November 1, 2013

Hudson Maple Cask Rye - A Sweet Hometown Beastie


First Impressions

Tuthilltown Distillery & Barrels (www.tuthilltown.com)
We went up to Tuthilltown for a distillery tour a few years ago prior to the sale of the company to William Grant & Sons.  It's a truly hand-crafted spirit, using sustainable, local ingredients, and at the time the operation was not more than a couple of stills located in an old farmhouse.  The barrel aging and bottling were all taking place in that same building.  The setting was perfect, the people were gracious, and it all looked to be going in the right direction.

And the hooch wasn't bad.  The Baby Bourbon was our favorite by a long shot.  We sat at a picnic table overlooking a creak a few hundred feet from the distillery.  We sipped bottles from several different batches and compared the subtle differences.  One of the nice things about small batch distilling is that the batches are not 100% processed and standardized, so you can still taste some variation.  The Baby Bourbon had a nice body to it and some good sweetness, some caky richness around the edges and a little spice.  Some of the batches were a little sweeter, some a touch spicier.

So far so good.  But as the name "Baby Bourbon" foretold, this spirit was young ("aged under four years" according to the bottle) and it was a little hot for a relatively low 46% alcohol.  We enjoyed the bottles we picked up at the distillery.  At the time no one had heard of Hudson Whiskey, and so it was a nice change of pace to break out the handsome apothecary bottles and pour a couple of different batches for guests.  But once those bottles were gone, we didn't find ourselves going out of our way to replace them on the shelf.  You see the rub is that these 375ml half-bottles were $45.  This was a few years ago, and at the time that price point put them in the same league as big boys like George T. Stagg, Van Winkle, Black Maple Hill 21-Year, and others that were readily available at $90-$100.  Tough competition.  Even these days in the height of the bourbon drought, for $90 you can generally find Parker's Heritage or Smooth Ambler aged over 10 years, or cheap but goodies like Old Forester or Weller that are aged 12-years and cost half that amount.


Barrel Buddies

So that's the trade-off with craft distillers, it's expensive to make a product from scratch at small scale and they're competing with much bigger operations that have the time and resources to barrel age their product much longer.  On the other hand, necessity breeds innovation.  Since barrels are expensive, and by law bourbon can only be aged in brand new barrels, Hudson struck a deal with a maple syrup producer called Noble to sell their used bourbon barrels.  Noble was to make a bourbon maple syrup line using those same barrels.  Hudson then had something of an epiphany.  If maple syrup got better when you put it in a bourbon barrel, why not try the other way around?  The concept for Maple Cask Rye was born.  Noble and Tuthilltown started swapping bottles and Hudson Rye was deposited into the old maple syrup barrels for aging.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Vanilla, chiles, marshmallows.  A healthy dose of char.  A little rubber cement (it's hard to explain but in some whiskies that's a good thing), and some cinnamon, cloves, and black licorice.

Body:  Sweet, rich, spicy, and full-bodied.  You definitely get the hint of maple, but it's not one of these awful sweetened / flavored liqueurs.  This is this real stuff with just a hint of the sweetness and sap of maple.  Very subtle and successfully done.

Finish: Medium length.  Nice round body with no spirit burn.  You can taste the sweetness on your lips and just a hint of campfire smoke drifting up the back of your throat.

Review

They really knocked it out of the park with this one.  This is not a 'flavored whiskey' like the horrendous Red Stag from Jim Beam (which is basically cheap whiskey with sugar and cinnamon dumped in it).  The maple cask picks up flavor from the barrel without adding sweeteners or other unwanted ingredients into the rye.  The result is a really unique taste without nasty artificial flavor.  The maple sweetness nicely cuts out all the alcohol burn, doing great things to a young rye.  This is a great after dinner drink, and a great introductory spirit for people that might be new to rye.  It's also a nice drink for seasoned whiskey fans like your faithful narrators.  It's wonderfully drinkable, and while still a bit on the expensive side, we would definitely replenish this bottle to keep it on shelf after it's finished.  A solid SmokyBeast "B+".  Way to go Tuthilltown, and we're psyched to be able to support a great homegrown product that used some cool innovation to produce a unique new experience.

Enjoy/SB



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