August 6, 2018
Distillery: Old Line
Region: Maryland and Ohio, USA
Type: American Single Malt
Composition: 100% Malted Barley
Aged: Minimum 1 year in small American white oak barrels (smaller than the standard 53 liter barrel usually used for other whiskeys)
Price: $40 on sale (750mL), ~$80 normal MSRP
From the Old Line website:
“Bottled as it comes out of the barrel, this cask strength whiskey delivers all of the spirit’s character in a bold and well-rounded flavor. Not for the faint of heart, this is the most serious expression of Old Line’s award winning Single Malt Whiskey. Perfect served over a cube of ice.”
Old Line Distillery is a craft distillery located in Baltimore, MD focusing on American Single Malts and rum. There’s a pretty interesting backstory about the two co-founders: Mark McLaughlin and Arch Watkins, so if you have time, head over to their website to learn more.
American Single Malts are an interesting subset of Whiskey: not Scotch, but also not bourbon. They follow many of the same rules of Scotch: using malted barley as the grain base and aging it in barrels, but also have the freedom to age the liquid as short or long as desired (instead of the minimum 3 years), leading to interesting and delicious results. In this case, Old Line used smaller American white oak barrels (instead of the standard 53 gallon ones used for bourbon), to age its spirit, leading to faster aging due to the greater contact between liquid and barrel.
Arch Watkins from Old Line was kind enough to answer my email regarding the batch name and let me know that 1M stands for “Batch 1 – Middle West”, meaning that it is their first-ever release, and was made from grain to whiskey at their friend’s distillery in Ohio called Middle West while they worked to get their Baltimore distillery up and running. As of now, it’s up and running, doing tours, and have recently opened-up a tap room / cocktail bar.
For something as young as it is, this American Whiskey is quite dark. Unlike many single malt scotches (even though it’s not scotch, it’s American Single Malt), the color is more reminiscent of bourbon or rye, clocking in at around 1.7 out of 2 (a higher number doesn’t mean that it’s better, it just means that it’s darker).
Wow, this has an intense and wonderful up-front scent. It’s bold and dark, with maple, brown sugar, and vanilla sweetness immediately hitting me. Under all of that, there are strong wood and roasty notes, almost as if I’m smelling a log that was on fire but was just put out. The smell really reminds me of roasted marshmallows, vanilla frosting, and Coca cola. I can’t help but think that this smells a lot like bourbon. My guess is that the small barrels they used were more heavily charred, leading to those dark sugar, roasty, and woody notes.
On the second smell after giving it a nice swirl, I get more wood, but this time, I also get a whiff of something musty. It’s like standing in an attic that has exposed wood ceilings and chests that have been sitting there for a decade, or sitting in a carpenter’s workshop. It also reminds me of the malty and dusty / moldy / old smell I experience when I stand in a whiskey rackhouse. I can smell the barrels, old and dusty yet so alive, just sitting there for years as the spirit turns into whiskey.
Beneath all of that, there is also a hint of raw cocoa powder and dark chocolate from the 100% malted barley. As I sip and there’s just a little liquid left, a slightly musty but definitely yeasty sourdough-like scent appears.
The entire time there is only a moderate smell of alcohol. It’s definitely noticeable (and may overwhelm some who are more sensitive to it), but it never made me reel or feel like it was overpowering everything else.
Old Line’s Single Malt tastes exactly like how it smells: big and intense. At first taste, there is strong caramel, chocolate, and maple sweetness as if someone had melted a chocolate fudge bar into the whiskey. There’s also some cinnamon spice that reminds me of Big Red gum, as if it had some rye mixed into the mash. Along with the spice, there is a noticeable wood taste with a touch of pine . It’s very bourbon-esque. Elijah Craig Cask Strength (see the review here) also has a very strong wood note, so if you like that, you’ll also like this.
The other interesting thing is that it also tastes a little bit like a wheated bourbon. There’s a slight sourness, reminiscent of sourdough bread or yeast, a note I’ve found in Maker’s mark cask strength and pre-distillation mash. Towards the back-end of the taste, there is a slight bitterness and dryness that likely comes from the wood, and is quite pleasant.
For how big and loud this is, this single malt doesn’t kick like it’s 60% alcohol. It’s definitely intense and I feel the burn, but it’s never overwhelming, and helps balance out the sweet, spicy, and woody flavors.
The aftertaste is also quite smooth. Unlike other high proof whiskeys, it doesn’t leave my mouth feeling too dry. There’s a long and lingering sweetness that tastes a lot like a chocolate bar or vanilla frosting.
Given Old Line’s very dark and intense flavors, foods with corresponding darker flavors, including red meat, anything with chocolate, maple syrup, molasses, and brown sugar would make sense to pair. Honestly, drink this with some chocolate ice cream, a brownie, or cake, and you’ll have a great day.
As for pairings that are not as good, these dark and intense flavors likely will overpower white meats (including fish), lighter desserts, and lighter fruits such as citrus and apples.
This is just excellent. For a first release and something that’s only 1-2 years old, all I can say is WOW! I can’t imagine how this would taste in 2 to 3 more years, but I can’t wait to try. Old Line’s American Single Malt makes me imagine myself camping in a forest, standing around a fire at night roasting s’mores while the scent of pine trees waft over you. The high proof is intense, but rewarding if you can handle it.
The taste is dark and rich, and if you like stronger bourbons such as Knob Creek Single Barrel, you’re going to like this as well. Craft distilleries, especially ones that don’t source liquor, are always at a severe time disadvantage compared to the major distilleries. They don’t have as great an inventory (or any) of aged barrels ready to bottle. Somehow, Old Line Distillery overcame that, as if they had a time machine.
Old Line, I applaud you for an excellent product. Your first release is truly worthy of the “Bravo Zulu” label. I definitely would buy this again, and I think you should too.