Review: Heritage Distilling Rye and Bourbon Whiskies and Crisp Gin

Heritage Distilling makes a veritable ton of spirits in its Gig Harbor, Washington home, and by that I mean it actually makes them. This isn’t sourced or finished whiskey and gin, it’s the real deal, bringing in grains from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, mashed and fermented on site, and distilled in a copper column still. In other words: Everything here is a legit craft spirit.

Today we take a spin through a selection of Heritage’s product line, including five American whiskies as well as one of the company’s four gins.

Heritage Distilling BSB Brown Sugar Bourbon – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, this whiskey is aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels, then cut to 30% abv, with natural brown sugar and cinnamon flavors added. Pure Christmas on the nose, with intense cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg notes, plus a clear brown sugar overtone. The palate is very sweet, just shy of being overwhelming, and the cinnamon and sugar notes are omnipresent from the start. This of course comes at the expense of being able to taste any of the whiskey itself, which is common with heavily flavored spirits like this, although there’s a nutty, lightly corny character on the back end that at least hints at the underlying spirit. No “fireball” heat here, mind you — the experience is closer to a liquified gingerbread house than anything approaching red hots. 60 proof. B+ / $34

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley (likely the same as in BSB), then aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels. This whiskey comes across as a bit more mature than it actually is, though the very dry, popcorn-heavy nose pushes the focus to the barrel char underneath. On the palate, again it’s quite dry, with pushy lumberyard notes, forest floor and tree bark notes, and hints of gingerbread, Christmas cake, and dried fruit notes lingering as those pushy, wood-driven notes start to fade. The finish is a bit nutty — keeping the theme from the BSB bottling — but the lack of any real sweetness causes it to fade away a bit too quickly. This is clearly a well-made spirit, though it’s simply bottled too young. Would love to see this as a four year old. 92 proof. B / $30

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye and barley (no corn), aged less than two years in charred oak barrels. While the Elk Rider Bourbon may be dry, this rye is over the top dusty, a sawdust-infused monster that offers a nose of spice-dusted lumber and a palate of the same. Here, the body takes those intense cloves and heavy barrel char and complements them with notes of menthol, bitter roots, rhubarb, and wet wool. Clearly a work in progress. 92 proof. C+ / $33

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Bourbon Whiskey – (These are sometimes denoted as the Double Barrel Collection but are otherwise the same.) The next two whiskeys start out much like their Elk Rider brethren above, but are then barreled for a second time in barrels that were previously used to age 15 pounds of pure vanilla beans. Lots of butterscotch on the nose here, with just a hint of barrel char and some surprising peanut butter aromas emerging. The palate offers considerably more sweetness than Elk Rider, and also more of those candylike notes, with notes of chocolate and Snickers bars layered atop toasty notes of brown butter and charred marshmallows. The wood-heavy barrel notes finally get their kicks in on the drying finish, which is equal parts sweet and savory. Overall, this whiskey is quite a surprise, and one of the better craft bourbons you’ll find on the market today. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Rye Whiskey – Aged the same way as the Dual Barrel Bourbon above. This whiskey is softer and sweeter than the Elk Rider version, though it still carries a modest barrel-driven character (particularly on the nose) as a backbone to a body that features plenty of that classic rye spice, heavy with cloves, spearmint, and some licorice character. This segues toward notes of caramel and milk chocolate on a finish that otherwise tends to keep things close to its barrel-driven roots taking the whiskey out with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Crisp Gin – Distilled from 100% Washington grains, with traditional (but largely unrevealed) London Dry style botanicals. Especially medicinal on the nose, with heavy notes of camphor. Very herbal on the nose and on the tongue, it isn’t until the finish that some citrus notes finally push through, offering a touch of sweetness against what is otherwise an overwhelmingly pungent and savory experience. A tough nut to crack but one which might find the right home in, say, a Negroni. 94 proof. C / $28

heritagedistilling.com

Review: Peach Street Distillers Tub Gin

Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, Colorado is well known for its whiskey, but it also makes a complement of gins, including this limited edition expression called Tub. The gin is hopped and includes “plum spirits,” but otherwise the company keeps the botanical bill and production information close to the vest on this one.

