Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky – Dr. Jim Swan Batch

Batch: Dr. Jim Swan (2020)

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 92

AGE – NAS (blend of ~3 to ~4 year whiskies aged in bourbon, cuvée, and sherry casks)

DISTILLERY – Virginia Distilling Co.

PRICE – free sample ($75 at msrp)

WORTH BUYING? – Yes. A very accomplished American single malt that belies its youth.

My introduction to Virginia Distilling Company’s first Courage & Conviction release came courtesy of a reader of this blog who commented on my post about a Westward Single Malt SiB, suggesting I include Courage & Conviction in my exploration of American single malts. I looked Virginia Distilling up online and was immediately impressed by the sheer depth and detail their website offered around their process, from historical and statistical information about single malt whisky, to specific details about Courage & Conviction, like grain selection, barrel types, weather patterns during the aging process, evaporation over time…

I ordered up a bottle immediately. At uncorking it didn’t make a significant impression. But I let the bottle air out a couple weeks, and that’s all it needed to come into its own. The closest experience I could relate it to was certain Irish whiskeys I’d had. For me, Courage & Conviction shared Irish whiskey’s characteristic bright panache more than it did the range of complexities I associate with scotch single malt whisky.

That’s quite a generalization, of course. Scotch offers an infinitely wide variety of experiences, from bright and fruity bouquets to dark and brooding chocolate malt notes. But every Irish whiskey I’ve ever had, regardless of its individual distinctions, seems made for a lively party with music and dancing. Irish whiskey is dependably upbeat. And that’s what I was getting from Courage & Conviction.

And so it was with great delight that I recently received from Virginia Distilling Company a sample bottle of the second batch of Courage & Conviction—named after Dr. Jim Swan, a friend and mentor of the company who was integral to their founding, distillate, cask selection and maturation strategy.

I uncorked it the day it arrived. Out of the gate, it was already a notably different experience than the uncorking pour of the first batch. Immediately I noticed an added depth and maturity. The stats of what was inside the bottle were quite similar to the first batch, with a notable difference that the portion of the blend aged in bourbon barrels was a full year older than previously. Of course there are other factors—entirely different barrels subjected to different weather patterns, etcetera. But in any case, this second batch delighted me right at first pour.

Nevertheless, to repeat my experience with the first batch as closely as possible, I let the bottle sit for two weeks. So, two weeks on, here are some notes in brief, taken three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a clear, buttery lemon yellow

NOSE – very fragrant, reaching right out of the bottle and glass, with chilled butter, lemon, peaches and nectarines in fresh cream, red berries in custard, dashes of salt and pepper

TASTE – a silky texture, buttery, the creams and custards now with grapefruit, a drop of caramel in the mix

FINISH – grapefruit and grapefruit peel, melted butter, some faint dry herbs like bay leaf or tarragon

OVERALL – light, bright, and refreshing, with a lingering bitterness from the grapefruit peel notes

So, opposite of its predecessor, this batch takes my senses more toward scotch than Irish whiskey. Interesting. It’s the particular emphasis on cream and custard flavors in the mix. A number of the fruit notes are similar to the first batch. But here we have the added citrus of the grapefruit to complicate the lemon aspects. It does add a lingering bitterness to the finish. Not a deal breaker. But a noticeable nick in the overall smoothness of the experience.

Like the first batch, this is an excellent achievement for a still very young whisky. Just that bit of additional age added into the mix already elevates it from its predecessor. Following future Courage & Conviction batches as they continue to age up will be quite interesting. If this blend is achieving such depth now, what will its older, darker renditions be like? I love the cream and custard aspects emerging here. Following those notes on their journey through future batches, and discovering the new notes that arise, will be very exciting.

To help me let go of imagined futures and past memories, I took my glass outside and sat in the sun with it for awhile, away from my notepad. I wanted to get out of tasting mode and into drinking mode.

Sipping the whisky without intent, I noticed what was around me. Sunlight. It’s warmth on my neck. The particular blue of the sky. Birds speckling the air with their chirping, like the flowers speckling the grass with their yellow petals. The flutter of the wind in nearby trees, like a melody improvised on the calming drone of the wind’s baseline lull as it travels steadily over the hills from the San Francisco bay…

Sipping the whisky to relax, not to assess, my senses are heightened and broadened to what’s around me. I feel myself slow down and open up.

Whisky doing what good whisky does.


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