Wolves Whiskey Single Malt – Lot 1
When I received an email asking if I’d like to try the first release of Wolves Single Malt whiskey, I didn’t have to think too hard before saying yes. Their previous collaborations with Willett and others quickly became the stuff of legend, and as a fan of Brandy/Armagnac I knew that the master distiller behind the whiskey on this release was a master of both whiskey and brandy. Getting an opportunity to both try it AND ask what was in store next was simply too good to pass up!
For those that aren’t familiar, Wolves is based out of California and was founded in 2019 by two partners that may seem like an odd fit for a whiskey company. James Bond (no relation) and Jon Buscemi made their names through brilliant marketing of clothing and shoe lines along with a hot sauce you may have seen advertised a time or two: Truff. They joined forces with now CEO Jeremy Joseph and started up their own whiskey hype machine for the new Wolves brand.
All the limited releases and hype in the world won’t carry you too far in the whiskey world though, where buyers expect a premium product inside the beautiful glass bottles so carefully wrapped in real leather.
To ensure they had the product to match the marketing, they brought on Marko Karakasevic whose family has been in the distilling business for 13 generations. Marko brings a rather unique approach to whiskey making, using a single pot still that was originally for brandy making.
Pot stills are known for producing rich flavors and Marko takes it a step further by distilling from pilsner and stout that would be good enough to drink on its own rather than using the typical “distillers beer” that you likely wouldn’t want to drink. It’s a slow, and expensive, way to distill whiskey but the results certainly speak for themselves.
Now that you have a little background, on to the whiskey itself! For their first American Single Malt release, Lot 1, Wolves released an 11 barrel blend (2,250 Bottles total) and a single cask expression from Barrel #12 that was limited to just 228 bottles. Retailing at $289, Lot 1 was distilled in 2015 and bottled at an impression 110 proof. This puts it on the upper end of available American Single Malts in both age and ABV. Already sold out, the single cask expression clocked in at a whopping 125 proof and retailed at $350.
Official tasting notes for Lot 1 – Nose of honey, grapefruit, vanilla, oak, and sandalwood gives way to notes of maple syrup, currants, leather, orange cake, and warm vanilla. The medium-length finish is consistent front to back with steady resolution
My Impression of Lot 1 – On the nose I’m immediately thinking that this comes from a true beer. I get the hints of vanilla and oak with a bit of spice on the nose but the first thing I noticed was the beer pedigree. It’s very polite for the proof, only a touch of warmth on the tongue that transfers back to your throat subtly.
Leather is there, but it’s light on the citrus to my palate. On the palate I get more bitter chocolate than vanilla, in fact I don’t pull much vanilla or sweetness out of it at all. That’s not a negative thing, but it drinks “dark” to me. I’d like to give you some kind of Scotch single malt reference but honestly, it’s hard to do here. It’s something truly unique. If you like beer, and you like whiskey, you’re going to LOVE this.
The finish fits with their description of being of medium to possibly long and pleasantly fades into just a hint of tannins. As I sat with it, it opened up with a bit more of the sweetness being noticeable and even over the course of just 2oz you’ll quickly forget you’re drinking something that’s 55% ABV.
Due to scheduling, I wasn’t able to sit down and talk with Jeremy Joseph, CEO of Wolves, but he was kind enough to let me send him a few questions and give some thoughtful answers back. After tasting this one, I was certainly interested in seeing what might come next and he’s hinted at some things I REALLY hope I get a chance to try in the future.
With them releasing a few thousand bottles of these to select retailers, there’s at least a chance of being able to get my hands on them now! (Worth noting that they have a email list on their website you may want to consider joining, as they get first dibs on these limited releases…) In any case, here’s the Q/A:
Q) How have you seen the market respond to the idea of premium American Single malts? For the past several years we’ve seen the huge influx of luxury bourbon brands, but premium priced American Single malt is still a bit of an underdog in some cases.
A) Yes, it’s starting. It seems like the American whiskey consumer is ready to try something new, and that’s borne out through the numbers. ASM is the fastest-growing category in the country. The category itself is still new and small relative to bourbon and rye, and with that newness comes inherent challenges – an actual definition of American Single Malt whiskey has been really hard for the industry to pin down, but we’re getting closer.
