Moonshine in London: Bimber First Release

There are six samples left on my shelf and then I’ll have to start getting creative… I put up a question yesterday on Twitter asking what to drink: Bimber or DistillinginE3? 

The latter is the Twitter account of the East London Liquor Company. Simon The Whisky Novice (recommend a follow by the way, great guy and he does some great stuff) was the first to say anything and he went for Bimber. 

I am easily swayed sometimes, so for this World Whisky Wednesday lets have a look at Bimber Distillery and their first release whisky.

A remarkable story, Bimber started in Poland. It’s no joke, by the way, Bimber founders Darius Plazewski and Ewelina Chruszczyk are Polish by birth and Darius learnt his distilling skills from his grandfather. While countries all around the world have their own spirits, and their own illicit spirits, in Poland moonshine is known as samogon, duch puszcsy, ksiezycowka or Bimber. Recipes can be as simple as sugar, water, and yeast (don’t try it at home) and more often each illicit distiller will have their own recipe kept within the family.

Let’s get one thing straight, I love me some Bimber. 

And by that I mean moonshine, poitin, hooch, white lightning, call it what you will I love the stuff. It’s raw, uncut spirit that puts a fire in your belly and also one in your beard when you’ve had a few, spill it on your beard, then light a cigarette. One of my favourite bottles was “Hardys Chardonnay”. It was not Chardonnay and I do not recall most of that night, but I do recall a nice fuzzy feeling. Now, if you want some of this stuff, normally you need to roam some hills and find a strange man in a shed and haggle for it (if he asks for three or fewer chickens it’s probably alright, any more and tell him he’s dreaming) since pesky things called laws and health and safety tell us we shouldn’t drink it. 

A wave of distilleries have been producing and bottling their new make spirit for some time and it’s a nice way to get an understanding of what a distillery is doing before the maturation. My first experience with Bimber was at the London Whisky Show in 2019, sitting down for dinner with a few of the guys from Bimber, having a few drinks, and then later talking rugby with them. Unfortunately, as it was a whisky show and I was working behind a stand, we couldn’t take the time to have a proper chat so my discovery that Bimber translates to moonshine sadly only occurred a few months ago. 

So, what’s the story?

Emigrating to London in 2003, Darius solidified a thriving construction business in West London. While this may be enough for some, Darius found himself thinking of his grandfather’s Bimber spirit and resolved to start a distillery in London, because where else? All kidding aside, Darius and Ewelina were serious about a distillery and established their distillery in North Acton in 2015, naming it Bimber to honour and remember their grandfather. 

I’m a whisky nerd as I’m sure you would know if you’ve read some of my work but I couldn’t begin to list what sets Bimber apart from other distilleries. I tried, I really did, and then halfway through the list, I was directed to a comprehensive list of everything (that list is on Malt-Review, where else would it be?). They made a comparison to Peter Bignell of Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania and I can’t fault them.

Like Peter Bignell,  Darius and Ewelina (joined by Farid Shawish, Sales Director) have a hands-on, whisky-over-cost approach to the distillery and their product. Private maltings, a homemade peat kiln, self-designed washbacks and altered Portuguese alembic stills, everything is if not handcrafted then altered in some way to create a unique flavour and spirit that could only and does only come from Bimber. With their First Release in 2019, Bimber entered the whisky scene with a heavy statement (and a heavy price tag – though considering the finer details, it’s less than other First Releases I have seen). 

But, what goes into the First Release?

The whisky was matured in five ex-Pedro Ximinez Casks for three years before vatting. It was then released as a limited 1,000 bottle offering at a cool 54.2%. I know I’m a little late to the party as every reviewer and their dog (and their dog’s chew toy) has spoken about this whisky, but I’m hoping to bring something different to the table as, and I cannot stress this enough, I really can’t stand Sherry cask whisky. 

Let’s go.

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It’s whisky o’clock.

The nose starts off with a rich piping hot sultana loaf, straight out of the oven and lovingly doused in royal icing  and cinnamon. After that it turns to a fruit cake filled with grapefruit rind, raisins, red apple slices and pineapple that has been lovingly covered with chilli dark chocolate and then smothered in grand marnier and brandy then set ablaze. It turns to darker somewhat meaty notes, a steak covered with 5 spice and orange marmalade before being nicely grilled over hot coals. Back to the fruit and sweet notes it hits caramel, goji berries and dried raspberries and final hint of pipe tobacco.

The palate hits the sherry bomb, slices of grapefruit covered with molasses, marmalade and cocoa nibs and a beeswax-y texture. It’s a touch rusty with flecks of iron, then peppery with some chilli notes once again. Marzipan comes in as well and we get some dark chocolate, raisins, carrots roasted in honey and then a mixture of pineapple and mint, some nice dry tannins. The finish tapers off nicely with spice and dark sugar that slowly drops away, a great crackling mouthfeel that pops and pings with flavour.

For a first release whisky its brilliant. For a second release it would be brilliant, even as a standard expression it would be fantastic. I went into it expecting my normal dislike of sherry to come through, but most disappointing it’s put other whiskies into perspective. How am I meant to enjoy a Glenfarlcas after this? Or a sherry Dalmore? Or a Macallan (that’s a joke, I earn nowhere near the amount to purchase Macallan and I don’t care for them anyway.)?

It’s a properly made, properly good whisky. In Bimber you can taste the care and craft that has gone into the dram, and can’t be recommended enough. Now we just need to see what other casks they have and what else they’ll release. 

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