Despite the American whiskey scene in 2023 being more equitable than ever, there’s still a great deal of gender imbalance. This isn’t necessarily an indictment, but rather the reality of an only recently popular category that was largely built in the American South by predominantly white males. While women seem to be increasingly visible in bourbon, with talent like Marianne Eaves earning mainstream press coverage her male counterparts could only dream of, the fact of the matter is that the giants of American whiskey often like to pigeonhole women in the industry as master tasters and blenders.
So, whether you think the industry is “doing its best” or “evolving at a snail’s pace,” it’s cool to see the launch of a label like Michigan’s Highline Spirits. A quick glance at their staff page features women from top to bottom, an aesthetic that I’d argue would not exist within male-led/targeted branding, and what appears to be a keen eye for sourcing and blending. Which, while great, is all largely irrelevant if the liquid inside that well-adorned bottle isn’t up to snuff. So let’s take a look at two of their four launch expressions, a bourbon and a triple rye.
Highline Bourbon – A blend of two high-rye Indiana bourbons and what they state is a “heritage Kentucky bourbon with high malt barley content,” Highline’s inaugural bourbon offering is prototypical on the nose: all caramel, oak, baking spice and maybe just a hint of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. The slight oakiness really blooms, and almost overwhelms the palate. This would honestly be fine, great even, if it weren’t all so paper-thin. This distinct lack of chew is bookmarked by a stinging black pepper finish which makes the whole thing feel hot as opposed to lingering. Given the age statements of 5-, 6-, and 8-year bourbons being featured in the blend, this is surprising, and the texture of the bottle is clearly defined by the 8-year old distillate. Simultaneously a promising inaugural offering and a slight disappointment given the building blocks. 100 proof. B / $67
Highline Triple Rye – The lack of a mashbill is notable for this expression, a blend of 5-, 5 ½-, and 10-year old ryes. Why is that odd? Because it tastes like it’s composed of predominantly 95/5 rye. Spearmint on the nose, spearmint on the finish, in addition to some nice grape soda and salty cocoa notes. Like the bourbon, it’s let down by an insubstantial mouthfeel that’s a little more forgivable for this less robust, brighter rye. The price point is a pain point given the similarities to other, cheaper sourced offerings, but even so, it’s a promising indicator of the sandbox Highline aims to play in. 97 proof. B / $83