Last year the TTB proposed new parameters which would require, in part, that to be classified as American Single Malt a spirit must be distilled from 100% malted barley entirely at one U.S. distillery.
Q) Any particular reason you guys decided to focus on the American Single malt with the latest releases? (thank you for doing so!)
A) The purpose of Wolves is to offer something the consumer hasn’t experienced before, and to offer the highest quality version of that experience. We really could not have found a better collection of barrels to do that with this library of malted barley whiskeys.
Q) I noticed you put age statements on your products at a time when many do not… Do you think it’s an important detail for whiskey drinkers to have? With the increase of NAS (non-age statement) whisk(e)y options it’s certainly interesting when newer brands do include them.
A) We’ve only done this for single malt. We will continue to offer NAS expressions in our Signature blend line, which is comprised of whiskeys that are seven years to 11 years old.
Q) I’ve got the tasting notes, and sample (Thank you!) of the current batch, along with a bit of the story but is there anything else you’d like us to get out there about this batch? Any story around why you picked this particular group of barrels out of the 144ish you purchased?
A) We selected the 2015 lot of barrels primarily because it’s bold and effortless to enjoy with an enormous chocolate-y palette, yet still complex and elegant. And we know there is no single flavor profile that is associated with American Single Malt – it’s all about the provenance of the ingredients that make up the whiskey.
But we do think this 2015 lot establishes that it is something very different than what single malt scotch and drinkers of Japanese whiskey might expect.
Q) Along those lines, any details into how you’re blending these? Are you doing the tasting or is it by panel with Marko, etc?
A) “All of the selection and blending is done by Wolves. Marko creates the pieces of art. We assemble them in different ways that speak to our palate.”
Q) Of course, the next question will be me asking… What next? With 144 barrels in the mix, are there any interesting finishes coming or did Marko stick to fairly traditional aging?
Hearing that they were laid down in small batches makes me wonder if he did any experimenting. Or should we just make sure to sign up on the website to be notified when they become available?
One of the great things about Wolves is that all of the collaborators are creators of the highest order in their lives inside and outside the context of whiskey, and each is committed to quality. So the wheels are always turning, ideas are being shared, and partnerships are always being formed. We have a specific vision for the brand, but we also have the luxury of being nimble about the sequence of our offerings. The next thing is coming, but we want to be very intentional about selecting exactly what that offering is.
The differentiation across the 144 barrels is remarkable. Within each lot they were six different oak treatments. Lot 2 is an 11 year whiskey that features Irish maltings. It is entirely different than the 2015 lot and equally if not more delicious.
Q) Obviously the focus is on the latest offering but, the concept of a rye and hops whiskey is intriguing… Do you see this as a great option for craft beer lovers to transition into a premium whiskey with familiar flavors?
A) That’s exactly right. There’s plenty of overlap with beer and whiskey drinkers, even at the higher end of the whiskey market, well beyond the old school boilermaker. This particular product strikes the right note of discovery for the whiskey connoisseur and familiarity for the beer aficionado.
Q) Any other stories to tell about working with Marko and his old world approach to distilling? I recently did an article about Armagnac and certainly enjoy everything that goes into making and of course enjoying Brandy. Will we see some brandy influence (using brandy casks for instance) in future offerings?
A) I hesitate to say there’s nothing about Marko’s genius as a distiller that hasn’t already been said, because his depth of experience is such that there are always new stories to be told and new things to geek out about. But in a kind of rhetorical way, it’s like, “What can I say about working with Marko?” You asked earlier ‘what’s next?’ Maybe it’s an unbelievable 24 year-old brandy? That’s what it’s like working with Marko.
A big thank you to Jeremy for taking the time to answer a few questions and after hearing that Lot 2 is going to be featuring the Irish maltings I may have immediately gone and signed up on the website…
As a whiskey drinker that prefers “interesting” whiskeys, I love the idea that they’re going to blend these 144 available barrels in different ways and certainly look forward to seeing what the future holds. My recommendation is that if you happen to be lucky enough to come across a bottle of the Lot 1, it’s definitely worth a try even at the premium price point.