Review: Rough Rider Straight Bourbon Whisky

rough rider bourbonWhen I first tasted Rough Rider, a straight Bourbon made by Long Island Spirits (which we’ve covered well in the past), I thought I was tasting one of Kentucky’s finest. It’s a common, well-accepted trick: Take a barrel of old Kentucky (or Indiana) whiskey, ship it to your home state, and bottle it there (maybe after a little finishing time in a Port or other wine barrel). Presto: You’ve got your own, very high-end Bourbon.

Nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time.

But Rough Rider isn’t that. It’s homegrown whiskey and it’s good. Mashed, distilled, and aged in Long Island, this is proof that good Bourbon can be made just about anywhere, provided the maker has the patience. (Well, not yet… See comments for correction.)

Inspired by Teddy Roosevelt (a native Long Islander), Rough Rider is made from a mash of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. It’s aged for four years in new oak barrels before a further, complex finishing. From LIS:

“After aging, the bourbon is double-barreled, or finished, in wine casks,” says Rich Stabile, Long Island Spirits founder. “The wine casks include merlot casks and chardonnay casks, and are chosen from among the finest wineries on Long Island.” Before the aged bourbon is poured into the wine casks, though, each wine barrel is washed with a local, Long Island brandy. “The cask finishing wash tempers each wine barrel, resulting in a more mellow, complex bourbon,” adds Stabile. After the bourbon is finished for a few months in the wine casks (the exact time depends on the flavor profile of the batch), each bottle is brought to proof and filled by hand.

That’s a remarkably complex way to finish a whiskey… but it works. Rough Rider is a fantastic Bourbon, and a surprisingly affordable one, too. The nose is punchy and tannic — full of both wood notes and winey ones. The body backs this up. Initially full of sawdust and pencil shavings, it soon settles down to reveal tons of fun. It starts with Bananas Foster, black cherries, and licorice. Chocolate and root beer notes evolve from there, alongside more traditional and expected vanilla and caramel character. A long, Port-like finish comes along after that, offering some of that brandy’s sweet fruitiness by way of a digestif.

Great stuff. Great price, too, especially in comparison to so many wildly overpriced and under-aged craft Bourbons on the market.

Reviewed: Batch #1. 90 proof.

A / $33 /

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15 Responses

  1. severin August 5, 2013 / 7:44 pm

    Very nice bourbon with good balance of flavors. Unique finishing process left evident but not dominant winey influence. I found it to be a touch harsh but with a name like rough rider could have simply been the power of suggestion. Great write up as always but I am fairly certain LIV uses sourced bourbon for rough rider. Either way, love the whisky, great price point as you mentioned and proud supporter of LIV just 30 minutes down the road from me!

  2. Ben McNeil August 7, 2013 / 9:50 am

    I was looking at a bottle of this (a local coffee bar used it in a drink and had it out on display), and I read a lot of dancing around about where it was distilled. I didn’t see anything that clearly said it was distilled by this company. When the bottle and/or press release uses words like “created”, “crafted”, or “bottled” without “distilled by”, that’s almost a guarantee that they bought it from somewhere before blending and finishing it.

  3. Christopher Null August 7, 2013 / 10:06 am

    I’m double-checking on this with the company.

  4. Christopher Null August 7, 2013 / 7:29 pm

    It appears I’m (mostly) mistaken. From the company:

    “The first few batches were distilled to our specs several years ago in the Midwest and finished here. Now, we are making our own mashes that match those specs and aging it here as well. You can always direct readers to our website: and they may ask any questions.”

  5. Ben McNeil August 8, 2013 / 6:00 am

    Thanks for following up, Christopher!

    I’m assuming that “the Midwest” means MGP (formerly LDI). It’s interesting that Long Island Spirit’s “specs” are the same as MGP’s standard high rye bourbon recipe (though their stock actually is 36% rye, so someone might have gotten a number slightly wrong)…

  6. Christopher Null August 8, 2013 / 6:09 am

    Ben – that’s my assumption, yeah.

  7. Ben McNeil August 8, 2013 / 9:40 am

    On a less snarky note, the price is pretty good, compared to most of the LDI-purchased, finished whiskey out there. I’ll definitely tip my hat to them for that.

  8. severin August 8, 2013 / 8:10 pm

    The price point, unique and productive finishing using local brandy and wine casks make this a winner regardless of where the product was distilled. Though, a little more transparency on the bottle from the distillery would be nice. I just had the opportunity to sample LIV’s newly released Rye which undergoes a creative 3 barrel finishing process and was very pleased. Also sourced from what I was told.

  9. severin August 14, 2013 / 7:52 pm

    60, 35, 5 is a four roses mashbill by the way. Any chance that is the source for the bourbon?

  10. Christopher Null August 14, 2013 / 8:03 pm

    It’s possible. They’ve done private bottlings before… But I expect it’s an MGP whiskey (or they’d have said it’s from Kentucky).

  11. Aaron March 19, 2015 / 7:42 pm

    While i was very impressed by the finishing of this Bourbon. I hate that people are being sold “craft” whiskey that is produced in a factory distillery with no unique mash bill. This is private labeling at its best and i fear this could backfire om the industry for misleading consumers. Buy bonded.

  12. Josh March 25, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    This stuff, at least based on batches #1 and #2 is quite good but the whole b.s. routine around all these made up brands makes me enjoy the booze less. Sorry, but the back story and honesty carries weight, for me. When that story is a bunch of shuck-and-jive then I’m moving on – there’s too much good whiskey out there and my money goes to real things, not made-up things.

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