The hops are light on the nose. What comes forth aromatically is more of a light blend of evergreen notes and fresh tobacco, some hospital character with overtones of overripe oranges and peaches.

The palate never fully gels either. Very dry, it starts off with only a modest character of perfumed white flowers and some light baking spice. Then, just like that, it is all whisked away by notes of lavender, some funky earth (driven by the hops), and a very dry and bitter finish. The juniper and strong citrus peel notes of a classic gin aren’t here at all, and while I understand Peach Street was aiming for something else entirely different from a London Dry, what they’ve ended up with doesn’t ever really engage, either on its own or as a mixer.

80 proof.

C+ / $33 / peachstreetdistillers.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Junipero Gin San Francisco Strength

Craft gin arguably got its start with Junipero, one of the earlier products to come out of San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling. Made in the London Dry style, it was the first post-Prohibition craft gin to be distilled in the United States, and it’s still going strong.

Now 20 years old, Anchor Distilling’s Junipero Gin brand has long kept its botanical bill close to the vest. Well, two decades of sales have finally convinced someone to open the books. At last, Junipero’s botanical ingredients have been revealed, and they are: juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, dried lemon peel, sweet orange peel, seville orange peel, cubeb, cassia bark, cardamom, anise seed, and grains of paradise. Nothing too surprising in there, but the real secret with Junipero is not what’s inside the bottle, but rather what proportions are used to so deftly balance this spirit.

The nose is equal parts juniper and citrus — a rarity in a time when gins tend to swing wildly one way or the other — with smoldering, peppery aromas lingering underneath. The palate is bold, thanks to a near-50% “San Francisco Strength” abv, again with a bold juniper character that really defines the experience. The peppery cubeb and coriander come on strong after that, leading to a finish that is modestly bitter with citrus peel notes and savory herbs.

All told, it’s a definitive craft gin worth stocking on the back bar — and it comes at a completely reasonable price.

98.6 proof.

A- / $27 / anchordistilling.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: By The Dutch Old Genever and Batavia Arrack

Everything old is new again, not only with classic spirits brands returning to the market but also with the revival of long-forgotten types of spirits, too. Among them are genever and Batavia arrack, a type of gin and rum, respectively, which are both resurging in the industry.

By The Dutch is a new brand founded in 2015 “with the purpose of producing traditional spirits with a Dutch heritage. These spirits are distilled and handcrafted primarily in Schiedam, South Holland, a village known as Genever-Town.” The company’s first two releases, Old Genever and Batavia Arrack Indonesian Rum with the U.S. market.

If you need a little primer on genever and arrack, read on:

The origin of English Gin is Dutch Genever. In 1650, Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch doctor, created Dutch Genever as a medicine that was used by soldiers in the Thirty Years War. English troops hailed the spirit for its warming properties and calming effects, thus the phrase, “Dutch Courage.”

Batavia was the name of the capital city of the Dutch East Indies, and corresponds to today’s city of Jakarta. Batavia became the center of the Dutch East India Company trading network in Asia and commerce of Batavia Arrack was entirely in hands of the Dutch VOC. Almost all arrack exported to Europe arrived in Amsterdam or Rotterdam in wooden barrels, where it would then be matured and blended to create a spirit of consistent quality and fine flavor.

And now, for some reviews of these specific expressions:

By The Dutch Old Genever – “A handcrafted blend of pure malt wine and a distillate of Juniper berries and other botanicals, made according to a secret recipe dating back to 1942.” Quite malty on the nose, with heavy hospital notes and overtones of melon, banana, and pineapple. The palate continues the ultra-malty, layering in notes of juniper (quite mild), licorice, and some fleeting notes of cloves. The genever is round on the tongue, but the ultimate flavor profile is quite mild and limited in both its overall power and its interest level. There’s better genever out there. 76 proof. C+ / $27

