St. George’s Dave Smith has a lot on his mind these days. In addition to fatherhood, growing a vast portfolio of beloved cult spirits, and managing production for one of the world’s best independent distilleries, he has been thinking quite a bit about the return of Breaking & Entering—version 2.0 of St. George’s American whiskey project, and a sequel many years in the making. The initial 2011 release of B&E was a blend of Kentucky Bourbons, fused with precision into a soft and seamless profile. It was an immediate hit with audiences everywhere, but the timing of the release made sustainability difficult. The demand for aged Bourbon soon went through the roof and prices for mature stocks hit the stratosphere, rendering St. George’s capacity for continual B&E releases all but impossible. Naming the whiskey Breaking & Entering was appropriate, in that the only way to get quality Kentucky Bourbon at that point was to literally steal it. After just a short time on the market, the label vanished and the whiskey became another casualty of the Bourbon shortage. Seven years later, however, Smith has gone back to the drawing board and put his most valuable skill sets to use in an attempt to bring Breaking & Entering back from the dead. To do so, he brought in the help of a confidant.
This is Anthony Rosario. In addition to his full time job of school teacher, he’s a part-time blender for St. George and the longest running member of my whisky tasting group, a council that’s met for almost a decade at this point to open new bottles and share good conversation while doing so. You can always count on Anthony to show up with a recipe he’s concocted at home, a batch of various grain whiskies, or an exotic stew of God-knows-what (he once successfully blended the entire Van Winkle Bourbon lineup into a whiskey greater than the sum of its parts). He has an incredible palate and he can coax aromas out of an empty whiskey glass that would strain even a Basset Hound. I drove out to the Alameda site this week to spend some time with my old friends, and taste through a few new releases they’ve been working on as of late. We had a lot to talk about, but we spent most of the afternoon talking about the new Breaking & Entering, now labeled as an American whiskey rather than a Bourbon.
Given the state of the whiskey market, and the flux of uninteresting and rather derivative American craft releases that have ebbed and flowed over the last few years, Smith and Rosario were facing a challenge. There would be no point in adding yet another nondescript Bourbon or rye whiskey into that landscape, especially one without an age statement that would potentially cost more to make than the previous version. Value was important to both men, so paying extra for a pure Kentucky Bourbon expression was out of the question. Prices for Tennessee Bourbon and rye, on the other hand, were far more reasonable, but whiskey lovers weren’t exactly screaming for new versions of George Dickel. In order to bring something fresh and exciting to St. George’s passionate fanbase, the boys would need to get creative. They would have to use their incredible blending skills to do something new, relying on their innate talents to take them further than before. After getting the thumbs up from distillery owner Lance Winters—who along with original founder Jörg Rupf set this creative path in motion—Dave and Anthony decided to break and enter once again, but this time into their own precious single malt supply. Utilizing St. George malt whiskies made with both barley and wheat, the new Breaking & Entering is a four grain cuvée of American Bourbon, rye, and single malt whisky, and I’ll tell you this before we go any further: it’s fucking awesome.
Before sitting down for a serious sampling, however, we would need a good hour to eat, drink, and catch up on the latest gossip. We took Dave’s new electric car over to Trabocco Kitchen on the Alameda South Shore for cocktails and pizza, where owner Giuseppe Naccarelli was ready with the new edition of Breaking & Entering, primed to pour us a few cold Manhattans. My first experience with the whiskey would be with sweet vermouth and a couple of Maraschino cherries, but even with the added sweetness I could still taste the essence of St. George’s single malt beneath all that richness. If you’re a veteran of the distillery’s coveted malt whiskey releases, you’ll know exactly what I mean; the chocolate malt St. George uses in its mash acts like a cocoa-dusted core of roasted goodness in the resulting whiskey. If I could taste that distinctive flavor within the spiciness of my Manhattan, I could begin to imagine what the whiskey would taste like on its own. We gorged on grilled octopus, a sausage and broccoli di rape pie, and various side salads before heading back to Dave’s office for a more formal analysis.
With a straight pour of the new Breaking & Entering in my hand, pure and unadulterated in the glass, I prepared my senses and took my first few sips. My immense enjoyment was immediate. There was no learning curve to my comprehension. With just the slightest bit of context, each sensation was abundantly clear. The mellowness of the rye and the sweet creaminess of the Tennessee Bourbon pored over the edges, the spice from the Kentucky Bourbon flurried gently across the middle, and that unmistakable richness of St. George single malt settled down fat and firm on the back, nestling itself into the finish. In simpler terms, the sourced components make up the broad strokes, while the in-house distillates work as the accent notes. I know firsthand how meticulous Dave and Anthony are with their blending, and how precise they are with each component. Having tasted through the majority of their work over the years, I can safely say that I was more impressed with the new B&E edition than anything they’ve done previously, simply because the whiskey hits all the marks. It’s familiar, yet entirely new. It’s easy-to-understand, yet simultaneously complex. It’s well-made and well-composed, yet fairly priced at less than $40 retail. That’s not easy to do.
We sat for another hour in Dave’s office, watching the sun go down over the Bay, talking about life, and drinking a few more glasses of the B&E. It didn’t grow on me one bit; I liked every subsequent glass just as much as I liked the first one! “My favorite part of this whiskey is that it’s immediately accessible, and I can’t tell you how important that is today,” I said to both men, their humble silence masking what I knew were huge smiles inside. “The world doesn’t need another whiskey with an explanation,” I added; “It needs whiskies that get us excited about drinking again.” Harmoniously-balanced and unassuming, the new Breaking & Entering American whiskey is so damn easy to drink, despite the fact it was clearly hard to make. It’s not Bourbon, it’s not rye, it’s not single malt, but it encompasses the elements that I adore from all three, and I can think of few blended American whiskies that deliver this much satisfaction for the dollar. Watching these two guys carry on the authentic vision that Jörg and Lance created years ago warms my soul, and is—simply put—a site to behold. As we enjoyed our final glass, St. George’s operations manager Lucy Mattingly popped her head in to let Dave know the distributor was sold out and they were awaiting another shipment. “We’re working on it,” Dave said, his head turned toward the office door.
“You guys have another batch ready to go?” I asked.
“We’re working on it,” Dave said again with a twinkle in his eye.