After three years of patiently waiting, our inaugural bottling ‘The First’ will released at the end of next week. It’s an incredibly proud day for us and we’re looking forward to finally sharing our single malt whisky with the world.
We’ll be letting be you all know shortly how to obtain your bottle of The First - either via our partner The Whisky Exchange or through joining one of our Whisky Connoisseurs tours at our West London distillery. But in advance of the launch date, we wanted to share with you how The First was created.
Our story begins in Hampshire. We travelled to many English farms in pursuit of the highest quality barley before choosing Fordham & Allen, where we carefully selected the spring barley varieties of Concerto and Laureate with which to produce our exceptional single malt whisky. These varietals deliver all the extraction and fermentability we require to produce both the optimum spirit yield as well as an abundance of complex aromas and flavours.
From there, our barley was transported to our dedicated malting floor at Warminster Maltings – Britain’s oldest working maltings – located in Wiltshire on the Western tip of Salisbury Plain.
Floor malting is a traditional, labour intensive process that converts the starches contained in the barley into fermentable sugars. The grain is steeped and spread over a smooth concrete floor that maintains an ambient temperature. Over the course of four to five days, the grains germinate and produce a sweet natural sugar that is perfect for fermenting into alcohol. During germination, the grain is turned – every eight hours or so to prevent the sprouting grains from growing roots and forming into a solid mat. Once the maltster assesses that the right amount of sugar and enzymes have been produced from the barley, the grain is collected and heated in a kiln which stops the malting process (the kiln might burn peat smoke to create the foundations of a smoky whisky – but that’s a story for another day).
The first stage of our barleys transformation towards becoming whisky is in the production of wort. This occurs when we add hot water to the barley grist which converts the starches into additional sugars ready for fermentation. The First was created in our original smaller mash tun (we’ve recently installed a larger one) and took several hours of mashing entirely by hand. Heavy work for our team of mashmen!
Our mash is not like most other distilleries, we don’t mill our barley – we simply crush it, which preserves the husks. In doing this, we ensure that the sweetness and clarity of our wort is retained throughout the fermentation process - ideal for producing the light, accessible and fruit-forward spirit that is Bimber’s calling card.
Many of you will have seen our seven washbacks. It’s in these that much of the eventual flavour of our whisky is created. They’re open-topped and crafted from lightly toasted American white oak. The toasting process unlocks the natural sugars contained in the wood – which, when in contact with our wash - adds additional layers of flavour, helping to create the foundation of the character of Bimber whisky. We only use wooden washbacks (many distilleries have adopted for closed steel vessels) as we want our wash to breathe – this increases the development of fruity flavours, otherwise known as esters, and results in a rich and complex liquid ideal for us to distil.
Our fermentation is famously long. Most distilleries in Scotland ferment for 60-75 hours – We double that to seven days! This maximises the efficiency of our in-house yeast strains and creates a 10% ABV wash which possesses the perfect combination of light fruity flavours we’re looking for.
Distillation takes place in our two Portuguese copper stills – Doris and Astraeus. We heat our stills the traditional way with direct fire rather than steam. This enables us to distil slowly and powerfully for a full-bodied spirit with excellent depth of flavour. Our stills were designed to our specific requirements. We maximise the amount of copper contact throughout our distillation, to help ensure we develop esters which give our spirit its fruity character.
The First was matured in five of our Pedro Ximenez sherry casks – these give the whisky its sweet, rich and fruity flavours which marry perfectly with our spirit character. Finding high quality sherry casks is no easy task. With the decline in popularity of sherry as a drink in its own right, the number of available casks for use in the whisky industry has plummeted over the past two decades. Many distilleries have solved this problem by using ‘seasoned’ casks where lower grade sherry wine (not designed for drinking as a beverage – often tipped away or used as vinegar) is stored in the oak vessels for a number of months. Some newer distilleries have also looked to smaller casks with which to speed up the ageing process with a higher surface area in contact with the spirit over the first few years of maturation.
At Bimber we do neither of these things. We’re passionate about our craft and producing an authentic product, so we sourced our casks from a live Spanish bodega. Our Pedro Ximenez barrels are all full-size and served nearly two decades in a solera – ensuring an intense and penetrating assimilation of the sherry compounds into the wood. The First is created from five of our PX casks laid down in 2016 – our first year of production. The results speak for themselves – the whisky is elegant and layered whisky with notes of ‘stewed apples and ripe red berries’ on the nose and ‘flame-scorched orange peels and jammy fruits’ on the palate.
The First is not a single cask release (those are coming in 2020!) – like many single malt whiskies it a marriage of several casks. The process of blending a single malt is complex and highly skilled. Our Master Distiller monitored the progress of each of our Pedro Ximenez casks, noting and tasting regularly to only select the most exceptional with which to create our first bottling.
He recorded the profile of every sample, ensuring that the marriage of the five casks would retain our London single malt whisky style, whilst being an enchanting single malt in its own right.
The liquid is now being bottled ready for the release at the end of next week, but our story doesn’t quite end there.
Our dedicated team of coopers not only work working tirelessly on maintaining the integrity of our wide variety of casks – they’ve been hand crafted and engraved the (rather hefty!) individually numbered oak boxes in which The First is presented over the past month.
We’re sure you’ll agree that the end result is stunningly presented single malt whisky worthy of our being our inaugural release!