The Angel’s Share – that unfortunate percentage of whisky lost to evaporation while the dram is growing better in the barrel.
In Scotland, the angels are relatively frugal and only claim about 2%.
To be fair, though, that 2% is calculated to be in the order of 131.8 million litres each year – the equivalent of 44 Olympic swimming pools. In anyone’s language, that is a staggering amount of “lost” whisky (pun intended)!
But in other warmer climates the increased humidity means that, comparatively, the angels can be a lot fiercer – in India, for example, it is estimated that the angels reap about 12% of the whisky harvest.
Every now and again the angels take pity and give back some of their ill-gotten gains. There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One. No flashing light. Not even a lighted match.
Something drops into your lap, in the most unlikely and unprepossessing place at the most serendipitous time.
And that Something is frequently unrecognisable as a windfall.
The Back Story
I was looking in a small, out-of-the-way liquor shop I infrequently visit. I have found a few unusual things there previously so, when I can, I go to look because you never know what might turn up.
There was the usual range of standard bottlings – a Bunnahabhain, a couple of Glenfiddichs, a selection of Johnnie Walkers. Nothing too spectacular. Nothing too wildly dramatic.
Then, from a dark and rather dusty corner at the back of the bourbons section my wife reached up for a bottle and said “What’s this?”.
“This” turned out to be one of those ecstatically happy drams that the angels give back – a bottle of Old Potrero 18th-century-style 100% rye whiskey. The label advised that the contents were “aged in uncharred oak barrels”, which means it ain’t no bourbon!
There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One. No flashing light. Not even a lighted match.
“That’s been there for a few years” was the shop owner’s comment when we took the bottle to the counter.
I would love to know how many years a few was – 10 or more, I suspect.
What is the provenance of Old Potrero?
Old Potrero is made by the Anchor Distilling Company of San Francisco. Although there is a heap about the company on the internet, researching just what happened to it over the years is like trying to un-make an omelette.
The company founder, Fritz Maytag, bottled his first Old Potrero rye whiskey at what became Anchor Distilling in 1996. The Anchor Distilling Company bit is now under Hotalings Ltd.
Old Potrero is 100% malted rye, made in a small copper pot still and matured in lightly toasted oak casks. In the 18th century, barrels were made by heating the staves over a fire of oak chips, allowing them to be bent and formed into a barrel shape. During this process, the inside of the barrel would become toasted – but not charred.
The (sadly undated) bottle was labelled Old Potrero Barrel Strength, Pot Distilled. It contained 750ml, bottled over-proof at 61.6% alcohol by volume (abv), with No Age Statement. However, output from the current distillery owners seems to indicate maturation time at around 30 months – a bit shorter than Scotland.
The whiskey is a good colour for an arguably short maturity!
Notes – by committee
This bottle was such a find that it seemed reasonable to get some knowledgeable whisky-tasting friends to sample it and give me notes. To limit preconceptions the samples were provided “blind” – no indication on what they were tasting or its origins.
Notes I received were extremely fulsome. A very abbreviated summary:
Colour: Burnished, golden.
Nose: Sweet, grainy, floral almond croissants with coconut. “A newly refurbished cricket changing room”, with putty, heat and caramel.
Palette: Sweet (again), spicy cinnamon and vanilla ice-cream. Dark chocolate and more vanilla with a liquorice background.
Finish: Starts hot, then mellows to well-balanced. Beautiful, with a slight woody dryness. Long and consistent.
“One of those almost indescribably fantastic drams that come around only too infrequently! “
“I settled on a score of 8.9 but then upped to 9.1 when I found myself still wanting more, long after I’d finished my sampling and note making!”
My overall comment: Beautiful. One of the top five whiskies I have tasted.
The Tasting-Notes-by-Panel plan brought me to the rather eccentric titles and tasting notes found on Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings. The Society bottles single cask whiskies from a wide range of distilleries., and each bottling has a very distinctive name that “tells a story”.
Two titles were suggested to me. I have to say that they were both so evocative of the Old Potrero that I could not pick between them – so both are presented here for you.
“An innings before teatime”
“Passionfruit topping on vanilla ice-cream”
My grateful to the Tasting Crew (in alphabetical order): Alec, Brian, Bruce, Evelyn, Graeme, Ian, John S, Karen, Matt, Mel, Pat, Peter, and Talia
You can still buy Old Potrero. It is now made by Hotalings Limited and marketed under the Anchor Distilleries name. These days it seems to be bottled at 48.5% abv, although I have seen it available at 51%.