Last week I recieved word that one of the few local distilleries in the area was going to be having a release party for their bourbon. Needless to say, I had to be there. I mean, I've driven 4 hours to 14 hours on multiple occations just to sample bourbon. What kind of whiskey geek would I be if I couldn't drive an hour and a half to go to something as momentous as a release party?
I'd invited a buddy to ride along, convinced my wife that visiting a distillery was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and borrowed some money from September's Whiskey Fund. (Seriously. All of my summer whiskey money has been allocated to the Kentucky trip in two weeks.)
We got to 45th Parallel distillery about 12:30 or so. It isn't much to look at. It's a simple, steel building built in a rural industrial area. While the distillery does tours, they aren't relying on a tourism trade to keep the lights on (might I add a wish that you go help them make it a bigger part of their business though, it's a nice place). Aside from produce whiskey, gin and vodka, they also do a fair amount of contract distilling. The friend of mine who rode along came with because they make an Aquavit for one of his other friends and I've heard rumors that they distill the white whiskey for Death's Door as well (turns out that isn't a true rumor, but I didn't know that at the time). I'd been on a tour here back in February—had a nice chat with the owner. (As a possible measure of how many or few tours they do, one of the employees picked me out of the crowd as I was standing in line and came up with an "I remember you!" and thanked me for coming back for this.)
There were three reasons I was excited to come back for the release of the bourbon. One is that I like seeing local craft distillers. The other is that I remembered from the last time I'd been there that he was aging in full size barrels. Also I had actually liked the Death's Door...for what it was. If that rumor had been true, then I'd have been very happy to taste an aged product by the same distiller. Once again, it wasn't but I didn't know that then.
So we got there at 12:30. They already had a line that went all the way through the distillery. Luckily, the samples start near the back of the line. I got mine. My initial thoughts were not great. It tasted a bit funky. But I liked it enough to buy a bottle and give it a thorough review. Standing in the heat, drinking it out of a small plastic cup was not the ideal situation for tasting. And I knew it. I'd need to spend some time with this to be sure.
By the time we made it through the line we'd seen the fermenting tanks, the bottling set-up, the still, and had picked up a bottle and a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion. I had fun.
Ok, I hear you. All that is well and good. But is it actually any good?
Bottle: This is an attractive wax, sealed bottle with a painted on label and a embossed leather neck tag. No age statement.
Color: Dark Amber, the color of a good amber ale.
Nose: Honeyed Apple that moves to brown sugar sweetness and back again. It really reminded me of Woodford Reserve.
Taste: A spicy cayenne entry and an oily mouthfeel. A sweet graininess as it moves back through the mouth. Hints of cinnamon red hot on the sides of the tongue.
Finish: high corn flavor on the finish, followed by more spice
This is a spicy bourbon. I'm not sure I've had one spicier. And like a spicy meal, adding water only increases it. I was fully prepared to not like this. Like I said the small sample had a bit of a funk to it. In hindsight, I chalk it up to the fact that it was hot, I was using a small plastic shot glass and...well, let's just say the air had just a bit of the farm freshness to it. (If you've been around a dairy farm, you'll know what I mean, if not...lucky you.) But in the end, I like it. 45th Parallel did a good job on it. If you're in Western Wisconsin, stop by the distillery and pick up a bottle.