The craft and art of whiskey-making has always involved a degree of looking backwards; the drink itself is an expression of captured aging – a history experienced in each sip. You can’t seem to separate the making of a new whiskey from the history of the process, the history of the maker, and the history of the location in which the spirit is distilled.
As an example of this, you need look no further than Rochester, New York’s Black Button Distillery. Now, true, owner Jason Barrett did not come from a family of whiskey distillers. In fact, going back four generations his family has been button makers, “clos[ing] suits worn by Presidents, Popes, Kings, and Businessmen the world over.”
Breaking from that tradition, Barrett, at the early age of 24, founded Black Button Distillery in 2012 as Rochester’s “first grain to glass distillery since Prohibition.”
Offering a variety of gins (including lilac and citrus), vodka, moonshine, bourbon cream, and an assortment of whiskeys, Black Button Distillery is clearly willing to experiment and explore. Case in point, the subject of today’s review: the Black Button Distillery Four Grain Bourbon.
First released in 2015, and sporting an eclectic mash made of 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye and 11% barley, the 100% New York sourced spirit is an example of the flexibility a distiller has when they’re able to focus on small-batch offerings. “Live Large in Small Batches,” the bottle exclaims in bold font.
But, of course, the more complexity you add to a system, the more things that can go wrong. Let’s take a look at the spirit and see if Barrett’s familial history of producing fine buttons translates well to the distillation of fine bourbon.
Tasting Notes: Black Button Four Grain Bourbon
Vital Stats: Black Button Distillery’s Four Grain bourbon is made of 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye and 11% barley. All the grains are sourced in-state, and the spirit is aged between 14 and 26 months in American white oak barrels. At 84 proof, a 750 ml bottle sells for approximately $50.
Appearance: The Black Button Bourbon is a lovely honey-amber in the glass. It’s got medium-width, medium-quick legs.
Nose: A pleasant nose – hints of fennel, blackberry, and new-car smell.
Palate: An interesting palate. It comes on strong and sharp on the tip of the tongue, a bit harsh and acrid – think wood smoke, liquorish, and orange bitters. It hits the back of the tongue next with a wave of mild sweetness – you can really taste that malted barley here. The finish comes on surprisingly smooth – especially considering how sharply the flavor first hits – with just a hint of melon as the dram rides its way out. I am left, however, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste after everything else has gone – it’s mild, but it’s there.
This is one of those whiskeys that falls right into the middle for me. The flavor profile of those four grains certainly makes for an interesting and diverse bourbon… but interesting doesn’t always translate to great. The harsh first taste combined with the bitter aftertaste prevents me from giving this offering a higher score. That being said, if you’ve got $50 burning a hole in your pocket, the experience in between those first and last tastes is novel enough, I’d say, to warrant a purchase.