By The Dutch Batavia Arrack Indonesia Rum – This is “a sugarcane molasses-based distillate produced exclusively on the island of Java, Indonesia. Setting it apart from the standard sugarcane rum is the addition of local red rice in the fermentation process. The Master Blender ages Batavia Arrack in oak barrels for up to 8 years, creating an extremely rich rum, deep in flavor, with a lovely, lingering finish.” On the nose: pungent and “rummy,” with big molasses, burnt sugar, and some forest floor notes. The palate is rough and rustic, a hearty maritime style of rum that kicks off with some briny character and leads to some interesting tropical flavors as well as notes of dark barrel char and heavily toasted spices. The finish is lengthy and reminiscent of cooked vegetables and coconut husk. It’s a curious and often intriguind sipper, but that said, Arrack is rarely drunk on its own; rather, it shows up from time to time in classic cocktail recipes — for which this bottle would seem well-suited. 96 proof. B / $34

bythedutch.com

Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Eden Mill Gins – Original, Love, Oak, and Hop

Eden Mill is a combo brewery-distillery in Scotland’s St. Andrews that makes beer, whisky, and gin, including this quartet, which all come in unique, swing-top bottles. Eden Mill makes quite an array of spirits in its copper pot stills; it’s a bit unusual for gin to be pot-distilled, so let’s take a dive into four of Eden Mill’s releases, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. thanks to importer ImpEx.

Eden Mill Original Gin – Beautifully balanced right from the start, featuring moderate but omnipresent juniper, a healthy slug of lemon and orange peel, and aromatic hints of cinnamon and cloves. The body picks up the spice a bit, playing up torched orange peel, cardamom, and hints of eastern spices, while finishing clean with some light florals notes. A perfect rendition of a modern gin that keeps one foot in the new world and one in the old. Use it for, well, anything. 84 proof. A

Eden Mill Love Gin – Flowers naturally come to mind when “Love” is on the menu, and roses are fragrant on the nose of Love Gin, right from the start. Evergreen character is surprisingly a bit stronger here, both on the nose and on the palate, which gives way to some orange peel and a hint of mushroomy forest floor. The finish is juniper-loaded, giving love a strangely feminine beginning, and a surprisingly masculine finale. Further proof that gender fluidity is hot right now. 84 proof. B

Eden Mill Oak Gin – Clearly barrel-aged (thanks to both the name and the color), though details on the treatment are scarce. Gentle citrus and vanilla notes on the nose give way to a cake frosting character on the palate, which eventually leads to the juniper at the gin’s core pushing its way through the sweetness. The finish is a pleasant combination of sweet and savory notes, with toasty baking spice elements layered on top. 84 proof. B+

Eden Mill Hop Gin – This hop-infused gin is a complete departure from the above trio, which can easily be seen as close members of the same family. The nose has strong elements of green olives, while the palate turns heavily hop-focused and very bitter, growing in strength as the finish, with echoes of lime peel and bitter amari, comes into focus. An acquired taste. 92 proof. B-

each $40 / edenmill.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Rye Expectations Gin

A. Smith Bowman, owned by Sazerac/Buffalo Trace and based in Virginia, is known for some impressive whiskeys. Now it’s launching an experimental spirits line, and its first experiment is… gin. And that’s just the start.

Says Bowman:

The line will include a wide variety of distilled spirits, including the aforementioned gin, and will grow to include different expressions of rums, vodkas, and brandies. The Experimental Series will explore a wide variety of spirits delving into unique recipes, wood types, exotic fermentables, and the use of local ingredients such as grapes, apples, pears, grains, and much more.

The first offering, a gin titled Rye Expectations, is very limited and will only be available at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Visitor Center.  It is a one-time only release, and is the first release ever from A. Smith Bowman’s new custom microstill, George, installed in early 2015. This gin is a custom recipe created by Master Distiller Brian Prewitt, distilled three times and crafted using a distinct rye grain base including Virginia rye and a botanical mix of juniper, coriander Spanish orange, and angelica.

If you’ve ever wondered what a juniper-flavored white whiskey tastes like, give Rye Expectations a shot. While technically it’s not a whiskey, it sure does come across like one, its racy rye notes worn right on its sleeve. The botanicals are there, but barely — a twist of orange, some indistinct evergreen, and rosemary notes, but these are understated, almost to a fault. The nutty grain notes are what endure well into the finish.

I thought it was strange that a distiller known only for whiskey was making a gin — but now that it’s here, I can report that it tastes exactly like you would expect a gin from a whiskey distiller to taste like.

90 proof.

B / $35 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

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