Mike Collings could have retired with an incredible track record in whisky. He’d made Johnnie Walker Blue Label, The Classic malts, Rare malts, Distillers Editions, Flora & Fauna series, Cardhu, Royal Lochnagar. That’s pretty good as far as CVs go.
He’s been working in whisky for 30 years. You couldn’t blame him for packing it in and putting his feet up. That would have been the sensible thing to do. But Mike is many things. Sensible isn’t one of them. He is the kind of person to stir the pot. He thinks about things differently and always asks: ‘what if …’.
So, he found himself enjoying a few drams in a Tokyo bar thinking: what if I created a whisky that was unique on the single cask single malt market.
The Firkin Whisky Idea
Born in Japan, bred in Scotland and enjoyed by an increasing number of people around the globe. Firkin is a fantastic whisky. There’s no question about that. But Firkin doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Mike knows Firkin is exceptional whisky, so he doesn’t need to wrap himself in the pompous robes of pretence.
The Firkin Whisky Approach
Mike’s tag line is Firkin Awesome Single malt, and that’s what it is. The Firkin approach is to create unique double oak barrels that use two types of oak.
The first is American oak from first-fill Bourbon. The second is new Limousin oak with a custom char. Master coopers combine the two types of oak into one barrel. The result is a cask with a unique oak profile.
But the Firkin Approach doesn’t stop at the wood.
Mike matches the single malt with a fortified wine that accentuates and polishes the original whisky. It gives the whisky a depth of flavour, unlike any other whisky on the market.
Okay, But How About Some Examples?
So take a 2008 Benrinnes and pair it with Madeira in a custom two oak barrel and you get something pretty special. That’s the rich and lively Firkin Ten whisky.
Take Caol Isla 2010 paired with Marsala from Sicily, and the result is Salty peat and smoke with softer spicy sweeter finish. That’s the Firkin Islay whisky.
Firkin 49 is something else again. Make takes Tullibardine 2012 and matches it with a mix of Oloroso & amontillado sherry. The result is soft and nutty. Firkin 49 has the subtle richness of Oloroso and the nutty dryness of Amontillado. It’s amazing.
Why 49, you might ask? Well, because Mike and the distillery were both founded in 1949.
Finally, there is the Firkin Rare. This is an Aultmore 2010 matched with a tawny port. Matching a style of fortified wine with a particular whisky is an art. Mike calls it soulmate pairing because the sum of the parts is greater than the original. What you get after some patience is a whisky that is both succulent and rich. It’s Firkin Rare, and it’s well worth waiting for
What About Maturation?
Every cask is different because of its maturation location, original wood style. That’s part of what makes whisky so great. Each whisky is recasked into a Firkin custom double oak that was seasoned with a soulmate wine.
Then we play the waiting game.
Mike tests each cask every six months. Something other bottlers don’t do or can’t do. Tasting every six months isn’t hard yards, no one is going to feel sorry for poor Mike having to taste all that terrific whisky. But it is how he can ensure Firkin has its a unique depth of flavour.
Casks develop at different speeds. There is a practical reason for this. But making whisky is an art, not a science. So, when the whisky is ready, it’s ready.
It takes time and patience to produce a Firkin awesome single malt. But it’s worth it.
Try Some Firkin Awesome Whisky
The Firkin Whisky Co. doesn't take itself too seriously. When your single malt is this good, you don't need to be pretentious about it.
The whisky speaks for itself.
Written by Mike Collings & Evan Hirsch
Mike founded The Firkin Whisky Co. and Imperial Tribute. Over his 40 years in the whisky industry, he created Johnnie Walker Blue & Green Labels, The Classic Malts, Rare Malts, Distillers Edition, Flora & Fauna series, Cardhu and Royal Lochnagar.
Evan co-founded TopWhiskies. TopWhiskies helps you find the best whisky from unique and independent brands.