ST. GEORGE SINGLE MALT WHISKEY
Lot No. SM017 (2017)
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 86
AGE – NAS (6-to-8-year blend according to the distillery)
DISTILLERY – St. George Spirits
PRICE – $85 ($100 on average)
BUY AGAIN? – No, but I’m glad to have it, and might pick up some future edition at a good price.
From year to year, the age of the whiskeys blended into this annual release from St. George Spirits changes, along with the sorts of barrels in which they are aged and/or finished. Given the range of spirits St. George produces, the stock of barrels available to them for aging and finishing their single malts is diverse. Their blending process is meticulous, detailed, and open to possibility.
For example, the most recent release (2019’s Lot 19) drew on a selection of barrels ranging from 5 to 20 years in age. Barrel types included used Kentucky bourbon, port, California Sauternes-style, and sherry casks.
Similarly, this Lot 17 is a blend of 19 barrels total, variously aged from 6 to 8 years. The barrels themselves were formerly used to age port, American and French dessert wines, even St. George Spirits’ own Breaking & Entering Bourbon.
This whiskey truly took me on a surprise journey. But before going into more detail, first some notes in brief, taken two months after uncorking and about halfway through the bottle:
COLOR – pale summery yellow, tinting into orange
NOSE – fragrant with quince, vanilla, cream, some tangy tropical fruits, something Christmasy about it
TASTE – creamy even at this low proof, tart plumbs, melons, soft caramel, a burst of the quince and tropical flavors on swallowing
FINISH – quince, the sweetly tart tropical fruits, those lovely cream flavors, a nice soft warmth
OVERALL – easy, creamy, that unique quince aspect leading in the memory of it
I haven’t had much else quite like this. The single malt aspects are recognizable. Tasted blind, I would guess it to be one scotch or another—that mix of vanilla-caramel creams from the barrel aging and fruits from the malted barley. What is most striking here is its particular sweetness, with a slight savory edge to it, and which my mind keeps grabbing onto quince to describe.
I’ve only had quince a very few times, to my conscious knowledge. But it is distinct in my sense-memory. Quince is a hearty autumn fruit that comes across like a tough hybrid of apples and pears. It’s unapproachably astringent until forced by cooking to release its distinctive perfume of citric, vanilla-apple aromas.
I associate quince with Christmas. Images come flooding to mind of many childhood holidays spent in my grandparents’ drafty add-on to their 1950s home in the California Salinas Valley. Literally all my childhood Christmas days were spent there. After clearing away the afternoon’s discarded wrappings we would set a long table for dinner. I can’t recall the dessert we must have been served that now pulls these long past memories forward. But there they are.
Outside of Christmas festivities, I spent hours in that room, often playing checkers against Grandpa. He always won. I remember the day I finally beat him. I was thirteen. “You beat me,” he said with a quieted but palpable surprise. His eyes searched the checkerboard carefully, without the glint they always had when playing. Then without another word he smiled briefly, stood up and left.
It was a striking moment. I sat in that room with my victory and an odd sense of sadness on my grandfather’s behalf. Though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, in my heart and gut I’d recognized that something about the profound complexities of men and aging was contained in that moment.
I can still see myself sitting there on the brown leather coach. The brick hearth to my right. The Seese Candy milk chocolate color of the wood-paneled walls, studded with crooked lamps and knickknacks. Little handmade awards or photos from 1950s Rotary Club parties. A black-and-white photo of my mother cheerleading in college. A handmade framed tribute honoring my grandparents’ many years of marriage. My mother kept updating the number on it as the years rolled on—69 in all by the time my grandfather passed away.
Crazy how a whiskey can send one on such a journey back in time.
In any case, I would guess the dessert wine barrels played a key role in this blend. Desserty whiskeys, like desserty wines, are not top of my list. But as a sweet, celebratory dram, I’m very happy to have this St. George Single Malt Lot 17 on the shelf. It tastes at once fresh and old-fashioned. It’s somehow old school and old country—the days of parlors and doilies, little sandwiches and tea, weekend buffets at middle-class country clubs, American traditions borrowed and adapted from Europe… And yet it also comes across as very much alive, not dusty at all but sunny and fresh. Nostalgia no longer imagined but present and real.
How this world has changed in my little lifetime. The images coming to my mind as I sip this whiskey are from a time and place I can barely remember, when the Civil Rights movement was not fully understood by suburban and rurally located White middle-class families like mine. In Salinas, CA, where my grandparents lived, in the latter half of the 20th Century, race divisions between White and Latinx folx were still very much entrenched. The words “Latinx” and “folx” would not even be understood back then and there. I was a privileged kid enjoying my elders’ still-waking dream of White middle-class ease, oblivious to the lives of the Mexican immigrants who lived on the other side of town and did the hard labor to make my extended family’s lifestyle possible.
If my uncle, a business man in the agricultural trade, treated his employees well, still he did not invite them into his home for dinner. Yet one family who worked for him always brought us their homemade Mexican food to enjoy on Christmas day. When they eventually stopped bringing it my grandmother continued the tradition by making enchiladas herself, serving them alongside the Christmas ham. Enchiladas were as much a Christmas staple for me as Santa Claus. As a child only one digit of age, I had no awareness of the sociopolitical complexities of any of this.
I’m grateful to be now living in a time and place when past perceptions are getting reconciled more closely with present realities. The 21st Century is still not yet an equitable one. And in 2020, unlike 1980, considerations of this tumultuous world and my role in it can occasionally feel overwhelming.
And that’s fine. Because significant change is never as smooth as a good whiskey. I strive to keep hopeful. I must, given there are so many reasons not to feel hopeful. On its surface the world we continue to make is moving fast, furiously, and decisively by design. Meanwhile deeper social change struggles to keep up and Nature goes about its long-range business despite our fleeting busywork. It takes tenacious attention to keep in firm touch with the scope of reality while holding on to hope. Hope needs to not be a mere nostalgic fantasy or distraction from the harsher realities of 2020, but a legitimate aspect of them.
…How did I get on this line of thought?!
From a very carefully crafted, very particular tasting whiskey—one that is not even my favorite! Yet it’s clearly very compelling.
One more bit of evidence that whiskey is far more than booze.