Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Review: Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey – Orange Peel and Spiced Apple

bonnie roseIt hasn’t taken long, but flavored white whiskeys — most visibly in the form of brightly-colored flavored moonshines — are starting to gain in the marketplace as producers look for a way to make these very young spirits palatable to a wider audience.

Bonnie Rose is white Tennessee whiskey (which alone is unusual), and it isn’t even available at all in an unflavored version. We got both flavors — orange peel and spiced apple — to put through the paces. Thoughts follow.

Both are 70 proof.

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Orange Peel Flavor – Very strong on the nose with notes of orange candies (not so much “peel”). On the tongue, a similar citrus-forward sweetness emerges — and endures for the long haul. There’s only a modest graininess underpinning the sweet sugar notes up top, effectively wiped away by the flavoring elements. Nothing shocking here. B-

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Spiced Apple Flavor – Heavy cinnamon-applesauce notes fill the air as soon as this is uncorked, and it offers dense and largely pleasant apple cider notes on the nose when the glass is poured. Though less immediately sweet than the Orange Peel expression, this whiskey is equally effective at masking the granary notes with flavoring agents, although the finish has moments of astringency and some bursts of popcorn. B

each $17 / bonnierosewhiskey.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine

popcorn suttonDon’t know Popcorn Sutton? Pshaw! The man wrote the book — literally, and he self-published it — on how to make moonshine. Sutton passed away in 2009, but you can still get a copy of Me and My Likker for, oh, $500.

If you’ve never seen a picture of Sutton, stop and click this link. The better to understand the kind of man we’re talking about, and the kind of product we’re dealing with. By all accounts, Sutton was a fanatic — about one thing: Making moonshine. Out in the hills of Tennessee, he’d work grain and sugar into sparkling sugar shine and, again by all accounts, that was it. The man had no use for the trappings of modern society (though he did manage to get married). He kept his future casket in his living room and the footstone of his own design, reading “Popcorn Said Fuck You,” be placed on his grave when he died. The family ignored the request — Sutton committed suicide to avoid going to prison for, of course, making moonshine.

And so we get to his namesake, Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine. With Sutton dead and buried, enterprising types have taken to commercializing his work. In 2010, Hank Williams Jr. and Sutton’s widow Pam joined forces to produce a commercial moonshine called Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The product was a big hit, but after a suit with Jack Daniel’s (since settled), namely over the bottle design, the spirit was relaunched as Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe in late 2015. (The production and spirit inside have not changed, however, and it is still reportedly made according to his recipe, just a few miles from Sutton’s old home.)

Things are moving for the brand. Last year, George Dickel master distiller John Lunn took over as Popcorn Sutton’s head distiller. If you’ve ever met or seen Lunn, you know he’s about as far from Sutton as you can get, but one has to assume he’s keeping the fires lit the way Popcorn wanted them.

So, on to the tasting…

The heavy grain and milder petrol notes on the nose of Popcorn Sutton are indistinct and could be tasting notes for just about any white whiskey. While the aroma is nothing special, the body is about as good as white lightning gets. Initially quite sweet — Sutton likely uses a lot of sugar in the recipe — it ping-pongs from notes of popcorn and rolled oats to fresh simple syrup. A touch grassy, it finishes on a note of bitter tree bark, which I can only imagine Sutton chawing on while he stokes the fires of his stills. Otherwise it leaves things fairly fresh and clean, which may come as a surprise to drinkers expecting a firebomb on their tongue. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘shine. Guess the man knew what he was doing.

88 proof.

B+ / $25 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2015

christmas spiritEvery year, the folks at Anchor Distilling take the prior year’s Anchor Christmas Ale, distill it, and turn it into an unaged white whiskey. Last year it was known as Christmas Spirit, as it is again for 2015.

The 2015 Christmas Spirit is classic white whiskey, cut with notes of seasonally appropriate herbs and pine needles. Moderately rubbery — a commonality found in most white whiskeys — the body showcases milk chocolate notes, more evergreen, and a touch of citrus at times. The finish is heavy with both rubber and petrol notes, and it goes out on a surprisingly heavy bitter note.

This 2015 bottling is definitely the most white whiskey-like of the three renditions of this spirit I’ve sampled to date (which invariably veer in the direction of gin). And that is not necessarily a compliment.

90 proof. Available in California only until December 31.

B- / $55 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskeys

lovell bros Georgia Sour Mash WhiskeyAs the story goes, this line of “sour mash whiskeys” — basically liquor made from corn that’s cut with a little malted barley — got its start in Mt. Airy, Georgia thanks to Carlos Lovell, the son of a son of a son of a moonshiner who finally decided to take the 150-year-old family business legit. Lovell Bros. was officially launched in 2012 — when Carlos was 84 years old.

