St. George Spirits Baller American Single-Malt Whiskey

St. George Spirits Baller American Single-Malt Whiskey (Photo by the brand)

Welcome to Alameda

The city of Alameda lies on an island just southwest of Oakland, California. Perhaps most known for the U.S.S. Hornet’s Space, Sea, and Air Museum, it’s also home to the small but mighty distillery, St. George Spirits. At its founding in 1982 by Jörg Rupf, it was just one of a handful of American distilleries but has become a leader in the burgeoning craft distilling movement.

St. George Emerges

On paper, Jörg is an unlikely standard-bearer – he began his illustrious career as a judge in Munich, Germany, later joining Germany’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and then the Ministry of Culture. He moved to California in the mid-1970s to pursue postgraduate studies at UC Berkley but eventually left the legal profession and followed what ultimately became his life’s passion – distilling. Following in his family’s footsteps, he began distilling pear eau de vie in borrowed space at Veedercrest Vineyards in Emeryville. His proof of concept became St. George Spirits, and his early success resulted in Jörg becoming a mentor at other distilleries, including Clear Creek and Waterford Hill, for example. In fact, Jörg Rupf was christened “the godfather of craft distilling” by St. George’s now-senior owner, Lance Williams.

Craft Spirits

St. George Spirits produce a wide swath of award-winning craft spirits, including gins, vodkas, brandies, liqueurs, absinthe, Eau de vies, and, my favorite, whiskeys! And, not just any whiskeys, but a variety of American single-malts (ASMs), helping to shape that burgeoning marketplace. Although still in the process of receiving Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) accreditation, ASMs have exploded, and St. George is among those leading the charge. I recently had the pleasure of sampling two of its whiskeys; Baller and Lot 22. Although both are made from 100% barley (as are all ASMs, following time-honored traditions of Scotch and Irish whiskies), they are radically different in style and taste, much to my pleasure and delight.

Baller ASM

Baller is the more unique of the pair, and not just due to its Japanese-inspired labeling (which is gorgeous in its own right). Created as a direct competitor to Japanese whiskey, it’s aged eight years in ex-whiskey-fill American and French oak casks, filtered through maple charcoal, then finished in ex-fill umeshu casks. Umeshu is an originally Japanese liquor made from ume, a sour/tart apricot-like fruit. The barrels used for Baller are all from house-made umeshu created from locally grown ume.


The result is a distinctively unique whiskey. Pouring a pale straw in the glass, the aroma reminds me of another unique liquor, pisco, a Chilean/Peruvian brandy. Initially, a rush of old wine-must funk and barrel spice leads to cotton candy perfume, green apricots, and peach compote. Savory-spice notes, including dried marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Despite its 47% ABV, it’s not overly hot.


The mouthfeel is relatively thin, with initial sweetness leading to noticeable brine and tartness. The briny effect continues into the swallow, as does the savory spice. Tartly fruit-forward, it’s far more reminiscent of brandy than whiskey. Midswallow reveals a hint of malty cereal, followed by more barrel spice and notes of mango skin, bread yeast, lemon zest, tart apples, and eventually, a whiff of smoke. The finish is warm, leading to a sweet kiss of anise, more tart fruit, and finally, brine.


The finish is long and warm. The overall impact is one of great depth and complexity. I find myself sniffing the glass long after the liquid is gone, and with each whiff, I sense another unique characteristic that makes me want to re-sample. I know the brand recommends the whiskey for highballs, but I vote for it to be served neat!

Lot 22 ASM

Lot 22 is the more traditional American single-malt of the pair. While the mash-bill has remained unchanged since its inception with Lot 1, this most recent release comprises malts ranging in age from four-and-a-half years to 23 years old. It consists of a combination of roasted and unroasted barley; some smoked over beach and alder, and then cask blended with 26 different lots aged in ex-fill Kentucky bourbon barrels, Tennessee whiskey barrels, and ex-fill American and French oak apple brandy, port, and California Sauternes-style casks. This painstaking combination resulted in a profoundly complex whisky with a rich aroma and multi-layered flavor profile.


It pours a lovely mid-amber color, immediately releasing a billowing aroma cloud of fresh-roasted cashews and glazed pecans, followed by notes of warm milk chocolate, espresso, candied orange peel, toffee, caramel, cherry pie, and vanilla chews. Swirling releases malty cereal notes, dried coconut, and powdered sugar.


Despite its relatively low 43% ABV, the sip starts hot, easily tamed by a few drops of quality water. The palate has a distinctive roundness, with a sugary, syrupy impact and an unexpected fruity tartness. The swallow reveals a candied-ginger freshness leading to cooked raisings, stewed prunes, chocolate-covered banana chips, and more cashews, all followed by a kiss of apple and cherry cobbler.


There are notable after-flavors of creamed coffee, chocolate milk, glazed pecans, and, as others have noted, a hint of sugared grapefruit and plums. The finish is long and luxurious, like a long goodnight kiss of chocolate pudding. Like with the Baller, I revisited the empty glass to catch an olfactory remembrance of pecans and cocoa. Lot 22 is the perfect dessert dram – warm and sensual, although I would certainly not hesitate to sip this, well, anytime!

Industry Leader

St. George Spirits is undoubtedly an industry leader in the craft distiller marketplace, but from my perspective as a self-proclaimed ASM expert, its American single-malts speak the loudest. I look forward to sampling SGS’s other whiskies and fully expect the brand to continue its role as a craft spirit powerhouse.