In December 2017 Bill Thomas and I started a Bourbon Distilling project at Kentucky Artisan Distillery. The barrels were filled on January 4th of 2018. Steve Thompson, the owner, and Jade Peterson, the Distiller, have been wonderful to work with on this project. They made four barrels of an excellent Bourbon. The mash bill is 60% Hickory Cane white corn, 25% rye, 12% barley malt and 3% Chocolate Malt. It went into the barrels at a 103 barrel entry proof and has been aging now for a full summer; a few days short of ten months. Rosemary and I asked her niece, Becca Hammer and her partner, Matt Kohorst to go with us to taste the whiskey for the first time on Halloween day, October 31st.
It was a rainy day when we met with Jade to sample the barrels. We went out to the warehouse and saw the barrels on their pallets near the entrance to KAD’s second warehouse. These warehouses are palletized warehouses but Bill and I insisted that they use traditional barrels, not the barrels filled from the head, for our whiskey. We wanted to get the full effect from the heads when aging our whiskey, so they used two barrel racked pallets for our barrels. Jade rotated the pallets after 5 months so both have been on top of the stack for about the same amount of time, but two of the barrels were on the top during the colder months and you could tell a difference in the taste.
The wet weather made the bungs very hard to get out of the barrel. They did not show any signs of leaking and had very good fill levels when we finally got the bungs out. Jade estimated that they were probably very close to the entry proof. He used a thief to pull a sample from barrel one and we tasted the Bourbon. I was surprised at how much I liked it after only 10 months. I was expecting a lot of young whiskey flavor and tannic bitterness from the wood. The Bourbon had very little of either. It was beginning to get some nice vanilla notes and the chocolate/mocha notes from the new make were still there on the finish. It was very good.
The next barrel we opened was actually barrel 4. The whiskey had a nice buttered toffee note coming through but there was more of the corn flavor of a young whiskey in the sample. It is still very good whiskey but very different from the first sample. Barrel 3 was our next sample. The Bourbon is somewhere in between barrel 1 and barrel 4. There was some of the chocolate finish but a little of the corn as well. The last sample was barrel 3. The Bourbon was closer to barrel 1 than the other two, but not quite as much chocolate on the finish. We decided that all four barrels are coming along nicely and we are going to have a good whiskey after four years, but each one is a little different. I suspect that Bill will want to do each as a single barrel bonded Bourbon.
Steve joined us in the warehouse after we had pulled the samples and tasted some from barrel 1. He too was surprised at how good it was after only 10 months of aging. He is excited about this project and I am grateful that he and Jade are so good to work with and willing to put up with my ideas about making a whiskey in a 19th century style of low distillation and barrel entry proof with a 21st century twist of adding chocolate malt to the mash bill.
I discussed with Jade as to when I should next sample the barrels. He was thinking that next June would be 18 months, but there would be very little heat in the warehouses before then so I doubt there will be a lot of change in the whiskey in that period. He agreed with that assessment so I think I am inclined to wait until after the first frost of 2019 to sample these barrels again. Patience is always a virtue and especially when dealing with aging whiskey.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller and Rebecca Hammer