again a somewhat up market shopping street as well as being home to the BBC’s old broadcasting house.
Nose: Deep fried Mars bar! More fried goodness in the form of fresh doughnuts. Walnut oil. Again this fleetingly becomes hot but is kept in check by the sweetness of a ton of honey pastries and dried oregano.
Palate: Good texture. So much more approachable. Despite the strength this one is eminently more drinkable at full whack. Peaches, Tikka Pineapple (yes it’s a thing and you’re missing out, get yourself to Dishoom), grilled paneer, cinnamon buns and honey. Butterscotch sweets.
Finish: Delightful, more cola, cinnamon and honey. Sweet but not cloying, warm but not hot, long but not intrusive.
Overall: By far and away the best of the line up for me. This stands out like a fully illuminated Blackpool tower. The strongest dram of the evening being the most drinkable isn’t necessarily unique but this is a fantastic dram in it’s own right.
In conclusion, I was made up to take part in this tasting. Whilst I was initially surprised that some of these drams didn’t automatically push my buttons or taste like I’m used to when it comes to Bimber, it was refreshing to have to really engage with these and take the rough with the smooth. This will always be the case with single casks. Some see single casks as superior given their uniqueness and retention of core distillery characters. That’s not always the case and they can be incredibly varied both for the good and the bad.
I was initially tempted to also mention auction/secondary prices in the titles. I’m glad to report however that I didn’t see many. The reason being Bimber have stepped up to the plate in the fight against flipping. Bottles were limited to one per person across all releases meaning only one bottle could be picked up, not one of each. NFC tags were stuck to bottles under the foil caps which, when scanned after opening, gave the owner a £12.50 voucher. Upon scanning five of these over future releases, the owner would be given a free bottle from a future Underground range. A carefully curated numbered order system tracking who bought what bottle was also in place although this meant a lot of work in excel for a certain individual. If any of those bottles were seen at auctions within 12 months of sale? That individual was banned from entering any further ballots.
Sadly, as I’ve touched on here, people will still bring the worst out of themselves on occasions and this release was no exception. As a result, anybody to have been found to have abused, pestered, or be an inconsiderate FOMO chasing magpie was to have their membership cancelled and banned from purchasing from Bimber’s website.
For me, the Bimber Ex-Bourbon general releases have been my favourites to date closely followed by the Oloroso batches. These were also priced at £65/75 respectively which is nigh-on half the price of the Underground releases. Saying that, the Tfl licence will have been costly and Bimber by the nature of it’s capacity doesn’t have a huge amount of stock to play with for single cask releases which also factors in. These whiskies all showed in some way how the blending process can add together individual players to form a team for the better. Sure it’s nice listening to a moving cello or violin solo every once in a while – but nothing quite beats the envelopment of a full orchestral performance reaching it’s crescendo.
The varied scores here highlight the variety of single casks as with any other distillery and it’s good to see that Bimber is no exception to the rule, further highlighting that they really do belong at the whisky table.
Thanks again to the Whisky Wire and Bimber Distillery for the inclusion in this tasting.
The Malt Music for these whiskies is predictable as it is fitting. London’s iconic trio The Jam with Going Underground, need I say more?
Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good – I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid – No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine – There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear – Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt