“Mexican whiskey” isn’t just a euphemism for tequila. Turns out our neighbors to the south really do make honest-to-God whiskey, none of which is more visible than Sierra Norte, which markets three different expressions made from different strains of corn native to Oaxaca — white, yellow, and black. (The mash for each is 85% corn and 15% malted barley.)
The whiskeys are double pot distilled and aged in French oak, but bottles do not carry age statements. Let’s try them all.
Each is 90 proof.
Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey White Corn – Charred corn and tons of barrel influence lead off on the nose, offering the immediate impression of a young microdistilled American whiskey. While those notes continue to dominate on the tongue, the palate finds room for more nuance, including some fruity apricot and peach notes — though these are on the lighter side, appearing more clearly as the finish arrives. That said, there’s a ton of heat here, notes of black pepper complementing that popcorn character with a dusting of spice. Water (be generous) helps on all fronts, tempering the more youthful characteristics in the whiskey considerably. Reviewed: Barrel #4, Batch #2. B- / $47
Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Yellow Corn – Fresher and more floral on the nose, the barrel notes take a back seat on the nose this time around: The immediate impression is one of a young bourbon, but with a significantly spicy edge. The palate finds a significantly sweeter whiskey than the white corn version, with notes of butterscotch and a light vanilla note, filtered through notes of barrel char and a heavier spice profile than the nose would indicate — think cloves and allspice here, not cinnamon. The finish is shorter than the white corn version but quite clean, with a toasted nut element to it. Definitely the top pick of the bunch. Reviewed: Barrel #3, Batch #2. B+ / $38
Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Black Corn – Immediately quite odd on the nose, with notes of boiled meat and cooked vegetables masking a modest wood profile… but nothing much that immediately screams whiskey. The palate is a bit more engaging, though again it puts forward a bizarre character of overripe fruit, baking spice, and canned carrots. The finish is hot and full of that spice, charred wood, and pepper (red and black). What to make of all of this? I’m not totally sure, but there are mysterious moments of genius somewhere in the mix. Reviewed: Barrel #6, Batch #3. C / $48