Bimber distillery released a new series to celebrate the London Underground, a great engineering project of the 19th Century, and together with Steve Rush they offered to try them during a new Tweet Tasting. Bimber was one of my first ever Tweet Tastings almost two years ago (already!) and since then I’ve been really following what they do and bought a few bottles they released. So you can imagine I was quite excited at the prospect of trying these four whiskies, especially since thanks to Brexit and wouldn’t try my luck grabbing one by fear of having hide and seek with customs and annoying shipping companies.
Down the tube
But first, though probably not many people will care about what I write about this subject, and especially not those concerned by this rant, I’d like to talk a bit about the latest Bimber newsletter, whose content shocked me. In this newsletter, the writer (I suppose it was Matt McKay, their spokesperson amongst many other roles for Bimber) complains with strong language for a public newsletter about two things.
First, unsurprisingly, some people tried to circumvent the limit to one bottle per person global amongst the four different expressions that were released, meaning, sorry, you can’t buy a bottle of each Underground station, but just one single bottle, in order to let as many people as possible get the chance to grab one.
And second, some people who couldn’t grab one, either because they were too late, or the bottle disappeared for the cart while they were trying to pay for it or something, behaved towards Bimber’s staff, by showing aggressive behaviour towards Bimber’s staff. Fortunately and unfortunately at the same time, Bimber’s releases are quite collectible especially for this new series, with a potential high resell value, and all Bimber single casks fly off the online shelves in minutes.
Now, you from the first, the second, or both categories, let me tell you something. Yes, I know there’s quite a lot of hype about Bimber. FOMO is important when we talk about Bimber because their juice is really, really good. Yes, the boxes and bottles of this Underground release are pretty. Maybe you just love the Underground, maybe you wanted to get every single release to open a Bimber museum or whatever, or you’re disappointed you could only get one bottle to flip to make a quick buck. But whatever the case, you’re not entitled to anything. Even if you’re a Founder or a Klub member. And you’re especially not entitled to be a twat with people who love what they do, who pull out all the stops to make the best whisky possible, and who try their best to release as much whisky as they can without compromising their future. Because a cask bottled now is a cask we won’t see with a nice age statement or a more developed profile or a cask that will permit to have enough stock for a future permanent expression.
And for the ones in the second category, being aggressive towards Bimber’s staff, or anyone for that matter, are you kidding me? Is that how your mother or father or whatever raised you? To be like a temperamental angry kid? Seriously? It’s just whisky! Your life doesn’t depend on this! Especially since you probably won’t even open the damn bottle! You missed the occasion to make some quick profit? Well tough luck. I won’t cry for you. You genuinely wanted a bottle because you love Bimber? Well, when you love someone or something you’re not supposed to be an ass towards that person, so you’d better go apologize. Won’t probably save you from being banned from their ballots and have your Klub membership rescinded if you had one, but that’s what you get for being a bad boy. You really wanted to have that exhaustive Bimber collection? Well, it’s a shame, but let me tell you, unless you have pockets so deep you can’t see the bottom, it’s an impossible task already, and it won’t get better.
And even if you had all the good reasons… it’s just whisky! There are lots of great whiskies to buy, not just Bimber. Even them know it and they’ll tell you the same.
No(w) thanks to that, they decided to take action. They went for weighted ballots. The difference with normal ballots is the following: you’re a Founder member? You’ve got 5 chances, while Klub members got 3 and regular people got just one chance to be get a bottle. BUT. You tried to cheat the system on the initial Underground sale? Too bad for you, not only were your orders cancelled, but you’re banned from this ballot and any future one. You were aggressive towards Bimber? As I said, your Klub membership if you had one is rescinded, and you’re banned from Bimber ballots. And if they catch you having flipped a bottle in the next 12 months of its release, you’re banned too.
Now, how Bimber will consider people reselling a bottle before 12 months is a legitimate question for several reasons. You could oppose the flippers bought that bottle so they can do what they want with it. Even though people who wanted a bottle to drink it and share it couldn’t get one because of them. Well… yeah, it’s a shame, I hate it too, but they’re in their right. As well as Bimber wanting to prevent that. The other question is what about people selling a bottle because their situation changed? I know people on Twitter who because of Covid and lockdown had no more income and had to sell bottles they had in their collection to get some money to put food on the table and pay the bills. Will Bimber take that into consideration? How will they know (do people have to contact Bimber to justify themselves) in order not to be banned from future ballots? I don’t know, but I hope they’ll be able to take that into account without being too inquisitive.
Don’t be that arsehole. They deserve better. Now let’s get back on track: the first four Bimber Underground expressions.
