Starlight Distillery in Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, is one of the more unique craft distilleries I’ve encountered. It’s the latest innovation to emerge from Huber’s Orchard, Winery, and Vineyards, a 600-acre farm now in its 7th generation. If you looked up “agritourism” in the dictionary (remember those?), I imagine there’s a picture of this place. They grow about everything that can be grown in Indiana soil with a sprawling distillery and winery on site complete with multiple tasting rooms, gift shops, and restaurant (think Cracker Barrel with some whiskey and wine-themed antiques on the walls).
In the mid-1990s, Huber’s began distilling brandies from their own vineyards and worked with Indiana legislators to get craft distilling legislation passed. By the early 2000s, the farm’s Starlight Distillery was in the brandy business, producing a rainbow of flavors that became wildly successful with their winery and farm patrons. Once legislation passed allowing for distillation of grain-based spirits, Starlight expanded its liquor production in 2014 to gin, vodka, and whiskey. Since that time, they have produced a dizzying variety of whiskeys, to include the standard bourbon, rye, and malt (in bonded, cask strength, and double oaked offerings, among others) plus a plethora of unique barrel finishes. While several small batch whiskeys have seen limited distribution, their single barrel program, which includes the option for partial barrel shares, has made them a darling of whiskey clubs big and small across the country.
On a recent visit, we snagged a small batch bourbon and rye emblematic of what you should be able to find on store shelves where Starlight distributes, as well as a cask strength, single barrel bourbon, and rye more typical of the private picks you might encounter. Thoughts follow.
Starlight Distillery Carl T. Bourbon Whiskey – A unique blend of two different mashbills, one 60% corn, 20% rye, and 20% malted barley and the other a four grain recipe of 51% corn, 20% rye, 20% malted barley, and 9% wheat. Aged at least four years in 53-gallon new charred American Oak barrels. The aroma is light with an airy, vanilla bean sweetness. Things are cereal-forward but not gritty or undercooked, promising more depth with a little more maturity. The palate is very much the same with sweet creamed corn, peanut brittle, and caramel candies. There’s a nice balance here and a gentle, even heat. A bit of rye spice on the finish leads to fading notes of orange pulp and brown sugar. Showing promise but in need of just a bit more barrel time. 92 proof. Batch #225. B / $35
Starlight Distillery Old Rickhouse Rye Whiskey – Made from a mashbill of 85% rye and 15% malted barley and aged at least four years in 53-gallon new charred American oak barrels. The aroma is straightforward with bready rye spice, grassy dill notes, and a generous caramel sweetness. The herbal quality on the nose is fairly muted on the palate, replaced by baking spice and a peppery warmth. The oak is a touch punchy, adding some astringency to a mid-palate that dries things out a little too early on the finish. A classic rye, solid for cocktailing. 92 proof. Batch #0214. B / $35
Starlight Distillery Rickhouse Select Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel – There’s no information on the specific mashbill for this bourbon, just that it’s made from a “sweet corn mash” and aged for at least four years in 53-gallon new charred American oak barrels. It is bottled non-chill-filtered at cask strength. The higher octane hangs over the aroma with spicy notes of grilled corn, cinnamon toast, and overcooked butterscotch pudding. There’s a bit of a smoky quality laced throughout that sweetens as things open in the glass. The palate is punchy with alcohol and a torched sugar sweetness that skews toward citrus with notes of brûléed sugar and flamed orange peel. A little water brings out some Bananas Foster and toasted marshmallow. The finish is peppery but turns to muddled mint in short order with a lingering note of barrel char and sugar cookie. 110.2 proof. Barrel #17262. B+ / $50
Starlight Distillery Old Rickhouse Rye Whiskey Single Barrel – Also no information on the specific mashbill for this one, just that it is “high rye.” Again, this has been aged at least four years in 53-gallon new charred American oak barrels and bottled without chill filtration at cask strength. That added alcohol creates a burly character on the nose that’s less bready with toasty barrel char and bigger barrel notes that evoke Snickerdoodle cookies. The dill is there, but it’s mostly buried under notes of strong black tea and a bit of pipe smoke. On the palate, there’s a nice harmony between the barrel and the rye spice with a burst of green peppercorn, RedHots, and clove chewing gum at the outset that simmers with ample warmth into a lingering finish of toffee, cinnamon stick, and toasted oak. 111.6 proof. Barrel #17256. A- / $50