A New Hope — Part II
After teasing you all for the last month about another up-and-coming, unknown micro-distillery making exciting new single malt whisky, the time has finally come to let you in on the secret. I wrote a blog earlier this April called The Way Forward that discussed alternative distribution possibilities for small spirits producers besides the normal corporate channels—specifically asking: why hire distribution in multiple states when you've only got about 1,000 bottles of whiskey to sell anyway? What's the point in allocating six bottles here, three bottles there, angering every bar and retailer who likely won't want to waste their time promoting a product they can't get more of? California alone is like an entire country with demand through the roof for hard-to-find, niche spirits. K&L alone could sell 1,000 bottles of something great, let alone the other thousand retailers and restaurants located across the state.
My solution was this: sell all your whiskey to K&L. Sure, it's a pretty self-serving solution, but we can set you up with a local distributor in California to clear the product legally, and serve as the sole retail outpost for your product until you're able to grow to the next level. K&L can ship to a number of outside states, as well, and we're well-connected to the insider audience many small distillers are looking to find. There are some drawbacks, of course, but it was at least something to consider. How many customers can you really reach when each store across the country can only purchase two bottles, anyway?
A number of producers have taken me up on this offer, but perhaps none more exciting than Cut Spike Distillery in Nebraska. When Scott Katskee and Jason Payne reached out about their dilemma—they had enough whiskey for their home state, but not enough for the entire country—I said they should send me a sample and if the booze was good we could talk further. When I got that sample and finally tried it I freaked out. It was easily the best American single malt whiskey I had ever tasted. When I say "easily," I mean leaps and bounds beyond anything I've tasted from all of my other favorite micros (sorry, guys!). It was single malt that tasted like Scottish single malt, but with a bit more new oak (which made sense because Cut Spike uses new oak barrels).
"How much can you send us?" I immediately asked.
I was ready right then and there to get on a mountain top with a giant megaphone and say, "Listen up people! Cut Spike distillery in Nebraksa is making incredible single malt whisky!" Yet, as confident as I am in my own palate, I still needed a bit of reassurance. David OG loved it, as did Kyle and the rest of our staff, but I wanted to make sure we weren't wearing K&L blinders. I sent out a few samples to friends in the industry, my blogging friend SKU, and other people whose palates I trust. The feedback varied in its level of enthusiasm, but no one thought the whiskey was anything less than well-made, high in quality, and delicious. We had a winner on our hands.
"OK, David. We get that you're excited. Blah, bloo, blee, bloo, blah, blah, blah. Now let's get down to the specs."
Cut Spike is located in La Vista, Nebraska. It's a distillery/brewery operated by Jason Payne that makes a number of different products. The malted barley for their two year old single malt whisky comes from one of the largest malting companies in the United States: Rahr Malting Company in Minnesota. The majority of the barley they use is sourced domestically. The single malt whiskey wash is produced on site by their sister company: Lucky Bucket Brewing Company. Their brewers produce the wash using a single infusion mash. Brewer's yeast is added to the cooled wash, and the process of fermentation goes for about five days.
Cut Spike's copper pot stills were made by one of the most renowned producers in the world—Forsythes, out of Rothes in Scotland—who pounded their 500 and 300 gallons stills by hand. Like Kilchoman, they take a smaller heart cut to create a whiskey that tastes softer in its youth. They use a varying blend of toasted new American Oak barrels to create rich and supple flavors in their young single malts (the level of char ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the typical Bourbon level). The higher char level barrels give faster extraction and bolder flavors of oak and plant sugars to the resulting spirit. The lower toasted barrels produce softer flavors and extract a smaller amount of tannins. The whiskey is bottled at 43% ABV.
Like Westland distillery in Seattle, Cut Spike is using Scottish-style pot stills, and Scottish-style barley fermentation, to make Scottish-style single malt whisky. The difference between these two whiskies and all other American single malts is instantly clear when you taste these products. Like I said in the first part of A New Hope, I would have been overjoyed to taste the Westland single malt had I not already tasted the Cut Spike. Given my druthers, I would probably lean towards the Nebraskan whiskey because of the more-supple, chewy mouthfeel, but that might simply be because of my initial excitement surrounding the first sip. You have to understand: I've tasted a ton of bad American whiskey over the last five years. I've tasted some pretty mediocre ones, too. There are, of course, a handful of good things. But the Cut Spike single malt whisky is very good. It's better than any single malt I've had domestically—ever. That's why I'm so excited. When you're constantly lowering your expectations and preparing for disappointment, it's a really great feeling when something just wows you from out of nowhere.
Of course, we all have our preferences. What's amazing to me might be disappointing to you, and vice versa. Let me say this, however: if you like Scottish Highland single malt whisky like Glenmorangie or Clynelish, then you're going to really like the Cut Spike. Besides a few local joints in Nebraska, Cut Spike has not sold their whiskey to any large boutique retailer.
Very shortly, we'll be remedying that issue. Prepare yourselves.