Bimber Underground Tweet Tasting
London’s underground passenger railway network, known as “The Tube”, is the oldest of its kind in the world. The Underground gets its origins from the Metropolitan Railway, opened in January 1863, almost 150 years ago. In 2017/2018, more than 1.3 billion passenger journeys were done on The Tube, making it the world’s 12th busiest metro system. Bimber’s started its The Spirit of the Underground Series in order to celebrate this great engineering project. To start this series, as later on new expressions will expand it, Bimber released a first batch of four single casks, all ex-bourbon, named after four famous Underground stations. These bottles feature the station name as well as beautiful imagery associated with the station and the place. The four stations for this first batch are “Napoleon should have won” (okay I’m kidding, we Frenchies have a good sense of humour as you know), I meant “Waterloo”, “Baker Street”, “King’s Cross St Pancras” and “Oxford Circus”. As part of this Tweet Tasting, Bimber provided us with a sample of each of these expressions.
First expression of the first batch, Waterloo was drawn in May 2021 from an American oak ex-bourbon cask #99, giving an outturn of 257 bottles at 58.3% abv. This one was the result of the distillation of a mash fermented in their previous steal washbacks, before Bimber switched to American oak washbacks. By the time this blog post is published, these expressions will be sold out, even though at £125, it’s a huge step up the usual Bimber single casks RRP, no thanks to the Underground licensing cost. London’s Waterloo station is one of the main passenger stations in London, and the bigger, named after Waterloo battle victory which saw the final defeat of Napoléon Bonaparte. The box and label represent the iconic four-side clock face of Waterloo station. I’m strangely not too fond of the choice of that particular station. Maybe because I’m French 😉
Nice fruity nose with peaches, roasted apples dusted with cinnamon and vanilla, sweet caramel, Italian vanilla ice cream, malted barley grist and slight notes of orange nectar juice. After a moment, the ice cream evolves to strawberry and something making me think of the fat part of the smell of surimi. A few drops of water bring out the fruits in front.
Rich thick mouthfeel as usual with Bimber. Chili spices hit that bits the tongue, oak spices, you’d think you’re licking a stave. Vanilla, cocoa powder for the children’s breakfast milk, salted butter, cracked black pepper. Over time the mouthfeel gets very creamy, almost waxy. Digestive biscuits and copper coins. Maybe a bit of gunpowder. With water, the spices and oakiness take the reins and don’t let much place for the rest.
Chili and pepper as well as oak spices linger on with a slight metallic touch.
Rating: 84/100 (42 if you’re French1)
Bimber Baker Street
Second expression of the first Underground batch is Baker Street. Baker Street is famous for having hosted the house of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson at number 221B in Sir Conan Doyle’s books. Baker Street’s Underground station is one of the original ones of the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway which opened back in 1863. You can recognize the profile of Sherlock Holmes on the box and the bottle’s label. The whisky named after that station was as all four releases of the first Underground batch drawn in May 2021 from an American oak ex-bourbon cask, number #126 here. This release, selected by Bimber’s Klub tasting panel, was bottled at 58.1% abv and as all Bimber releases so far, is nonchill filtered and natural colour. The difference with Waterloo is that his one, as well as King’s Cross St Pancras and Oxford Circus, was fermented in American oak washbacks, so it will be interesting if we can spot the impact it has (though my palate is far insufficiently developed so I can’t guarantee anything). As all Underground releases so far, it’s sold out.
More citrusy than Waterloo for me. Roasted pineapple, ripe banana, lemon curd and butter on a toast, green apples, dark cherries, sawdust, maybe also plain dust, and metallic notes. Churros dusted with sugar and cinnamon. A few drops of water didn’t change much the profile, maybe a tiny wee bit more citrusy?
Thinner mouthfeel, more on citrus again. Lemon, orange, clementine. Again, oak bitterness. Peppermint, nasturtium and rose petals, treacle, chocolate and bechamel sauce. With water: everything cranked up a notch, but it’s getting more spicy after 10 seconds. Water quite opens it.
Chocolate, bechamel, lemon and the oak bitterness intertwine and linger around the tongue, with a nice cosy warmth on the throat. Huge chocolate note on the finish in fact.
Bimber King’s Cross St Pancras
Also one of the initial stations, King’s Cross St Pancras is the busiest of London’s Underground stations in terms of passengers entries and exits, and is also an interchange station for six lines. The label shows the beautiful roof from the Western Concourse. As its sister releases, this one was drawn from cask #129 and bottled on May 2021 at 58.5%. You’ll have guessed it’s sold out.
