Editor’s Note: The Whiskey Wash is pleased to welcome Jim Bonomo to our review team!
The small bottle that sits before me proclaims that it contains something I’ve not seen before in the whiskey world: an “open pollinated heritage corn” created by the University of Minnesota called “Minnesota 13.” This corn thrives in the summers of Stearns County, Minnesota, as its maturity requires a shorter growing season than most conventional varieties. “Minnesota 13” also references the rich tradition of moonshining in this particular region, which used this very heirloom corn as its cornerstone.
Once named Mill City Distilling, the folks at 11 Wells changed their name when they moved their operation in to the historic now-defunct Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to this corn-based “moonshine,” 11 Wells creates a series of rums and wheat whiskeys for the local Minnesota market. The region not only provides them with the ideal corn, but also local coopers and brewers, which keep the product’s footprint quite local.
Whiskey made from this specific corn was, during more prolific ‘shining times, lauded as a near-match for one of the local community’s old favorites, Canadian Club. With the exception of the color and process, that’s where the modern day similarities end.
The overall experience of sipping Minnesota 13 Barrel Aged Whiskey is a rich one, full of opulent excess and bold strokes within its conditioning, age, and sharpness. The angular flavors are accentuated by the restrained 84 proof, but a general lack of viscosity and heat allows for easy, water-free sipping and repeated consumption. The notable points of enjoyment for this beverage include an array of non-traditional savory and culinary flavors to be found, and a great balance of intensity and body to promote drinkability.
Vital Stats: 84 proof. Open barrel fermentation. “Distilled from Grains” (oat, barley, corn) including Minnesota 13 heritage corn by “S.D.R” at 11 Wells. Barrel aging time unknown. $30 for a 375ml.
Appearance: Apricot orange through and through, great clarity and sufficient legs.
Nose: The toasty-yet-sweet note of caramel corn lays the foundation, on top of which fusel-y alcohol wafts roll like morning fog. There is a nuance of vegetal plant matter, boiled cabbage or artichoke. An creamy acid-like note reminiscent of light coffee exists, rounded out by a touch of fresh strawberry and buttered toast.
Palate: The aroma was so interesting and varied that the palate experience was bound to be somewhat messy. The immediate first taste is that of freshly-shaved pencil, followed equally as astringently by a dry note of bitter, dark cocoa powder. More familiar flavors of carob and orange peel sneak in towards the finish, but there is no escaping the drying nature of the flavors and palate experiences conjured up here.
As a result, the linger on this particular whiskey is long with a burning astringency which sits on the back of your tongue post-sip and slowly dries out the back of your throat. Despite the thick legs and sweet aromas, this whiskey means business.
A spirit with this level of schizophrenia will never be a crowd-pleaser, but it’s unique enough to avoid being hit with mixers. For the drinker who constantly wishes things were oakier, hotter, sharper, and bolder – boy do I have a whiskey for you! The price point may set it apart from your standby sippers, but for those who want to drink local (Minnesota) try something strange and new (Minnesota 13 corn) or seek out yet another rare whiskey, this one will tick all of the boxes.