When my buddy Keith asked if I wanted to get together to catch up on life this week I started thinking about what whiskey I was going to take with me. When the forecast called for a dry warm spring evening (rare here in Oregon) I knew we would be sitting around the fire.
I decided on two different whiskeys, one that I had tasted but never reviewed and a new and exciting single malt that says fire pit and barbecue the minute you taste it. I.W. Harper is an old brand recently relaunched after being pulled from the shelves of U.S. stores in 1980 when Bourbon was losing popularity to scotch and other liquors to preserve it's brand identity in Japan. Once the most famous bourbon in the world, by 1966 it was available in 110 countries and the best selling bourbon worldwide, becoming immortalized as the drink of 007 in Ian Fleming's 1963 novel "In Her Majesty's Secret Service". 35 years later I.W. Harper is back, and once again being distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY. In contrast we have the Colkegan from Sante Fe Spirits in Sante Fe, NM. Sante Fe Spirits has a unique process, and it's best to use the information from their website to describe it:
"Like its Scottish single malt cousins, Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey is made entirely from malted barley, carefully distilled, and aged and finished in various oak casks to enhance the complex flavors inherent to true single malt whiskey. But there are key differences that set this remarkable spirit apart from its Scottish relatives.
While peat-smoked malt has always been a key ingredient in many well known Scotch whiskies, Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey’s wonderfully complex flavor profile benefits from a very different type of smoked malt utilized by no other distillery in the world. The result is a smooth, mellow, mysteriously balanced hint of smoky complexity unique to Santa Fe Spirits.
Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey’s unique barrel aging process also separates it from its low-altitude relatives. Santa Fe Spirits is located 7,000 feet above sea level in the high desert and utilizes a climate-controlled barrel warehouse with temperatures ranging from freezing cold to swelteringly hot, and humidities ranging from bone dry to unbelievably damp. A strict regimen of climate changes yields a spirit with amazing complexity unrivaled by more temperate warehouses."
The I.W. Harper is a full bodied and complex whiskey. The nose is sweet, with strong notes of caramel and honey. It starts with that same sweetness on the front of the palate, followed quickly by a faint leather and wood flavor, finishing smoothly in sweet honey and green grass bordering on citrus. A wonderful whiskey to sip any time, and a quick hit with everyone tasting this night.
The Colkegan is an interesting taste. On the nose it is remarkably sweet. Caramel and almost butterscotch tempt you to taste. Once you do you are quickly surprised by the unique smoke that sets Sante Fe's process apart: rather than smoking the malted barley with peat they use what is available in the desert southwest, mesquite. The amazingly full flavored smokiness of the whiskey dominates, and quickly fades leaving a vague sweet honey aftertaste that you never fully taste on the palate. This is the perfect whisky to sip in front of the fireplace or even better around the campfire on a summer night.
The folks at Caskers.com came through again, and I look forward to more time with friends sitting around and sipping great whiskey.