Whiskey Review: Far North Roknar Minnesota Rye Sauternes Cask Finish - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Far North Roknar Minnesota Rye Sauternes Cask Finish

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Back in March, we shared the story of Far North Spirits’ Roknar Rye Series with our readers, along with their “grain-to-glass” story and some words on their initial three offerings. Since then, Far North has added a new whiskey to this series; one that starts with their Minnesota Rye Whiskey, and finds it finished in French Sauternes cask for an additional month beyond it’s initial 15-month oak nap. It is the first of the series to incorporate additional barrel treatements, and certainly the most experimental yet.

For the uninitiated, Sauternes is a variety of very sweet and thick dessert wine produced mainly from Semillon grapes in the Bordeaux region of France. The grapes were historically left to contract ‘noble rot’ on the vines, which allowed the outside air to permeate the skins and cause the sugars to concentrate due to evaporation. In turn, when fermented, the finished wine is also more concentrated, thicker, stronger, and more sweet.

We liked the base whiskey when we tasted it back in March, but definitely noted a bit of a sting in the aftertaste, and a sharp, earthy note of pepper. Additional aging, especially in a sweet wine barrel, seems like the perfect remedy for the minor criticisms found in our early review. Sauternes casks have more commonly been used to tame the intensity of classic Scotch whiskys, and Roknar is one of the first bottlings to find this treatment used on American Rye.

Far North Roknar Minnesota Rye Sauternes Cask Finish

image via Jim Bonomo/The Whiskey Wash

Tasting Notes: Far North Roknar Minnesota Rye Sauternes Cask Finish

Vital Stats: 94 Proof. 80% AC Hazlet Rye, 10% Heirloom Corn, 10% Malt Barley. Aged 15 months on oak and an additional month in French Sauternes casks. “Less than two years old.” $42/750ml

Appearance: This whiskey pours a deep reddish-gold with soft pink traces, almost purple, peppered throughout. The legs build quickly with each swirl, and the thickness is extremely expressive here. The liquid barely moves down the side of the glass. Despite its burly beauty, the color seems a little dull or muted and some separation is noted around the surface edge. It’s warming as it catches your eye, but not the prettiest to gaze longingly in to.

Nose: Immediately intrigued upon first whiff. Notes of rye-dominant walnut skins, candied orange peel, and earthy, spicy burnt sugar make way for overripe apricot, spring flowers, and a subtle vanilla. As opposed as these profiles sound, the aromas work together harmoniously, and transcend the way they sound on paper. After a solid ten minutes of holding my finger to my ear like Paul Giamatti in ‘Sideways,’ I’ve decided that the drive-by quick sniff brings to mind both vanilla-scented marzipan, or perhaps sugar-roasted almonds from a city cart vendor. It’s the perfect thing to be smelling on a cold winter day with a hope of spring in the background.

Palate: The first surprise upon ingesting this liquid is its thinness, which is a bit of a disappointment with the build up of desserty notes in the aroma, suggesting something viscous, and frankly, more Sauternes-like. What isn’t disappointing is that there is much more spicy rye character in the taste than the nose suggests, bringing the unexpected hits of szechuan peppercorn, apple skins (and stems, and seeds,) and even some freshly-light-roasted coffee bean. All of this is backed up with a finishing sweetness, and this is where we start to see the perceived balance really fall apart. What the wine cask finishing does for the nose, it absolutely does NOT do in the taste. The sweetness in the finish disrupts the earthy melange of booze and spice that the rye brings to the party.

The Takeaway

This is quite the schizophrenic beverage, promising one thing, delivering another, and never really achieving greatness. It does have some merits though, especially in the aroma built upon by contact with the Sauternes-soaked wood. An interesting purchase for experimental rye fans, a big question mark for everyone else. Definitely not an improvement on the original product pre-wine barrel.

3.5
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    Jim Bonomo