What you’re looking at is fancy moonshine, though Carlos would probably bristle at that term. Both of these products — one straight white dog, one lightly aged — are the real deal and incredible bargains alike.

Let’s taste.

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash (White Whiskey) – Rustic on the nose, this unaged whiskey feels like it’s going to be a moon-shiny heat bomb, but those aromas of grain and petrol lead to some surprising places. Namely, there’s lots of fruit on the palate of this white spirit, apples and peaches and coconut — before some gentle notes of roasted grains wash over the lot. The finish is warming and lengthy with hints of chocolate, soothing and coming across as anything but the firewater you might expect. As good a white whiskey as you’re going to find on the market today. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $23

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey – Take the above and age it for an unstated amount of time in old Jack Daniel’s barrels and you have this, distinguished by the brown color and the addition of the word “whiskey” to the name. A surprising degree of lumberyard wafts across the nose, washing back much of the inherent grain character present in the white dog. Some baking spice and vanilla notes mingle with the wood, too. But as with the white whiskey, the body again tells a different tale than the nose. Here we find stronger baking spices, more baked apples than fresh ones, and a woodsy, frontier character that arrives almost with a smoky note. Very young, but surprisingly easy to sip on — and with none of the lingering heat of the white dog. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5. B+ / $23

lovellbroswhiskey.com

Review: Wicked Spirits Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey, Wicked 84 1/2 Whiskey, and Wicked Lightning Moonshine

wicked tangoOh, how I’ve procrastinated on these reviews, a collection of light whiskeys and moonshines bottled by a Kansas company called Wicked Spirits, aka Wicked Tango. With their mascot, Dirty Darcy (ahem), Wicked wants to rule the college shot market with this collection of minimally aged spirits made from 100% corn. Before I lose my nerve, let’s dive in.

Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey – Light whiskey isn’t like light beer. Rather, it’s a type of whiskey that is distilled at higher proofs and aged in used barrels, rather than new ones. The impossibly dark in color Wicked 87 is an off-putting experience, starting things off with a gumball and cotton candy scented nose. On the tongue, an enormous butterscotch candy character overwhelms, lingering until it fades into something closer to a pink bubblegum character. Vanilla lingers on the finish — but it’s more like vanilla ice cream… melted, with lots of sprinkles. Clearly packaged as an alternative to Fireball and other “party whiskeys,” this one just goes too far into sugar land for more than a few sips. A shot would probably kill you from the sugar shock. 87 proof. C / $NA

Wicked 84 1/2 Premium Reserve American Light Whiskey – This tastes almost exactly the same as Wicked 87 though, surprisingly, the slight downtick in proof is noticeable. That slightly lower alcohol translates to slightly more sugar, though, so any “premium reserve” translates into “extra sweetness.” It’s hard to tell much of a difference vs. the 87 though, and this bottling doesn’t appear on the Wicked website, so it’s unclear if it’s even on the market any more. 84.5 proof. C / $NA

Wicked Lightning Moonshine – Slight popcorn on the nose. Buttered. Classic, lightly corny on the body, but quite mild thanks to it being watered down considerably. Who’s looking for underproof moonshine today? I’m unclear. Harmless, but a bit pointless. 60 proof. 60 proof. C+ / $24

Wicked Lightning Peach Pie Moonshine – Strong chemical flavoring notes on the nose, unlike any peach pie I’ve ever had. Imagine melted peach-flavored Jolly Ranchers, muddled with that popcorn character outlined above and you’ve got this oddity. 60 proof. C- / $24

Wicked Lightning Pumpkin Spice Moonshine – Pungent with cloves on the nose, and even more on the body. Earthy and spicy, it eventually evokes a character more akin to a a cinnamon roll than a pumpkin pie, but it’s close enough to merit at least some attention. 60 proof. C / $24

wickedtango.presspublisher.org

Review: Glory Irish Poitin

IrishGloryPoitin-0This poitin — Ireland’s answer to moonshine — comes from West Cork Distillers, whose aged whiskeys we reviewed a few months back. Pot-distilled from barley and beet sugar, it is bottled without aging.

The nose of Glory is incredibly pungent. Strong notes of fuel hit first, touched with just a bit of sweet vanilla. The body arrives with a rush of heat, more petrol notes, and some earthier notes — tree bark, forest floor, and a bit of mushroom. Some sweetness creeps in, but it’s hard to place specifically. Burnt sugar? Clove-dusted doughnuts? Who can say?

Poitin is rarely an elevated drinking experience, and Glory comes across largely as expected — on par with the white whiskey experience but dusted with a touch of sweet stuff.

