Chattanooga Whiskey recently announced new releases for their Experimental Batch line. Now up to 27 total expressions, these releases include a variety of house-distilled spirits with unique distillates, finishes, infusions, and blends. We’ve previously reviewed their Founder’s 10th Anniversary Blend and Whiskey 91 & Cask 111 expressions, though their experimental line features spirits with much more offbeat backgrounds.
The latest — Batch 027, released October 2022 — started with a straight bourbon whiskey aged for “over two years” in toasted and charred oak cooperage. (So one would assume it’s still younger than a three year old whiskey.) While the exact mashbill isn’t disclosed, the grains used were yellow corn, single source Italian Eraclea malted barley, and malted rye. Chattanooga Whiskey emphasizes they classify this distillate as “high malt.”
Here’s where things get interesting. After the initial aging process, the bourbon was transferred to separate finishing casks originally holding dessert wine: 57% of the blend was finished in Portuguese Moscatel de Setúbal casks, and 43% was finished in French Sauternes casks. Total finishing times were between 19 and 24 months before the finished bourbon was “reunited,” or blended back together. The entire batch size for release 027 is just seven barrels.
That’s quite the pedigree, and Chattanooga Whiskey isn’t afraid to take big swings with their experimental line. Let’s see how the finished product — bottled at 110 proof — holds up in taste.
On the nose, there’s a lot you’d expect from the dessert wine finishes. Cinnamon, toasted spices, black and white pepper, and a big hit of clove stand front and center. There’s also some dark red fruit, like sniffing a recently emptied glass of Port wine. There’s a little young oak from the bourbon itself, but that’s playing second fiddle at this point. Nose again (deeply), and there’s some pine, but it doesn’t cool the nostrils so as to overpower other scents. Overall, this is a bit like smelling a spicy, sticky, and probably very tasty pepper jam.
The first sip gives off white raisin (the brand tasting notes were spot on here), more toasted spices and clove, a little cinnamon, then dried sumac. Again, it’s all dessert wine up front. The mouth is thick and syrupy at the beginning, and I’m getting some strong notes of malt here. But that viscosity dissipates rather quickly, and certainly faster than I would have preferred.
The nose and initial flavor felt so familiar, I was scratching my head as to what they reminded me of. Then it hit me. The whole thing is reminiscent of Chinese five-spice powder: star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds are all present in some capacity. It’s certainly an interesting ride at the beginning.
The finish is where the wine influence falls away and the young bourbon itself comes through. And again, those dessert wine flavors dip rather suddenly. Green oak, some corn sweetness, and a touch of grass hit the palate, and the consistency is much thinner compared to the first mouthfeel. There’s very little of the richness, spice, and complexity from the wine finishes here, and I found myself trying to chase those down with the finish on every sip.
I’m not an old whiskey purist, and even this year, I’ve had some younger straight bourbons that knocked my socks off. But there’s just not a lot of depth on this finish. Certain parts of the nose and mid-palate of this whiskey carry heavy rye and malt notes, but it’s almost all young oak at the end.
In my opinion, finished whiskey can only hit the highs of the liquid that went into it. This experimental whiskey boasts a big pop in immediate flavor but just drops off at the end, likely due to the young liquid that went into the finishing barrels. (Again, the initial aging process was under three years.) It’s bourbon that just doesn’t have enough age to match that complexity all the way, so the characteristics of the dessert wine barrels hit and then the rest falls a bit flat.
Despite its limits, this was a downright fun bottle to taste and review, though it’s impossible to escape the desire to try this with older bourbon. After the first nose and initial sip, I thought there was something borderline amazing happening here, and the split of the two dessert wine barrels is quite smart. When and if Chattanooga Whiskey incorporates older spirit into these experiments, we may have some magic on our hands.
Chattanooga Whiskey’s Experimental Batch releases are available exclusively at the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery.
B / $70 / chattanoogawhiskey.com