ST. GEORGE SPIRITS SINGLE MALT
Lot No. SM022 (2022)
MASH BILL – 100% two-row barley roasted at five precise levels: pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, black patent malt, and alder/beechwood-smoked malt imported from Bamburg, Germany.
PROOF – 86
AGE – blend of 4.5 to 8.5 year whiskeys aged in 20 used American and French oak barrels from Kentucky, Tennessee, and California that formerly held bourbon, whiskey, apple brandy, port, and Sauternes-style wine
DISTILLERY – St. George Spirits
PRICE – $109
WORTH BUYING? – Oh yes indeed
The annual St. George Single Malt release has become the traditional holiday season spirit in my home. But this year is particularly special:
2022 marks the 40-year anniversary of St. George Spirits, one of the great American craft distilleries, located on the island of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’ll distill anything—even pine trees, as I understand it, an experiment that didn’t work out but I admire the insatiable curiosity!
A few months ago I caught wind of a special anniversary release of their annual Single Malt, and assumed that would be Lot 22. Luckily there are actually two single malt releases this year—Lot 22 and a special 40th Anniversary blend. I say “luckily” because the 40th Anniversary release is priced at $500 msrp, while the Lot 22 is listed at the usual $100. Quite a difference. I’m sure the anniversary release is excellent. But $500? And I’ve already seen it in one local shop for $1000, and another for $1200. 😒
So Lot 22 it is. And that’s perfectly great, because Lot 22 is great! I uncorked it the day I brought it home and was immediately struck by its exceptionally balanced blend of chocolate, toffee, grapefruit and quince notes. I didn’t think St. George could top the excellent Lot 21. But at uncorking at least, Lot 22 had done just that.
So here we are, one week after uncorking and three pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – variations on honey and brass
NOSE – lovely, with orange and grapefruit peel, cream, oak, caramel, vanilla taffy, milk chocolate
TASTE – a very creamy texture, the crisp quince and grapefruit notes balanced with softer notes of cream, mocha, coffee, and milk chocolate
FINISH – hot cocoa with marshmallows floating in it, the quince and grapefruit notes shimmering in a nice prickly warmth
OVERALL – exceptionally balanced between its edgier and softer elements, at once pleasing to sip and interesting to consider
Perhaps because I’m tasting this earlier in the day this time, with fewer meals in my body to influence my chemistry, the whiskey’s brighter and edgier elements are coming across more prominently. The softer, creamier aspects are still there, and still in good balance. But the leaning is notable.
I really like this. That unique quince and grapefruit combo, which I’ve only ever experienced with St. George Single Malts, is so striking. Lot 22’s achievement is that exquisite sense of balance I keep coming back to. Lot 21 had this as well. But here the darker, creamier candy notes are just a bit more forward. They add a luxuriousness around the bitter fruits, like a thick warm blanket on a crisp cool night.
There’s a reason this has become my annual Christmas time pour. It was the quince note that first took my senses back to Christmases past. But also the whiskey brings the bright and the cozy together in a way I associate with the best of this holiday. And though I remain curious about the 40th Anniversary release, its $500 price tag does conjure for me the commercialism of Christmas, which can often overwhelm my experience of the season. I’m actually at the point I don’t even want to receive or give gifts. My family is privileged to have all our material needs met. The act of buying stuff for people who don’t need it, and getting more stuff I don’t need… It’s just a lot of stuff nobody needs. Time spent together is more valuable, and time is by nature ungraspable. Time is now, and then gone.
That’s one reason why I like whiskey. Like my other pursuit, theater, it comes and it goes. What lasts, then, are the memories of friends and family and the associations with experiences of sharing. And even those don’t last as if frozen in amber. For good or ill, memories are subject to the embroidery of time. Change is a constant in both the material and aspirational realms.
Also like theater, whiskey is highly subject to material values like bottom lines and maximum profits and other concerns having nothing to do with kindness or consideration. But when a whiskey tastes as good and as unique as this St. George Single Malt Lot 22, the downsides of whiskey and of life recede for a blissful moment—neither forgotten nor gone, but momentarily de-centered in favor of creativity and possibility. Like a great work of art, a great whiskey throws down a gauntlet: How in all areas of my life might I strive to create experiences for others that warm their bodies, hearts, and minds? Experiences that make people aware of joy, in hopes that joy will sustain us when we get back to the necessary work of cleaning out life’s toxins. Whiskey, that tasty toxin, embodies this paradox.
Heavy themes for a holiday pour? That’s okay. How could we fully appreciate the buoyant lightness of joy without keeping somewhere in mind those heavier aspects of life that we strive to shift?
With hope, joy, and gratitude