On a recent trip to Belgium, I had the opportunity to sample an unusual offering – a new single malt whisky from a respected local beer producer: the Gouden Carolus single malt.
Gouden Carolus is a beer brand made by the Het Anker brewery in Mechelen, Belgium. The Gouden Carolus Classic is actually one my favourite Belgian “brown” beers, although this new single malt whisky is distilled from the mash of Gouden Carolus Tripel, a pale malt beer. Belgian tripel beers use three times the typical amount of malt, combined with high fermentation (so they pack quite a kick).
The pure Tripel beer mash (without the hops and extra aromatics) is distilled in copper pot stills at the brewery. It is initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with some further finishing in custom-made Het Anker casks. There is no age statement for the final whisky, but it is believed to be 3 years old. Refreshingly, it is not chill-filtered, no colouring is added, and it is bottled at a respectable 46% ABV.
There are not a lot of reviews for this whisky, as it is not commonly available outside of Belgium (yet). The 500mL bottle retails for 40€, or $60 CAD, in local shops.
Here is how it compares in my database to some other young malt whiskies from outside of Scotland:
Amrut Single Malt (India): 8.37 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Balcones Texas Single Malt (USA): 8.72 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
FEW Single Malt (USA): 8.45 ± 0.51 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Gouden Carolus (Belgium): 8.00 ± 0.21 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo (Canada): 8.05 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt (Taiwan): 8.41 ± 0.52 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt (Ireland): 7.97 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Sweden): 8.66 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.89 ± 0.72 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Legend (Wales): 7.46 ± 0.93 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Aur Cymru (Wales): 7.69 ± 0.61 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
St George’s Chapter 6 (England): 8.23 ± 0.48 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Malt (Ireland): 8.46 ± 0.36 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt (Ireland): 8.13 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$)
I was lucky enough to get a generous free sample of this single malt at The Bottle Shop liquor store in Bruges, on Wollestraat street just off of the Grote Markt. Here is what I found in the glass:
Colour: “Gouden” apparently means golden in Dutch, and I can believe it. Hard to believe no colourant was added, as this is exactly the shade most distillers try to make their whisky.
Nose: Incredibly fruity nose, but heavily candied (i.e., fruit gummies). Really took me by surprise, and brought me back to my childhood. Otherwise, cherries, peaches, and a touch of green apple – there is a slight sourness that balances out the candied sweetness. Malty, with Scottish oat cakes and Arrowroot biscuits. Vanilla and some anise (black licorice). A touch of acetone and definite ethanol burn (consistent with the young age), but not as bad as I was expecting for a 3 yo. Pleasantly surprised.
Palate: The same fruity candy and malty biscuits notes as the nose, without much else coming through I’m afraid. Maybe a bit of caramel now, to complement the vanilla. Otherwise, seems rather thin – and very grain alcohol hot. The young age is really showing through here, with typical roughness. Water may help, but I didn’t have any to add.
Finish: Medium length. It actually lasts longer than I would have expected, given the youthful grain alcohol sensation in the mouth. The fruity character disappears quickly, and you are left mainly with the oak-driven caramels and vanilla. A touch peppery too, which I like.
This one really impressed me on the nose, but then turned into the expected youthful disappointment in the mouth. Still, very respectful quality for the young age. If Het Anker can give this a few more years in quality barrels, they are likely to have a nice sipper on their hands.
Although based on few reviews, I think the current Meta-Critic score is fair. For some online reviews of this whisky, I recommend you check out Ruben of Whisky Notes, Jonny of Whisky Advocate, and Joel and Annibel of Whisky Magazine.