In recent years, there’s been no shortage of new distilleries opening in Kentucky, but Wilderness Trail is probably one of the more unique. There’s no family bourbon lore or grandpappy’s recipe in their About section, and the distillery, located in Danville, Kentucky, isn’t the easiest stop on the Bourbon Trail. Although they’ve been distilling since 2013, founders Pat Heist and Shane Baker wanted their first release to be a bottled-in-bond bourbon, so they didn’t actually have whiskey on the shelf until early 2018. Since that time, they’ve released two bourbons and one rye, all of which are produced using sweet mashing instead of the almost universal sour mash process. They were the first Kentucky distillery to embrace sweet mash, which supposedly creates a softer and cleaner spirit, but others like Kentucky Peerless are embracing the process, too. Bucking tradition, especially in Kentucky, might seem like a gamble, but the owners also happen to operate a well-respected consulting company specializing in fermentation, so they clearly know what they’re doing. We recently received three samples from the guys at Wilderness Trail straight off their tasting bar at the distillery. Let’s drink!
Wilderness Trail Straight Rye Whiskey– This is a single barrel, cask strength four-year-old rye whiskey with one of the lowest entry proofs (100 proof) in the industry. It’s a Kentucky-style rye with only 56% rye content in the mashbill. On the nose it’s bright with notes of lemon peel, baking spice, and new leather. As it opens up, things get more dessert-y with some vanilla custard and orange creamsicle. The brightness carries through to the palate with a big burst of orange citrus and clove. The mid-palate introduces a little chili pepper and some barrel char heading into a light, yet creamy, medium-length finish with lingering notes of flamed orange peel. Single barrel so your mileage may vary. 112 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15D17. A- / $63 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – The mashbill for this bourbon includes 24% wheat. It was pot distilled (they’ve since moved to column distillation), aged four years, and went into the barrel at a low 110 proof. There’s some youthful, sweet grain in the nose, but it’s also savory and buttery with salted caramel and cinnamon rolls. The palate is thick and oily with buttered popcorn, more chewy caramel, and a bit of polished wood. It’s not overly complex, but the flavors that are present are nicely balanced and complemented by just the right amount of smoldering, back-of-the-throat heat. The finish is medium-long with a touch of wintergreen and cherry candy. Again, this is a single barrel, so your mileage may vary. 100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #14I07. B+ / $48 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond– The Small Batch is the only whiskey from this distillery that isn’t drawn from a single barrel, but it’s close enough with only 12 barrels in each batch. The mashbill includes 24% rye, and like the above reviewed bourbon, it went into the barrel at only 110 proof. The nose is savory with cracked pepper, graham cracker, and a little sweet mesquite smoke. The palate shows less youth than the wheated bourbon and is dominated by sugary fruits: orange, cherry, peach, and even a little pineapple. Underneath that, a layer of baking spice and pipe tobacco add to the complexity. It’s lighter than the wheated bourbon, but in no way thin, with a long finish of dried orchard fruits and cinnamon candies. I’m excited to revisit this one in a few years. 100 proof. Reviewed: Batch #D01. A- / $48 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]