Review: New Riff Heirloom Bourbons – Yellow Leaming and Blue Clarage

Review: New Riff Heirloom Bourbons – Yellow Leaming and Blue Clarage

New Riff loves pumping out special releases, and its latest takes a cue from the world of heirloom grains. Specifically, both of these are made from rare, regional, heirloom corn crops called, alternately, Yellow Leaming and Blue Clarage.

Here’s some backstory:

Both bottled in bond without chill filtration at 100 proof, the Yellow Leaming and Blue Clarage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeys were distilled from rare, regional heirloom corn crops and finely crafted into equally rare bourbons, introducing unprecedented flavors and connecting the distillery to its agricultural origins of whiskey making from centuries passed.

“The wider whiskey industry is waking up to the possibilities and flavors inherent of old grains, old ingredients from a century ago,” said co-founder Jay Erisman. “Heirloom grains are a direct ticket to different flavors, yet of great authenticity and reality. We are proud to do our part to preserve the past while continuing to highlight our brand’s commitment to industry-leading innovation.”

Originally a derivative of a Native American corn dating back to 1824, the Yellow Leaming heirloom varietal used in this latest exploration was entirely sourced and grown for New Riff by a local farming partner, Charles Fogg, of Greensburg, Indiana.

“Yellow Leaming, one of the greatest corns in American agricultural history would eventually go on to form the basis for the standard of modern American yellow dent corn, and it came from right here in Hamilton County, Greater Cincinnati, Ohio,” Erisman said.

The Ohio Valley Blue Clarage varietal, developed in the 1920s by farmer Edmund Clarridge in Clinton County, Ohio, birthed the second heirloom grain release from a more circuitous route to the distillery, lending a marked difference to the whiskey compared to New Riff’s standard recipe, replete with fruited, spicy tones.

“We were given 150 pounds of the blue corn as seed stock from farmer Tony West at Appalachian Heirloom Plant Farm,” Erisman said. “Charles Fogg took this seed stock and grew it into a crop that sustained our singular production of this whiskey for years. Often associated with the Southwest United States region and Mexico, blue corn comes from right here in our homeland in the Ohio Valley, too.”

The heirloom Yellow Leaming corn, at five years of age, has led to a classic New Riff high-rye bourbon of exceptional depth and balance. For the heirloom Blue Clarage corn, Erisman describes the nose as “providing an extra layer of fruitiness, juxtaposed against the clove-led spices of the 30% rye grain.”

The Yellow Leaming Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made with 65% heirloom Yellow Leaming corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. The Blue Clarage Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made with 65% heirloom Blue Clarage corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Both whiskeys are aged five years and must be purchased at the distillery.


Which tastes better, yellow or blue? We put them side by side to find out. Both are 100 proof.

New Riff Yellow Leaming Bourbon – Really, surprisingly sweet. Maple is exuberant on the nose, alongside notes of caramel, ample vanilla, and overripe stone fruit. Similar on the palate, there’s an immediate peachiness and apricot quality, then plenty more of that maple, followed by some classic peanut — almost honeyed peanut butter — notes. The nuttiness endures into the finish, which is lengthy and just a bit hot, with lots of lingering sweetness to boot. Still quite fruity on the fade-out, though less distinctive. Certainly harmless, but nothing special. B

New Riff Blue Clarage Bourbon – Considerably more brooding and more complex, the rye in the mash is far more evident here, and that’s a good thing. At once toasty, grassy, and sweet, the nose is rich and complex — sweet but with an undercurrent of barbecue spice rub. Everything coalesces far more cleanly on the palate, showcasing peanut brittle, baking spice, and a savory, pumpernickel bread note. Slightly smoky on the palate, with notes of cocoa powder and some graphite, moving slowly into that inimitable chocolate-meets-peanut putter Reese’s quality. Touches of fruit in the mix — mostly apple, both fresh and baked. It’s a little corny on the finish, but not at all unpleasant, adding a pop of Cracker Jack into a nicely well-rounded experience. Definitively superior to Yellow Leaming in every dimension. A-

each $56 /

New Riff Yellow Leaming Bourbon




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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