Drinks Digest attended a virtual tasting of Firkin Whisky this week, hosted by David Ligoff and The Whisky List.
The session featured the mischievous and very approachable Mike Collings, founder of The Firkin Whisky Co. Collings has been described as one of the world’s most influential whisky marketers, with a track record including Johnnie Walker Blue & Green Labels, The Classic Malts, Rare Malts, Distillers Edition, Flora & Fauna series, Cardhu and Royal Lochnagar.
Collings admits the name of his company was chosen with a little bit of tongue in cheek. While a “firkin” is a type of barrel, he tells The Whisky List: “Whisky needs to be about enjoyment, there’s too much of taking life too seriously. It needs to be more appealing to a whole lot of people, and that’s why I came up with Firkin. Yes, it’s a type of barrel, but it’s never really been used for whisky, other than it’s close to a quarter cask, but we’ve taken a mischievous fun look at it. There’s an international understanding there – we have a Japanese distributor who says “this is going firkin well.” Whisky is about enjoyment. I’ll give an example – we do a Firkin Islay, with Caol Ila. Someone asked ‘How many parts per million?’ I thought, we can use that. There’s cartoons on our boxes, so we had one guy at a bar saying ‘parts per million’ and another chap says ‘that’s firkin phenomenal!’ You see the whole proposition is to get people to have fun and enjoy it, there’s a camaraderie. People talk about this, but they don’t do it.”
According to Collings, who is now based in Adelaide, his decision to launch Firkin Whisky in 2019 was the answer to “what do you do after 40 years of marketing great single malt whiskies?” And it’s a firkin good answer with his whiskies being very unique, from using casks created from two forms of wood – first filled bourbon staves custom married with brand new French oak charred to Firkin specifications. The casks are then seasoned with a soulmate wine or fortified. The end result of their single cask process is around 230-250 individually numbered bottles per cask with a signature strength of 48.9%.
Drinks Digest were privileged to have Mike lead us through a tasting of four very delicious and very different whiskies. They included:
Firkin Ten – a Speyside Single malt distilled at Benrinnes in 2008 and seasoned with madeira. This whisky has a deceptively bold nose followed by “a pantry full of kitchen spice and creamy malt” flavours.
Firkin 49 – highland single malt – distilled at Tullibardine distillery in 2012. Oloroso and amontado sherry. The official tasting notes describe it as “long but narrow and jam-packed with flavour with creamy butterscotch toffee, crisp malt and some fruit oak. It hangs around with a tad of cinnamon and sweet biscuit. A Firkin Charmer indeed”. And Drinks Digest agrees – very much butterscotch pudding in a glass! And it won a Gold medal at the American Bartenders Guild.
The Firkin Rare – Speyside single malt whisky distilled at Aultmore distillery in 2010 with very deep gold colour with a big fresh nose of red fruit, oak and spice followed through by a succulent, long mix of cinnamon oak, red fruit, bright spirit and creamy malt. Leave a dram in the glass for 15 minutes and the flavours really open up.
The Firkin Islay – The tasting notes give a strong hint of what’s to come: “Kapow – call the fire brigade“ . This is an Islay single malt distilled at Caol Ila in 2010 and seasoned with Sicilian marsala. We enjoyed long flavours of salty, smoky peat plus creamy oak and understand why this won a Gold medal in the Whiskies of the World awards in the peated whiskies category.