Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Founded in 2017, Doc Swinson’s is an independent bottler and the house brand of Distillers Way LLC. Doc Swinson’s calls Ferndale, WA home. This tiny town is located near Vancouver, BC, about 100 miles north of Seattle along the bay. Here, a team of four runs the entire operation: Jesse Parker, the Head Spirits Master; Steve Main, the Sales Director; Chris Cearns, the Chief Financial Officer; and Keith Seidel, the Director of Operations.
As an independent bottler, they source barrels of whiskey to bottle under their own label, often blending them to create a signature style, finishing them in a wide variety of wood types, and cutting to proof. The company sources all of their whiskeys—nothing is distilled in house.
Jesse Parker is young with no formal training, but he cut his teeth at a small, family-owned distillery where he began racking up primo awards for his creations. He’s gone on to win several dozen more for his Doc Swinson’s whiskeys, including winning best in class in 2022 for a finished bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition with one of the “Exploratory Cask” series releases that was finished in toasted French oak casks.
When things just aren’t up to a snuff for a special release, Doc Swinson’s offers an entry-level bottling they call a “session” blend. It’s whiskey that is made to be easy drinking and uncomplicated. Like session beer, it’s meant to be in the background of a casual hang out session with friends. You could argue this is just a confusing way to call something a mixer, but I like the vibe they’re going for.
It’s not swill and it’s not intended as such, instead, it’s just not crafted to be the defining feature of the night. It’s a humble whiskey that won’t embarrass the buyer and won’t cause any disapproving grumbles if it’s blended with cola.
So now that we’ve defined the purpose, let’s explore what’s in the bottle. The Doc Swinson’s Session Blend Straight Bourbon is a mix of two mash bills from MGP or Midwest Grain Products Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Sourcing from this large distillery in Indiana can be a prickly subject for some, but the team at Doc Swinson’s makes no attempts to hide and certainly excels with their selections (see the aforementioned awards).
Both mash bills are a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, and both are heavy on the corn. Expect sweetness and spice, all things nice, without the complexity of its older siblings. It’s non-chill filtered to retain aromatic complexity. It did become a touch cloudy in the glass when I added ice, but I do not consider that a fault.
We review Doc Swinson’s Session Blend Straight Bourbon, a mix of two mash bills from MGP that are a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, with both very heavy on the corn. (image via Doc Swinson’s)
Vital Stats: Aged for a minimum of five years in American White Oak Char #4 with Char #2 heads, 45% ABV, mash bill: No. 1: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley & No. 2: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley, SRP $39.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is amber in color with a faint green undertone.
Nose: The aromas lean towards fruit and spice with a whiff of cider vinegar. I smell notes of candied red apples, sour cherries, and dried lime zest for fruit. The spice note reminds me of clove gum. There’s a touch of soapiness and the nose is faintly sour. It’s an odd mix of aromatics that doesn’t seem cohesive.
Palate: On the palate, this whiskey is a touch muted. Textural-wise, it has an oily, moderate body with a prickly feel from the alcohol. The aromatics are subtle, and remind me of old gum. It’s mild and mellow with a note of charcoal and burnt marshmallow that makes me think of Tennessee whiskey. The short finish leaves a suggestion of sugar cookies.
On its own, it’s a bit boring. A dash of water livens up the flavors, bringing out sandalwood, dried autumn leaves, and black tea served with a side of buttery caramel. This is very smooth and would make an excellent mixer. It lacks for complexity but, as a charming, inoffensive whiskey, this works great as a mixer or even on its own.
I found myself reaching for this a few nights in a row. It’s not a rich and viscous as other whiskeys distilled by MGP and released at a similar price point. Doc Swinson’s has a house style for picking barrels: more moderate in body and refined aromatically. It’s a great combination even at the entry level and shows that even at the lower end, the four gents behind Doc Swinson’s know what they’re doing. Just, when it comes to the Doc Swinson’s Session Blend Straight Bourbon, always swim with a buddy.
Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...