Review: Rock Town Bourbons – Small Batch, Toasted French Oak, and Cask Strength

Review: Rock Town Bourbons – Small Batch, Toasted French Oak, and Cask Strength


Rock Town Distillery is not new to bourbon; the distillery started in 2010 in Little Rock, Arkansas and produces bourbon, as well as vodka and liqueurs. But then recently, the founder took a trip to Kentucky. The story goes like this:

In March of 2020, Rock Town’s Founder and Head Distiller Phil Brandon embarked on a trip to bourbon country in Kentucky to find a way to make more bourbon to meet the growing demand for Rock Town spirits. He discovered the Collaborative Distilling Program offered by Bardstown Bourbon Company and realized that he could use his own bourbon recipe along with Arkansas-grown grains to produce quality bourbon.

Working with our grain partners at Stratton Seed from Stuttgart, Arkansas, 180,000 lbs. of Arkansas-grown corn and wheat were trucked 500 miles to Bardstown, Kentucky. And so, the adventure began: making Arkansas bourbon in the heart of Kentucky.

The first cook was started on March 12th, 2020, and after cooking and fermenting, the team used the column stills at Bardstown to distill the white dog, which was then cut to 110 proof before filling new charred oak barrels from Kelvin Cooperage and Gibbs Brothers Cooperage. The bourbon was then aged back in Little Rock at Rock Town Distillery’s downtown barrelhouse.

The result is Rock Town’s new Column Still series that proudly touts the collaboration with Bardstown featuring Arkansas grains and Brandon’s recipe.

For better or worse, the bar’s been set on this new endeavor; time to see how things stack up.

Rock Town Small Batch Bourbon – The nose leads with a friendly and bright burnt caramel crunch accented with spearmint, and maybe a touch of malty chocolate a la Milky Way. It’s a very deceptively civil introduction to the explosive scramble that follows on the palate of hot cinnamon that is met helter skelter with cayenne-coated walnuts and more of that burnt caramel candy. The spicy sweetness dissipates like watching a stampede of horses melt into the dusty sunset, and then settles into muted leather and oak notes with the slightest touch of unsweetened vanilla extract. This is quite the caravan of complexity and flavors, an unexpected but pleasant ride. For all that kick, there is no intrusion of acetone or ethanol, just flat out bold spice and heat. All that at just 92 proof. A- / $40

Rock Town Toasted French Oak Barrel Finish Bourbon – So what happens when you take this straight bourbon with an outsized personality, finish it in toasted French oak, and notch up the proof? The nose is surprisingly understated compared to the small batch. Barely any spice and more of a marshmallow sweetness instead of caramel. But then things definitely spin out on the palate. The cinnamon and pepper spiciness is weighted down with a hint of prune, although the red hot cinnamon profile is unmistakable. A more bitter rendition of leather and oak pops out in the finish, which is in line with the toasted oak treatment. Another fun pour and sitting boldly but balanced at 100 proof. A- / $60

Rock Town Single Barrel Bourbon Cask Strength – This is going to be interesting. Given the range of profiles in the other presumably blended expressions, what are we going to find with a single barrel? Yet again, the nose offers up tender greetings, this time treading more conventionally along bourbon notes, which can be summarized in the softer creamier spectrum of caramel, more Werther’s candies than burnt nut brittle candies. (And honestly, I swear I smell “water” – some sort of dilution. Impossible I know, but there is a distinct anti-aroma pulling all the scents back.) As we have learned by now, third time is a fiery charm with all the pop and heat of jalapeno meeting cinnamon. The interesting aspect of all this heat is that it is spice-forward with very little hint of the ethanol and acetone notes of alcohol. I find this commendable, all the pizzazz with none of the clinical after-taste. The finish is similarly graceful in its exit, no sudden dissipation of red hots, which linger committedly and softly on the oaky leather base along with a hint of unsweetened cocoa. 114 proof. A- / $70

All in all, this is a solid collaboration, but who knows if the well-crafted boldness in these expressions is owing to Bardstown’s mastery of distillation or some special character in Arkansas corn. No matter, these are worthy pours regardless.

Rock Town Single Barrel Bourbon Cask Strength




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