The Whistler Dark Symphony is not a whiskey that will stay with me for a long time. Except… This is the first time I’ve come across the use of NEOC barrels. These casks are somewhat of a mystery to me, but have been adopted by a number of whisky companies already.
NEOC stands for New Era of Cask and has been pioneered by ASC Barrels, a French cooperage with a website that would greatly benefit from some more detailed information. A quick Google search learns that these casks are not only used by Boann Distillery (owners of The Whistler brand), but also by Clonakilty, East London Liquor Company and Spiritfilled. But what is a NEOC cask?
The way I understand it, a NEOC cask is basically a variation on Dr Jim Swan’s STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred). I’ve been in touch with ASC Barrels to better understand how the two differ exactly, but communication hasn’t always been smooth. I was sent the below video. After watching it I’m still left with questions.
Feel free to watch the video in its entirety, but I’ll provide you with a quick recap of the NEOC process. It starts with an old French wine cask arriving at the cooperage. It is disassembled. The staves are shaved individually, removing up to a centimetre (!) of charred oak. The cask is reassembled and toasted for about 45 minutes. Et voilà, a NEOC cask is born.
In essence, ASC Barrels gives a second life to casks, which is presented as revolutionary and coined by them as an “ingenious idea.” I’m aware this will sound cynical, but I have trouble spotting the genius. A NEOC cask might not be a 100% copy of an STR cask (it isn’t charred), but that has to be where the inspiration comes from. I’d love to provide you with a deeper understanding of NEOC casks, and maybe one day I’ll chase ASC Barrels some more. For now, this will have to do.
That brings us back to The Whistler Dark Symphony. An Irish blended whiskey, The Whistler Dark Symphony is made from 20% single malt and 80% grain Irish whiskey. It’s triple distilled and initially matured in first-fill bourbon casks for 3 to 4 years. Then it spent a minimum of 12 months in ex-Cognac VSOP casks that underwent the NEOC treatment.
The Whistler Dark Symphony (43.14%, OB, 2023)
Nose: Rather fresh and inviting with whiffs of orchard fruits, a tinge of cinnamon, some cloves and some sweeter, candied citrus notes. There’s a whisper of resin too, as well as some syrupy caramel. Taste: Quite a creamy texture, even at this relatively low abv, which could be a result from the NEOC casks. Sweet vanilla, charred oranges and some gentle notes of cough syrup, as well as some raisins, white pepper and coffee grounds. The cask and the grain whisky are certainly the most dominant here. Finish: Medium length, dry, somewhat tannic. Hints of sultanas and ripe bananas.
A fairly characterful blended whiskey, The Whistler Dark Symphony relies heavily on the oak. And with such a high grain whisky content, the malt whisky influence seems minimized. Overall it's pleasant, but too expensive for what it is.