Romania is known for a lot of things, but whiskey isn’t really one of them. No, the country is more commonly associated with things like Transylvania, Olympic gymnasts, the Carpathians and wine (Romania is a huge global wine producer and the fifth largest in Europe after France, Italy, Spain and Germany). But this might be about to change with the launch of Carpathian Single Malt, the first whisky–they spell it like the Scots–to be produced in the country.
The wine connection is an important one here, as this whisky (a trio of whiskies actually) is aged in various types of wine casks. Carpathian Single Malt is made from a mashbill of 100 percent malted barley, and distilled, aged and bottled at Alexandrion Saber 1789 Distilleries in Romania near the Carpathians. The whisky is non-chill filtered, no color is added and it’s bottled at 46 percent ABV. Some of the wine casks used to mature the whisky come from wineries that are part of the Alexandrion group, so this is very much a family affair. The three whiskies that make up the initial launch of Carpathian Single Malt are the Fetească Neagră Cask Finish, Pinot Noir Cask Finish and Madeira Cask Finish, the only one that does not involve Romanian wine.
These single malts were made very much in the Scottish style–double distilled in copper pot stills in 2017 and aged for a minimum of three years in first-fill bourbon barrels before being finished in the wine casks (with the exception of the Pinot Noir Cask which was entirely aged in wine casks). The man responsible for overseeing the production process is master distiller Allan Anderson, who has over three decades working in both scotch (Loch Lomond, White & Mackay) and Irish whiskey (Great Northern Distillery). According to Anderson, terroir played a large part on the character of these whiskies. “The huge flavor impact of our malted barley, the pure Sub-Carpathian water combined with the unique flavors of Romanian and Portuguese wine casks make Carpathian Single Malt an exquisite whisky, which without a doubt, will become one of the best in the world as it further matures,” he said in a statement. “The maturation in warmer climate regions versus Scotland (+41°F on average) might explain the unique, milder character of this superb whisky.”
Hype-man enthusiasm aside, how do the whiskies actually taste? Well, these are certainly single malts for people who like a strong cask finish, so malt purists might want to consider that. The nose of the Fetească Neagră (my favorite of the three) is peppery and sweet, with a tannic dryness, ripe berries and some honey on the palate. The Pinot Noir is much more intense, likely from spending its lifespan in that type of cask. The nose immediately brings the barrel to the forefront, while the palate is actually softer than you might expect with a big burst of orange citrus. Finally, the Madeira has an interesting orangish hue and familiar notes of raisin, fig, spice and cream that arise from this type of cask finish.
These are good single malt whiskies, and each one definitely has a distinctive style and flavor. It would be interesting to try one that was entirely bourbon barrel aged to see what the whisky tastes like without the cask finish, but in the meantime fans of world whisky should pick up one of these limited-edition bottles to see how it compares to more familiar categories of whisky. They are currently available in some stores, and will be more widely available by the end of the summer.
Scores: Fetească Neagră – 92, Pinot Noir – 85, Madeira – 88
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this
Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.