Review: J.T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey

Review: J.T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey

JT Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey

Bourbon has long defined the American whiskey business, though rye and single malts are fast-growing categories many drinkers are keeping close tabs on. But we may be witnessing the genesis of a newer homegrown spirit: American rice whiskey. With just a handful of producers, it’s a category whiskey drinkers can explore in a single sitting, with the opportunity to try some of the first-ever expressions to hit the mass market.

Today we’re reviewing J.T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey, a 100% rice distillate aged in charred oak barrels. (Sound familiar?) While rice whiskey is commonplace in countries like Japan, producing it America (and in the style of American whiskey) is a relatively novel concept.

Though the spirit is new, at least one producer has quite the history behind it. Louisiana-based J.T. Meleck Distillers was founded by fourth-generation rice farmer Mike Frugé, whose great, great uncle John began growing rice on a 20 acre plot in 1896. Today, Frugé and his family still grow rice (and crawfish) on the land, albeit with a much-expanded farm.

Frugé says the decision to turn some of their crop to spirits is similar to what American farmers have been doing for centuries: converting grain to something with greater economic potential. “We didn’t start this just as a hobby to be something cool that we did on the side in our backyard,” Frugé told Drinkhacker. “We were looking for a way to add value to our rice crop.”

Like many upstart craft distilleries, J.T. Meleck’s first spirit was a rice vodka, which we reviewed in 2021. Now, their first wide-release whiskey is on the market with a four-year age statement. It’s a truly grain-to-glass product: the rice is grown, distilled, barreled, and aged in Southern Louisiana, a climate the makers hope contributes to a unique aging environment.

According to Frugé, the distillery is holding back about 30 percent of their aging stock to see how additional age — 6, 8, and even 10 years — impacts the spirit, so we may be seeing significantly older American rice whiskey in the future.

The bottle tasted is from Batch 222. J.T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey carries a four-year age statement, is bottled at 96 proof, and retails for $47 for a 750ml bottle. Let’s dive in.

On the nose, there’s a rich and consistent sweetness from the very beginning. Despite the whiskey’s relatively dark color, there’s almost no perceptible oak scent; that barrel influence will have to come on the palate. Nosing again gives sweet caramel, praline, and just a little baking spice, all backed with a perceptible note of ethanol (but not in an entirely unpleasant way). I also get a nice bit of caramel corn, enough so that I had to remind myself this is from 100% rice distillate. There are a number of subtle layers here, and this certainly doesn’t smell like any four year old bourbons or ryes I’ve tried recently.

The first sip brings a fairly thin mouthfeel that coats the palate quickly in a subdued sweetness; there’s that caramel and praline. Again, I don’t get much oak at all, though I’m curious if the forthcoming older expressions will have more pronounced wood notes. At four years, the rice distillate clearly doesn’t carry it the same way as corn or rye. Subsequent sips bring more sweet notes: brown sugar, perhaps a little rice pudding with cinnamon. The taste of cocoa powder is present, but it’s not a rich chocolate. And then there’s the slightest bit of fruitiness here that moves back to the front of the tongue.

The finish is longer than that initial mouthfeel suggests. It’s warming with cinnamon notes, and it feels like you just finished a bit of that same rice pudding, or even a warm holiday eggnog with ground nutmeg on top. It’s creamy with a sweetened dairy quality that I don’t get until the very end, but it sticks with you nicely.

J.T. Meleck’s four-year rice whiskey is a pleasant head scratcher. Without context, some bourbon or rye drinkers might be let down by a perceived lack of complexity. And you certainly aren’t getting that big, bold spice that built the reputation of American bourbon and rye.

But this isn’t a bourbon, rye, or single malt, and comparing it to those — at least directly — would be a disservice. This is a new(ish) and growing category of American whiskey, and J.T. Meleck has produced a fascinating and very drinkable spirit in its own right. I’ve been working my way through it and finding new, subtle flavors almost every time. I doubt my bottle will last much longer.

For a very reasonable $47 — practically a bargain among craft distillers these days — this is a whiskey that’s almost begging you to give it a shot. I’d recommend doing so.

96 proof.

A- / $47 /

J.T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Whiskey




David Tao is a writer for Drinkhacker.


  1. Jason Polk on December 22, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve been a whiskey enthusiast for some time. With that being said I’m excited about this rice whiskey that sets the sour mash aside. It’s a long lasting flavor that awakens my palet with a remarkable sweet flavor and several tasty familiar spices. Definitely brings the eggnog hint to mind. This is a must try whiskey.

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