The white Bordeaux (Graves) wine I bought a case of two weeks ago! White Bordeaux with notes of red and tropical fruits, just fantastic. Flowery notes (don’t ask me which flowers. Okay. Pretty ones.) White pepper, lime, cracked malted barley, scented candles, crème brûlée, lovely. A bit of coconut water. All hail the King. A few drops of water tone down slightly the white wine notes in favour of citrus.
The mouthfeel’s thickness is in between Waterloo and Baker Street. Spices hit with pepper and ginger, nasturtium again, orange peel, but this is mostly spices here, making it a bit challenging. No, that’s not a tear at the corner of my eye. Afterwards, a citrusy fruitiness appears. Water brings pear and peaches I didn’t get before and a chocolatey oakiness, like liking a stave with melted chocolate on it, while quieting down a bit the spices.
Oak bitterness, spices and lemon juice.
Bimber Oxford Circus
Last but not least, Bimber’s fourth expression in their Spirit of the Underground first batch is named after Oxford Circus, an important crossroad in London between Oxford Street and Regent Street. Oxford Circus is crossed by 45.000 people every hour. Back to the whisky, it was as all four releases drawn from an American oak ex-bourbon cask, #172 here so probably a bit younger than the others, and bottled in May 2021 at 58.8% abv. I won’t have to say it’s sold out? Oh I just did. Well. It is anyway.
Orchard fruits on which you’d pour a bit of lemon juice to prevent oxidization. Slight touch of red wine, cough sweets, a bag of Werther’s original caramel, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream with macadamia nuts. Langues de Chat biscuits (thanks Fiona Shoop, awesome memory). With water, it’s even more fruity but with some ever so slight herbaceous fresh notes of eucalyptus and the just menthol notes of menthol cigarettes.
Sweet and slightly spicy arrival, thick and a bit drying mouthfeel. After a moment spices (pepper, ginger) get more present. Milk chocolate, a coffee spoon of … coffee, roasted almonds and caramel. Water makes it sweeter at first and spicier afterwards. It’s everything like neat but cranked up a notch too.
Medium oakiness, apple juice, a bit shorter than the other stations. Still a good chocolate hit after a while.
I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but Bimber whisky has a mouthfeel, a fruitiness and a spiciness that I think I’d recognize blind (though I’m sure it would be easy to prove me wrong). Waterloo is a good whisky, but not the best Bimber ever released. Baker Street starts thinner on the palate but a few moments change the texture to a creamier one, it’s softer and more approachable. The nose is good and the palate really good. It’s young but you wouldn’t think it’s only 4ish. King’s Cross St Pancras (I should have called it KCSP from the start) has a great nose, better than the other three, but the palate gets so hot on spices that it’s not an easy dram to sip, you have to battle a bit with it to get past the spices bite. On my first go with all four, I thought Oxford Circus to be a bit inferior to Baker Street and KCSP but I’m not so sure on my second go. Adding a few drops of water (4 drops in about 10 ml of whisky, give or take) helps deciding between all of them. Neat, I preferred the nose from KCSP and the palate from Baker Street, but with a few drops of water, I think it helped smooth out King’s Cross St Pancras’ palate, and that’s why for me it’s my favourite of the four. But they’re all really close if not for Waterloo being a step under the other three. And I don’t say that because of Napoleon!
Now the price is a bit steep. Sure we’ve seen worse for very young whiskies of new distilleries, but £125 is quite a lot. I know the Underground licence was quite expensive, but that’s 50% more expensive than their usual single casks, so in the end it’s about £40 for a pretty label. You can get a Glenfarclas 21yo for £80 on offer. Sure, it’s not a single cask, it’s only 43% abv, but it’s a very solid dram and 21 years old. On the other hand, you have the cost of running a new and small distillery, and their production cost has nothing in common with the big distilleries. In the end, the decision will be made by your purse and if you think it’s worth it. Their whisky is great – impressive even for something that age, the people are lovable, and they do everything with a real care of getting the most flavour they can pack without resorting to cheap methods like very active casks. What is my point you ask? Hmm. For £75 to £85, their single casks are definitely worth the price. Would I add £40 on top for a pretty label? No. Especially not for the W-word one! Well, enough with my ramblings, see you next time.
Oh and can I explain what differences the change of washbacks did? Nope, sorry, I’m not good enough, you’ll have to ask Matt McKay or the distillery itself.
But don’t take our word for it.
My good friend Brian @MaltMusings was also part of this Tweet Tasting and wrote about this tasting, so I encourage you to go take a look at what he thought! Andy @MaltBox also reviewed all four on his website here.
Images courtesy of Bimber except for the King’s Cross one stolen on Whiskybase and edited for editorial needs.
1: Everything said about Waterloo and the French chauvinism is just for fun and must be read as parody.