We had already noted the trend last year. The wine and bar worlds are drifting further and further apart, at least at the Bar Convent Berlin. This year Nicolas Feuillate kept the champagne flag flying (with the showpiece Palmes d’Or 2008, after all). Sherry was only available from Emilio Lustau and Gonzalez Byass (very nice Fino En Rama Edition 2023, pictured right). And the sake presentation was also very limited this time. At least there were some Japanese still and sparkling wines to taste again this time. In terms of quality, however, there is still a long way to go between these and top-quality sakes. Like our first pick, for example:
1. Akashi-Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu Sake
The Akashi brewery is located in the coastal town of the same name in the western Japanese prefecture of Hyogo, not far from Kōbe. Hyogo is considered by many to be the leading sake region. This is due to the long local tradition and the large number of first-class brewmasters (tōji). Another is the special medium-hard Miyamizu spring water in the shadow of Rokkō, Kōbe’s local mountain. But above all, it is the Yamadanishiki rice, the “shining star of the sake world” (Nancy Matsumoto). Akashi-Tai’s top product is brewed from 100 per cent Yamadanishiki and it is bottled undiluted and without additional alcohol (Junmai Genshu). The word Daiginjo stands for a high polishing rate, here it is a high 38 percent. The result is a very elegant, expressive sake with a subtle umami impact and fine fruitiness. The Yonezawa family has been brewing since 1856, since 1917 under the name Akashi-Tai. On the occasion of its 100th birthday, the Kaikyō distillery was inaugurated, where, in addition to a gin, malt whisky is also distilled under the Hatozaki brand.
2. Talisker 2008 Oloroso Quarter Cask Whisky (Hunter Laing & Co.)
There is no need to say much about Talisker. The only distillery on the Isle of Skye is famous for its individual malt whisky, for which, apart from the quite high phenolic content, the very peaty water from the Cnoc-nan-Speireag is mainly responsible. For Jim Murray, Talisker is “an experience – undoubtedly one of the greatest whiskies in the world”. A sentence I would also sign if the house had not also produced some quite commercial bottlings recently. The 2008 bottling from sherry (more precisely: Oloroso) casks, however, shows Talisker at the height of its expressiveness: a powerful marriage of smoke, brine and fruit. Powerful, multilayered and with a very long finish. The bottle was filled in May 2023 by Hunter Laing & Co, a family business from Glasgow that has been blending whiskies since 1949. The Old Malt Cask series was established in 1998. Unfortunately only 128 bottles available.
3. Glenfarclas The Family Casks 1992 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Oops!… They Did It Again. Glenfarclas brought another old trade sample from the Family Cask series to the Bar Convent. This time the 1992 vintage, Cask 5984, filled in October 2018 with a cask strength of 53.5 per cent. Last year I already wrote about 1994, my personal tasting highlight of BCB 2022. This time, too, the presentation of the distillery from Speyside, founded in 1836 and owned by the Grant family since 1865, was a highlight of the show. The 105 Proof Cask Strength (with 60 per cent alcohol content) is an absolute value for money. The 25-year-old a model of complex elegance. The 1992 Family Cask series sample then showed itself more expressive, with roasted hazelnuts, old Oloroso, vanilla and prunes.
4. Michter’s 10 Years Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Mitcher’s is a legendary name in US whiskey history. After all, its predecessor Schenk’s in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, was the first known distillery in the USA – to which the company refers with the designation US*1. Rye was at the beginning, which is why some call it the original American whiskey before bourbon. After going bankrupt in 1989 and resuming production in 2004, Mitcher’s is now doing well again – albeit now in Kentuckey, which has been a source of criticism for traditionalists. Undeniably, Mitcher’s produces some of the best single-varietal ryes in the country. The 10-year-old Rye Single Barrel towers above them all. In a direct comparison, it also beat the two rare special bottlings Bomberger’s Declaration 2023 Release Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Shenk’s Homestead 2023 Release Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey. With the unique spiciness of rye and yet with all its power also cultivated and very long lasting. Great class!
5. Reservoir Virginia Rye Whiskey
Virginia was once a centre of whiskey distilling – even President George Washington distilled here in the late 18th century. Little was left of this heritage at the beginning of this century when childhood friends Dave Cuttino and Jay Carpenter decided to start a small-batch distillery in Richmond, Virginia, in 2008. From the beginning, their focus was on high-end spirits, and consequently, three single grain whiskeys are at the core of the range. A whiskey made from 100 per cent wheat, a bourbon made from 100 per cent corn and finally the rye made from 100 per cent rye.
