The craft whiskey business is a brutal waiting game. While large distilleries continue to churn out quality product, often at a lower cost to the consumer, craft whiskey makers are forced to simply watch barrels full of money age in their warehouses, hoping their gin or vodka (or someone else’s whiskey in their bottles) will keep the lights on in the meantime. Some craft distillers are even bottling a less-than-perfect product too early and hoping the marketing makes up for it in the long run. This doesn’t exactly help the craft business overall. There are, however, those craft distillers who have found a way to produce a young whiskey well worth the asking price. One of those is Seventeen Twelve Spirits in Conover, North Carolina.
Named for the year North Carolina became a distinct entity from the Carolina colony, Seventeen Twelve Spirits uses only grains grown by local farmers in North Carolina. Their roots are as traditional as any, born out of the moonshining legendary in the western part of the state, but their maturation technique is one of the newest in the industry. None of the whiskey in their Seventeen Twelve North Carolina Bourbon is much more than a year old, but it looks and drinks like something significantly older due to the use of yellow birch finishing staves which they toast and suspend inside standard 53 gallon barrels. Taking a play from an industry heavy hitter like Maker’s Mark (Maker’s 46 uses French oak finishing staves in a smilar manner), they are attempting to crack the code on very young bourbon that actually tastes good.
At only 10 months old, the color on my sample of Seventeen Twelve Spirits North Carolina Bourbon is already a light caramel; the first sign of the benefits from the finishing staves. The nose is at first sweet corn, which is probably where a whiskey this young should end, but it develops into notes of fresh ground cinnamon and vanilla custard. The body is understandably light, but the palate is surprisingly complex and flavorful. More cinnamon sugar and vanilla bean emerge with layers of sweet oak, baking spice, toasted marshmallow, and a floral hint of honeysuckle. There’s a slight heat on the very back end, a little black pepper from the rye spice, and a rich oiliness, all of which makes for a generous and enjoyable finish. The toasted yellow birch is clearly a secret ingredient here, imparting a lot of older bourbon flavors into what is one of the best young bourbons I’ve ever tasted.
A- / $33