80 proof.

C+ / $25 / mswalker.com

Review: Manhattan Moonshine

manhattan moonshineMoonshine connotes hillbillies cooking up corn in a crude oil drum still tucked away in the woods, high-test hooch bottled in a ceramic jug.

And then there’s Manhattan Moonshine, made “using a unique blend of four premium New York grains [including rye, spelt, and oats — but not corn] and innovative, modern production methods,” bottled in an art deco decanter, and on the shelves for 45 bucks. Decried already in a piece entitled “End times: Hipsters drinking craft moonshine,” this is white whiskey at its terminus, a product that offers an unaged spirit at four times the price of a bottle of Jim Beam. How does it stand up?

On the nose, Manhattan Moonshine offers some classic cereal character and plenty of raw alcohol, backed with notes of lemongrass and some oily sandalwood. On the palate, it’s surprisingly sweet — and gentle, considering the higher alcohol level. It doesn’t take long for the hallmarks of moonshine to come to the fore — intense cereal notes, some petrol character, and a pungent pepperiness. Some pet-like overtones — think about the smell when you walk into a veterinarian’s office, and I don’t mean that negatively — emerge with time. (Now, as I wrap up this tasting, it’s all I can think of.)

Overall, this is not a bad expression of moonshine (and a credible cocktail ingredient) in a market that is rife with overpriced rotgut. That said, at nearly $50 a bottle, it remains a tough sell no matter how fancy it looks.

95 proof.

B+ / $45 / manhattan-moonshine.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Troy & Sons Platinum, Oak Reserve, and Blonde Whiskey

troy and sons oak reserve

Asheville Distilling Company in North Carolina is behind the Troy & Sons brand, but there really is a Troy: Troy Ball, who happens to be a woman. She indeed has three sons.

This craft distillery is heavily focused on corn whiskey/moonshine, and relies on heirloom grains for all its distillate. To date the company has three products, two all-corn whiskeys and one wheat/corn whiskey called Blonde. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Troy & Sons Platinum Whiskey Heirloom Moonshine – Made from Crooked Creek heirloom white corn, cut with Appalachian spring water. Classic corn on the nose, with strong petroleum overtones. The body is gentler than you’d think, heavy on the popcorn but tempered with easy sweetness, some mushroom notes, green pepper, and a bit of raw ginger on the finish. Fairly typical of today’s “craft” moonshines, but not without quite a bit of charm. B / $30

Troy & Sons Oak Reserve Whiskey Heirloom Moonshine – Per the company, this is not entirely whiskey but rather “aged moonshine,” rested in ex-bourbon barrels for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give it a classic whiskey coloration. There’s a strong pungency on the nose — raw wood, vanilla extract, and licorice — but as with Platinum, the body belies a simpler, more gentle construction. Easy cereal notes and some licorice ultimately lead to lots of tannic astringency as the more raw flavors from the wood barrel come forth on the finish. B- / $35

Blonde Whiskey – Not bottled under the Troy & Sons label, but rather, in the fine print, under the Asheville Distilling banner. Made from a blend of heirloom Turkey red wheat and its white corn, Asheville claims to take very precise cuts of its distillate so that only the purest whiskey goes into barrel. The whiskey is then aged in barrels made with “honeycomb-laced staves,” time unstated. The avowed goal of Blonde is to create a whiskey “without bite or burn,” but some might ask, “What’s the point of that?” Either way, what Asheville has done is craft a whiskey that is loaded with grain character but balanced by more traditional American whiskey notes — baking spices, vanilla, and gingerbread. The finish is much less oppressive than the Oak Reserve reviewed above, but it’s still a few solid years of barrel time away from true maturity. B / $40

ashevilledistilling.com

Review: Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine

Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine1Hush is a new brand that now encompasses a half dozen flavors of moonshine, hailing from the realm of North Charleston, South Carolina. These are corn-based products (grain neutral spirits) that undergo a secret, “patented refining process called TerraPURE” before bottling. (Technically it can’t be both secret and patented, but this is flavored moonshine, so who’s counting?)

Anyhoo, Hush sent us one of its many flavors — spiced apple — for us to put to the test. Which we did.

Pure apple cider attacks the nose. That unmistakable cinnamon/clove/baked apple mix permeates the room and, soon enough, your palate as it takes hold once you begin sipping. Well-sugared but not quite over the top, Hush rumbles along, content to hold forth its autumnal agenda until, eventually, some of the more bitter elements start to hit more squarely on the finish. Things start to gum up at the back of the palate at this point, but that isn’t much of a surprise. This is a simple spirit with modest goals, and by and large it achieves them.

80 proof.

B / $19 / hushmoonshine.com