World Whisky Wednesday anyone?
If you’ve come here for something else, then… I can’t really help you with that. Wednesday, we reserve for World Whisky, and this week we’re heading to Germany, so strap your socks on, its Hillock time!
This week we’re looking at a little German drop of rye whisky, the Hillock 4 Chief.
This wee bottle comes from the hillock park distillery situated in Sprockhovel, a short hour drive from Düsseldorf – or a 9-hour hike if you’re feeling up to it (I don’t have a car at the moment, so I’m having to leg it to most places).
I picked up this bottle at the Interwhisky Festival in Frankfurt, and, having chatted to Michaela Habbel regarding Hillock, was very pleased at the history of the distillery.
Hillock Park Distillery was built in 2013 as part of the new wave of distilleries opening in Germany, though their history is somewhat older. Michael Habbel, owner of the hillock park distillery, is of the Habbel family that own the Heinrich Habbel distillery, also located in Sprockhovel yet established since 1878 and functioning primarily as a grain distillery. In the 1960s, Michael inherited Habbel from his father and shifted the focus from grain to fruit, though in 1977 Michael distilled what is called Germanys oldest whisky at the distillery. In 2011, Michael’s daughter Michaela joined the family business, now reaching four generations within the family, and together the father daughter team expanded in 2013, building the hillock park distillery, focusing on whisky production and complete with its own pot still, the helmet of which was designed by Michael to give a unique quality to the whisky. Now, while Hillock love distilling malt, those bottles fly off the shelf whenever a batch is bottled, so the 4 Chief rye whisky is here to bridge the gap between wait times for the thirsty individual such as myself. Now, I’m not sure what Scotch barrels they are referring to, but its an interesting addition to be maturing in multiple fill level barrels and should give a hint of variety to the taste.
This bottle of Hillock 4 Chief was distilled with regional grown rye and malt, with the water drawn from the Habbel house well. After distillation in the specially designed still it is aged in ex-bourbon American oak casks and Scotch malt barrels for a minimum of 4 years and bottled at 47.9%.
Now, I’m not sure what Scotch barrels they are referring to, but it’s an interesting addition to be maturing in multiple fill level barrels and should give a hint of variety to the taste.
It’s a calm opening on the nose, filled with fresh melted caramel and fudge chews, shavings of coconut and light fresh fruit of apricot and apple slices. A touch of spice follows, with ginger, aniseed and black pepper, before we head back to the fruit and find a bit of fresh mango, honeydew melon, rock-melon, and then a bit of vanilla ice cream and banana chips to finish. It’s smooth and subtle, but very simple, I am hoping the palate picks up with something exciting.
Its not much. It’s a touch cloying on the palate, the inside of the mouth puckering with ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of pepper and nutmeg. It falls into oaky tannins, a touch of tree sap with old honey atop brandy snaps. There is a touch of smoke, more pipe and cigarillo smoke than anything else, that moves into vanilla essence and cloves. Towards the end the whisky is beginning to sour with a touch of plastic and sulphur on the back end, the spice turning old in the mouth and, of all things, a bit of iodine beginning to come through. We head to the finish which is certainly spicy with the mouth a-buzz with pepper and ginger though somewhat short, and not begging for another sip.
I’ve had worse rye whisky, but I have had much better as well. If you enjoy rye whisky The Hillock 4 Chief may be for you I can’t see it taking off.
I was hoping for more from those Scotch barrels they mentioned, hoping they were second fill ex-bourbon and so, would give the whisky a larger character, gaining the grace that a second fill can add. Instead it took on the cloying, clove characteristics, and with the high rye content it didn’t work for me. I look forward to picking up a bottle of their single malt next time it comes out, but I won’t be purchasing another bottle of the Hillock 4 Chief any time soon.
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