Today’s entry is going to be a benchmark for some craft whiskies to come. In the U.S., we’ve see billboard ads for Bulleit products fairly regularly over the last 10 years. This is a brand with some history (mid-1800s), though it was dormant for 120 years. The brand was reflated in the late 1980s, then sold to Seagrams, which was gobbled up by Diageo.
Diageo’s Bulleit bourbon is centered in two plants, the larger being almost 7 M litres per year. That dwarfs most Scottish distilleries. But that’s not all. This 95 Rye spirit is distilled at another facility, MGP Indiana, a contract distiller. This is a typical arrangement for American whiskies. Whereas in Scotland they have contracted out much of the maltings, cooperage and some bottling and warehouses, in the US, it’s more common that the distillation is contracted out en toto. So what’s a brand in that case? Some ‘producers’ do their own finishing: cask and aging. Others buy the stuff finished and just supply the marketing. Mostly, that’s fluff and sometimes gets them into legal trouble.
I’ve covered the standard Ardbeg 10 and Corryvreckan whiskies on the blog previously. The 10 is a solid performer in the Islay peat stakes and a reasonable $55. They distillery releases some older whiskies and also a range of NAS offerings both on the value and premium and of pricing. The cheap and rascally Wee Beastie and to-be-tasted An Oa hold the low end of the line (under $50). The premium NAS offerings, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, increase the stakes as they are priced here in Oregon at $82 and $92, respectively. Going into this testing I’m expecting a smoother delivery than the 10-year and the signature excellence in robust but balanced flavors I have come to expect from Ardbeg. I’m also very curious to see how the two premium offerings compare, and I’ve got an impressive competitor as well, the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10.
Woodford Reserve is the premium whisky from the folks at Brown-Forman, famous for Jack Daniels (as well as some Scotch labels such as BenRiach). Oddly enough Jack Daniels was the favorite tipple of Keith Richards (until he went dry in 2018). He could afford better, and the distillery does make a better whisky. With Woodford, Brown-Forman are going for a higher price and more refined flavor. And to one-up our valiant competitor Knob Creek, Brown-Forman even include a pot still in the Woodford Reserve production, whereas Knob Creek is all column-distilled. But there’s more to whisky than the still.
Auchentoshan, uncommon for being a lowland whisky, is also unique for using triple distillation. (Springbank’s Hazelburn line uses the same technique, but no other Scottish distilleries triple-distill routinely.) Triple distillation used to be more common, since with a mix of grains, you should get a smoother whisky with a third distillation. Over time, the rationale has become moot, as single-malt Scotch has been codified to use only barley malt for the grain, so the expensive extra step for a third distillation isn’t seen as necessary. Auchentoshan continues with the practice to produce a light whisky with fewer heavier oils and proteins from the mash. Since the mash uses only unpeated barley, we’re anticipating a delicate flavor.
And now I come to the end of my short stint on American Whiskies. I have a backlog of Scotch I’ll get to work on next. But meanwhile, in their American survey, the Whisky Wafflers tried a Hudson single malt (which did not impress but intrigued anyway). This time we’ve got a more typical American-styled spirit from Hudson. I received this ‘Baby Bourbon’ as a gift and thought we’d put it through its paces. Along the way I’ll compare to the other whiskies tried in this series. I don’t have a lot of craft whiskeys to compare yet so we’ll use the Rogue Dead Guy, recently reviewed, as a benchmark as well as the Knob Creek, which has a more traditional mashbill.
The Hudson Baby Bourbon is a product of Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, which, as they explain on their website, was founded in 2003 by Ralph Erenzo. Ralph is a pioneering distiller (he predated Rogue’s distillation efforts by about a decade) who helped push through legislation to establish craft distilleries as a legal concerns in New York. So you could say he’s an OG craft distiller. The Hudson brand was sold to William Grant and Sons in 2010. Tuthilltown makes the whiskey, Grant distributes it. This is the Grant of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, among other brands, and have proven to be good stewards of their product.