Taste: Hammer Head Czech Vintage Single Malt

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Cold War is long consigned to the history books yet as a teenager I can recall aspects growing up. Having visited the Czech Republic since, I would never have thought that in 1989 the Pradlo Distillery turned their attention to whisky. This new venture was way ahead of many European nations. This nationalised distillery was already known for high quality pot-stilled spirits behind the iron curtain and had set its sights on whisky.

Sourcing a traditional cast iron hammer mill for product gave this bottling its name. Sadly it isn't based upon the blistering American band from around this period on the Amp Rep record label that would have been really cool. However using 100% local Czech barley and water from the Bhoemia area followed by Czech oak casks is certainly cool; making this a true reflection of its country of origin.

Political events then took focus and the Berlin wall fell, ending decades of separation and prompting other countries within the Soviet block to seek their own independence. You can forgive those in Plzen for becoming distracted and forgetting what lay in the distillery cellars. Decades passed until the distillery was taken over by Stock Spirits who were surprised by the contents after an inventory check.
It is a fabulous and unique story that for 20 years these casks maturated in a constant climate while outside huge changes were taking place across the landscape. This malt has been described to me as 'the most Scottish of European whiskies' by someone very experienced with whisky. Given that Scotland only provided the inspiration and nothing else, such a statement if confirmed would be remarkable.

Pradlo must have distilled quite a bit 20 years ago as you can still pick this up quite easily at retail. Nationalised industries never really took much notice of supply and demand or basic economics compared to their Western counterparts. For that we can be thankful and the retail price is very attractive, but lets move onto the most important aspect. 

Distillery: Pradlo
Distilled: 1989
Bottled 2009 (20 years)
Strength: 40.7%
Additional: 100% Czech barley, Czech oak casks
Price: Expect to pay around £35 and while initially was seen as a Travel Exclusive in airports you can find it available via online retailers.
Colour: a light tan

Nose: A musty note, perhaps those ancient cellars did leave their mark? Not a huge nose initially, some encouragement and time required bringing back memories of a previous Macallan review. A touch of calamine lotion if anything... Nosing the glass shortly after a tasting provides a surprising amount of sweetness with sugar coated nuts and juicy raisins. 

Taste: Well, not a huge, expansive malt despite the age. Initially some black pepper and only with a slight drop of water is required to usher out the ground almonds and shortbread before the Czech oak gives a woody finish.

You could sit this whisky down in a Scottish tasting session and no one would pick it out as being wrongly included. Hammer Head is a good quality single malt that you cannot help but fall in love with due to the storyline. The actual taste being so easily relocated is detrimental, as I was expecting a bold full-bodied malt perhaps with some mistakes from the first time distillers. That's not the case as it is well rounded and fluid if a little bland.

A higher alcohol strength would have been beneficial to provide more oomph. For such an aged malt, I was expecting more character. Yet lets put this into context with a great price, unique story to tell and a steady dram on offer, it is a fun, if restrained experience. 

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