In addition, there is a locally oriented approach. All raw materials come from Virginia within a 45-mile radius of the distillery. Enormous attention is paid to all the details. Cuttino describes the approach not only as “grain to glass”, but also “acorn to glass”. An allusion to the importance of maturing in wooden barrels. The inside of the barrels is flamed out sharply so that a layer of charcoal forms, which is reminiscent of alligator skin (“alligator char”). This is responsible for the red colour, but also for the intense notes of smoke, caramel and vanilla. In addition, there is the enormously powerful spiciness of the relatively young (three to four years old) rye distillate. Bottled annually from separate batches with 100 proof (50 % alc.).
6. Maison du Rhum Rhum vieux Antilles Françaises
Rum has also become very popular as a spirit category in Germany in the last decade. However, the range is essentially dominated by the Spanish style, which uses molasses, i.e. dark brown sugar syrup, as its base product and is mostly very accessible due to its softness and sweetness. The French bottler Maison du Rhum has made it its business to offer authentic old rums of all styles, i.e. besides Spanish rons also English rums (also molasses, but stronger and less sweet) and French rums made from pure sugar cane juice (fruitier and more complex). My favourite from the range was therefore not the newly presented 20-year-old rum from Panama, but a rhum vieux from the French Antilles distilled in 2014 and bottled in 2023 (far left in the picture). Matured in old bourbon barrels and a finish in sherry barrels, this very structured brandy amazes with its dry style and – besides aromas of dried fruits and tobacco – herbaceous-spicy notes. For purists, a highly welcome alternative to the “Spanish mainstream”.
7. Christian Drouin Calvados des Pays d’Auge AOC Millésime 2003
When you think of Calvados, you think of glasses with lids and onion soup. To say that the apple brandy from Normandy has a dusty image in this country is a slight understatement. This may also be due to the fact that in Germany, which is after all the biggest importer, one single brand dominates 80 percent of the market. Yet the number of family-owned artisanal producers in Normandy is still very high. One of the top producers is Maison Drouhin, founded in 1960 by Christian Drouin near Honfleur in the Calvados department, but which only began marketing its first spirits in 1979. From the very beginning, it has been the aim of the house to let their Calvados mature for a long time in different barrels and to produce the highest qualities. Today, the portfolio of the company, which is now run by grandson Guillaume Drouin, ranges from a white Eau de vie de cidre made from organic apples from small batches to finesse-rich XOs from the AOP Pays d’Auge to the Expérimental series, such as a 19-year-old calvados matured for 17 months in Foursquare rum casks from Barbados. My personal favourite, however, was Le Millésime 2003, aged in Sauternes barrels. Not too sweet, very refined and with just a hint of primary apple fruit, it is an apotheosis of Calvados.
8. Schladerer Rarity No 3 Red Williams Pear from the Rhone Valley
Classic fruit brandies and spirits are not often found at the BCB. Etter and (as a premiere) Morand presented from Switzerland – Schladerer Hausbrennerei from Germany. The traditional house from Staufen in the Black Forest is broadly positioned in this country and repeatedly tries to position itself in the ultra-premium segment too. Brand new at the fair was the relaunch of the Raritäten matured in 225 litres ash wood barrels and filled as single casks. These include a cibarte from Baden, a sour cherry from the Markgräfler Land, a wild sloe from the Carpathians, a hazelnut from the Black Sea region and a Red Williams pear from the Rhone Valley. I was only able to taste the latter, in a small bottle and with indication of barrel and bottle number. That was already very promising. Generous and pure at the same time, with a discreet depiction of the pear texture and good length. The best fruit brandy I tasted at the BCB 2023. The launch was on 1 November.
And finally …
What struck me as particularly positive this year was the desire of many exhibitors to experiment. Once, of course, in many small special bottlings of spirits with cask strengths, wood variants or alternative source materials. Some producers had even brought along internal, unsaleable samples to share their experiences with visitors to the fair. Cognac Ferrand, for example. The house is known for breaking new ground. For example, the 1840 Cognac Pierre Ferrand Original Formula 1er Cru Grande Champagne. It was created with the help of a historian in the style of a cognac from before the phylloxera crisis. At the fair, the Maison then presented vintage samples from very different woods and grape varieties. Impressive, for example, a 2015 from 100 per cent Colombard in cask strength. Recommended for imitation!
Featured Image: © BCB / FRBMedia
All other Photos: Stefan Pegatzky / TimeTunnel Images