Belgian Owl Whisky – From Owlet To Full Grown Raptor
I first tried Belgian Owl whisky, a single malt from, you guessed it, Belgium, in 2012. It was in a restaurant in San Francisco. The US Open golf was on at the Olympic Club, and I was with the marketing team from Rolex who had suggested that particular spot for the evening’s repast. A spot, I can say with some certainity, chosen for its excellent chef and the quality of its wine list. The spirits on the menu might well have been an afterthought. So when the server suggested, instead of the bog standard bottom shelf whiskies I could have otherwise had, this variant from Belgium, I was intrigued enough to agree.
Unfortunately, neither his enthusiam nor mine were matched by what came out of the bottle. The whisky was young, harsh, lacked complexity and character. It was a whisky in name, a single malt in nature, but had none of the nuances that draw the more discerning woman and man to the water of life otherwise. I have no notes from that tasting, because there were no notes to be had. I left the memory of it at the door of the restaurant and have had no reason to review that judgement in the years since.
Child is the father of man
Fast forward to ten years later. Belgian Owl is hoping to make a dent in new markets, and have asked if a few of us will join them in a tasting virtually. They in Belgium. My co-conspirators and I in Bombay. I join for the company of the co-conspirators. The whisky I expect to leave on the table as soon as the cameras on the video call are off.
There is a fine jazz standard, “What a Diff’rence A Day Makes”, made popular by Dinah Washington (although I must admit to being more partial to the version sung by Sarah Vaughan). Replace the “day” with a “decade”, and you have the reason why Belgian Owl deserves to be considered worthy. In the years since I first tried it, the whisky has changed so significantly, that it’s only the similarity of the label design that assures me this is still the same bottler.
Although still a young whisky when compared to some that you have safely squirreled away in your cellar, there is now the maturity that was missing in its predecessor.
On the nose, the foreshots are prominent at first whiff, with acetone the immediate topnote. This gives way very soon to banana which is where the balance starts to kick in. Herbaceuous notes of young green grass, the kind that springs back immediately when you step on it. The warmth of dark cardamom for a spicy note. And then the citrus of blood oranges. All mingling in your nostrils like a bowl of fruit punch into which some kind soul has poured a generous shot of alcohol.
On the palate, the whisky’s youth is evident in the first rush of vanilla. This mellows to more honeyed tones and then to fleshy fruit. The banana on the nose is back. And finally there are the warm spices again. The cardamom, and even a hint of peppercorn. There’s a pleasant oily mouthfeel and a long finish.
Belgian Owl has come a long way since I first dismissed it. It has matured into a new world whisky that deserves a try. And possily even a place on your shelf. Perhaps not your cellar if you plan to squirrel it just yet, but certainly your shelf.