The True Craft of Whiskey: 1512 Barbershop Rye

The reason that 1512 Barbershop Rye is a superlative expression of a distilled spirit is quite simple, Salvatore Cimino made it that way.  Mr. Cimino is a man who dispels the illusion, if you held such an illusion, that great recipes for a distilled spirit are the result of fluke chance.  Yes, it is possible to stumble upon something special, but it is unlikely, and in the case of 1512’s Rye, little was left up to chance.  The consummate craft distiller, Mr. Cimino produces all of 1512’s spirits alone and by hand.  From hand-milled grain to the product of his alembic still, he controls the process with an intense dedication to every detail.  Intense dedication could describe many aspects of this craft distiller’s approach to his art.  So could artist, for that matter.

Mr. Cimino’s approach to distilling has something in common with 1512 Rye’s palate, a journey with attention paid to the fundamentals necessary to create a total experience, not merely an ephemeral moment of pleasure.  Obviously, the level of detail Mr. Cimino shared with me concerning his process from beginning to bottle will not be recounted here (everyone is entitled to their secrets, respectable liquor-producers even more so), but a few broad strokes suffice to give one an idea of how little Mr. Cimino relies on the fickle inconstancies of chance.

A third generation of practitioners of the alcohol arts, Mr. Cimino was able to study under both his grandfather and father, both masters in their own right.  Building upon this foundation, he acquired an understanding of what creates a dynamic spirit by endeavoring to understand and control each ingredient or phase of the product.  Water is analyzed to account for its mineral content.  Grain is milled by hand to control the speed concomitant temperature.  You get the idea.

Mr. Cimino’s belief in the importance of the making of one’s mash cannot be overstated.  It was impressed upon that if you have not worked out a solid product by then, why even waste your time with the still? I believe this is in keeping with his comment that a distiller is more appropriately described as a chef of grain, such is the weight placed upon the creation of a good mash.  And the process doesn’t lighten up.  The type of still, the time in the still, the ambient atmosphere on a given day.  I am not being flip when I write that I believe that if Mr. Cimino had his own cork trees, he would find out the impact of variations in the trees and factor that in to the overall process of cultivating a specific palate.  So it is with this level of intense dedication that he can produce a white whiskey that is not only palatable, but complex with novel (and valuable) dimensions.

While many opine on the right number of years to age a whiskey, Mr. Cimino questions the utility of aging a whiskey that is not already a solid and presentable product before you go and wake the cooper up.  And I confess it makes sense to me.  Why conceal a harsh, one-dimensional new-make in lays of sugar and cords of oak in an attempt to make something palatable?  Perhaps one should figure out why their white whiskey does not already taste great before attempting to enhance (through sugar, char, and wood) the admittedly flawed spirit.

So I can only wonder what 1512’s Rye would taste like were it aged for any time in a barrel.  But frankly, I do not spend much time wondering because it already tastes excellent with a profile that does not rely on sugar or char, but instead leads one through a labyrinth of tightly-bound flavors and floral notes (hints of eau-de-vie), with the texture playing a prominent and dynamic role by allocating the flavors selectively instead of in one, haphazard burst.  And the gradual, not to mention singular, dryness that eventually settles over the palate sets a bar that shames many a mass-produced whiskey for their palate-wrecking sweetness.

With no intentions of involving additional people in his liquor-making processes (for fear of risking any compromise in a spirit he rightly assumes full credit for), it is lamentable that 1512 Rye will remain an obscure and wonderful thing.  Lamentable for you, that is, because the barbershop (he is, after all, a barber of over 25 years) is just down the street from me and I intend to shake him down for intelligence on every new batch, to buy a few bottles from each batch, and to promptly savor it.  Sometimes with friends. –Nate


Filed under 1512 Spirits

4 responses to “The True Craft of Whiskey: 1512 Barbershop Rye

  1. Nice article, Nate!

    I agree regarding the quality of base spirit and idea that aging should build on something that is already enjoyable not disguise it. About the only other truly enjoyable white dog I have tasted is the Wheat Whiskey from Greenway Distillers.

    I’ll have to track this 1512 Whiskey Down!

  2. Dai

    I saw it for sale at both K&L SF and Cask…

  3. Steve F.

    Great write-up. I bought the last bottle in the liquor store before I left SF and it is outstanding.
    Thank you for introducing me to this great find, Nate!

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