Whiskey Review: Delaware Phoenix Bourbon

Delaware Phoenix Distillery, brainchild of former fishmonger Cheryl Lins, specializes in absinthe, but it makes whiskey too. Since 2006 when a Portuguese copper pot still marked “decorative lawn ornament” arrived at her Walton, New York home, she’s been cooking up some interesting flavors.

“My first effort was vile,” Lins confesses. “I burned the herbs.” But she persevered, securing a distilling license in 2009 and selling her wares around New York City and upstate New York. And Lins is Delaware Phoenix, doing all steps in production herself and by hand. “I do the mashing, set the fermenters, run off the low wines, distill the whiskey, haul it to the barrels, fill ’em, and decide then they’re ready. Then I bottle them, and am the one who delivers the product to the store.”

Obviously, the distillery is a labor of love, or obsession. Lins is focused on each small step in her process, sourcing her grain bill locally from New York State and buying organic. The bourbon is 70% corn, 13% malted barley, and 18% small grains (rye and wheat). “The small grain currently is organic wheat grown 10 miles down the road from me at the Lucky Dog Organic Farm,” says Lins. She distills using 19th century methods with low yields (four or five of the 25 gallon barrels a year), but honoring tradition, creating “a rich, deep flavor as bold as the early settlers of Walton!” The distillery only produces 375 ml bottles, does all single barrel bottling by hand, and even the water used comes from the town well.

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Tasting Notes: Delaware Phoenix Bourbon

Vital Stats: This bourbon is 100 proof, pot distilled from corn, rye, and malted barley, aged 8-10 months in new charred oak barrels, minimally filtered, and hand bottled in 375 ml bottles sealed with wax. It retails for $30 – $35 for the half sized bottle.

Appearance: Deep burnt caramel, orange to marigold, bordering on copper in color, the whiskey has well spaced, fast moving legs, and a thin consistency.

Nose: This is by far the weirdest nose I’ve encountered on a whiskey! First, herbaceous cucumber and burned lemon rind overwhelm, but are backed by sawdust, astringent chlorine, and a burning, medicinal quality reminiscent of cough drops.

Palate: The nose doesn’t lie! On the tongue, flavors of sweet honeyed cucumber with potpourri and salted butter take a front seat, while red hots, molasses and a touch of rubber cement underlie, finishing with a fried corn note of Twinkie.

The Takeaway

Honestly, this might be the weirdest whiskey I’ve ever tasted. I loved the refreshingly clean and herbaceous flavors of cucumber, but not the sweet corn flavors, or how these competing tastes combine. Cucumber is not a typical bourbon flavor, and very unexpected. Kudos to Cheryl Lins for forging a trail, but this bourbon is not yet there.



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