Color me a bit of a skeptic. Hooker’s House label declares these whiskeys as “Sonoma Style,” as in the California wine country. Where they do not make whiskey. Right? Heck, HelloCello (aka Prohibition Spirits) — best known for its artisanal lemoncello (and other flavors) — makes this whiskey. What on earth do these guys know about Bourbon? How good could it possibly be?
Plenty. And pretty good, it turns out.
Named after a Civil War veteran, Joseph Hooker, who lived in Sonoma, these whiskeys are not actually distilled in California (the company cites only “Bourbon-belt” production; I’m presuming they are born at LDI like pretty much everything else on the market). But Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye, like many of my favorite craft whiskeys, are decidedly non-traditional spirits: Both are finished in (different) wine barrels that have been retired from local wineries.
That, I guess, it was “Sonoma Style” is all about. And you can count me a full-on convert.
Thoughts on both of these whiskeys follow.
Hooker’s House Bourbon – This is six-year-old, single-barrel Bourbon that is finished in Pinot Noir barrels and brought down to 100 proof with Sonoma spring water. The mashbill is a hefty 46% rye. Lots of wood on the nose doesn’t let on to too many secrets, but breathe deep and you get those rich, winey flavors — a few raisins and big cherry notes. Take a sip and it all comes together. Fantastic, thick body. Beautiful fruit, that cherry character really gets pumped up as you drink it. Combining with the deep vanilla from the Bourbon, the Pinot finish gives this whiskey the character of a Cherry Coke, complete with cinnamon and nutmeg notes on the finish. Perfectly drinkable neat even at 100 proof, this is an amazing Bourbon with a unique and lively character that I highly recommend. Excellent bargain. A / $36
Hooker’s House Rye – Made from a mashbill of 95% rye, Hooker’s House Rye doesn’t indicate its age, but is likely quite a bit younger than the Bourbon. (Bulleit’s 95% rye is about 5 years old.) For a twist, the Rye is finished not in Pinot barrels but in Old Vine Zinfandel barrels — two spicy treats that should go well together. They do, but not perhaps to the degree of mastery that the Bourbon offers. The nose is curious, giving up anise and fresh, toasty wood notes. The body’s a different animal: Surprisingly light and fresh, there is a clear grain character along with some evergreen notes. The whiskey is more in line with many of the modern ryes that have come out lately — surprisingly mild, easygoing, and backed up with a touch of baking spice. The wine influence is harder to spot here than with the Bourbon; there’s just a hint of raisin character on the finish. It’s a solid rye, but ultimately this whiskey is driven more by raw grain flavors — which come on really strong at the conclusion — than I’d like. 94 proof. B / $36