While we see new whisky releases in the form of special editions, small batches, single casks from existing distilleries almost weekly at this point, its always interesting when a distillery releases there first edition, but you know what is even more interesting? When a distillery releases not only there first whisky, but the first single malt produced in the country. Today we’re looking at something unlike anything else, Athyr Whisky, the very first Lebanese Single Malt!
No, I hear you cry, no, Lebanon can’t have released a whisky! Its too hot, they have no history of whisky craft, nothing to add to the category! And I say back to you, of course Lebanon can have a whisky! And as for having no history of whisky, even better, its in those places with little to no history of the drink that we see them doing something new, unique and different! These are the places that add something new to the category merely by their own existence and make the whisky scene more open and interesting for all involved. So, sit down, pour a dram, crack a beer or open a box of wine and let’s get involved with today’s World Whisky Wednesday!
Many years ago, in the shadow of mount Lebanon, a man by the name of Moses Riachi shared wine and arak and broke bread with his local village. His drinks were renowned throughout the area, with people coming from far and wide to celebrate with him on “Nahar al Baraka” (the day of the blessing), yet such was his generosity that he soon struck hard times, having to sell his goats to purchase grapes. Coming to the hard decision to sell the fruit of his grapes so his family may eat, he was astounded to find that people were more than willing to purchase something as fine as what he had made. Since that day, he expanded far and wide, and in 1839 his winery became legitimate, passing down the family and expanding along the way into liqueurs, gin, brandy, and with the now owner of the winery Roy Riachi, finally whisky. The winery has taken its time in what it does, and each owner has had a passion for creation with Roy there is no exception. In 2013, near 200 years since the humble beginning of Moses Riachi in his backyard, an idea for the first Lebanese single malt was born, and generations of creation have paid off.
Athyr is the first Lebanese Single Malt and is a touch different to what we normally expect. Bits and pieces, the ingredients and methods of creating whiskies around the world also come from around the world, grain from Australia, wood from America, stills from Scotland. Athyr is about as home made as you can get, with the barley grown and harvested in the Bekaa Valley in Eastern Lebanon, a mere hour drive from the winery, and is malted at on the winery site. The resulting wash is then triple distilled through Riachis stills (I am assuming brandy stills), and then the new make is aged in new Lebanese oak. I don’t know about you, but I was unaware that there is a Lebanese oak, but it adds… something else. I managed to stumble across a bottle of the first batch in London, a single cask offering at a strength of 56.1%, with only 150 bottles produced. Oh, and there is no added colouring by the way, that’s the natural colour that the Lebanese oak gives. These photos have not been altered. Let’s see what Lebanon do with whisky…
Oh wow, at first sniff I pulled my nose back. Its not that the whisky is bad, but it’s a caged beast, full of flavour and not afraid to show it. Burnt spice and sandalwood pass by, with rich polished leather and hints of hot water bottles. It bounces off burnt toffee, raisins, and then settles on a Christmas cake that has been loaded with paprika, 5 spice, black pepper and cinnamon. A blast of heat accompanies everything on the nose, roaring off as that beast opens its maw and you are greeted by hot red soil and jagged dark chocolate fudge, but through all of it is rich and stunning flavour. Is its bite worse than its bark?
The palate starts with burnt, ash covered plums, hot red earth beneath and a steady rain of cocoa powder. Soon it moves to chai, and apricots that move from bursting with juice to dry in the mouth, with sweet cinnamon, cherry’s, humbugs, raisins, and dark sugar. Its then the mouthfeel starts to come in, and the whisky is hot and sweet yet so incredibly dry, stripping all the moisture from the cheeks and tongue as though you’ve stuffed your mouth full of cinnamon sugar. After time it unfortunately sours however, the beast tired and revealing musty fruits that are ill placed. It’s not bad, it’s just so unlike anything else, before a long finish that is hot and sweet, with chunks of dried fruits and chocolate dancing through the palate to surprise you every now and then. The beast is a good friend.
Did I like it? Yes and no. It reminded me of some heavy sherry or port cask Australian whisky on the palate, and in the creation, I was put into the mind of Hammerhead from the Czech Republic, but my opinion doesn’t matter (I have previously stated I am not a sherry cask fan). Was it a GOOD whisky? Yes. I mention in the tasting notes that it sours, but I took my time with this whisky, wanting to explore and plumb its depths, and to be honest I’ve had more than my fair share of whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, America or Japan that have soured far worse far quicker when left to breathe. This is a broad, powerful dram, not quite like anything I’ve seen before despite the earlier comparisons, and there are few things I could compare this to if really pushed, but for a countries very first single malt? Amazing. Spicy, dry, thick and rich, it something for the sherry fans more than anyone else but something that will always turn heads. Unfortunately, the first batch is all sold out, though you may find some in a few haunts in the bigger city’s “cough” MILROYS “cough”. I think the verdict on this is clear; Lebanon have firmly entered the whisky game. Going by their first release, I can’t wait to see what they release in the future.