Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Green River Distilling Co. 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 towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Green River Distilling Co., one of Kentucky’s original distilleries has opened its doors again, and you can taste the latest releases by Master Distiller Jacob Call. Originally established in 1885 by John W. McCulloch in Owensboro, Kentucky, Green River was granted the DSP-KY-10 (DSP stands for Distilled Spirits Producer).
After a fire in 1914 wiped out the production area shortly before Prohibition, the distillery closed. The property was rebuilt and passed through a series of investors over the years with limited success before being acquired by the Terresentia Corporation in 2014. Ron Call, a long-time distiller who worked for Jim Beam and the Florida Caribbean Distillers, oversaw the renovations of the property to restore it more closely to its original design and, hopefully, glory. In 2016, whiskey aging began under the O. Z. Taylor name. The same year, Ron’s son, Jacob, a well-respected distiller in his own right, took over as head distiller for the company.
In 2020, the company purchased the rights to Green River Distilling Co. name with the blessing of McCulloch’s great grandson, Rob McCulloch. McCulloch’s press releases seem quite enthusiastic about the restoration of his ancestor’s whiskey. He talks fondly of his family’s recollections about the distillery and seems to have solid faith in the new company’s endeavors.
It’s hard not to feel a bit excited about the releases given his response. The new company has put a good deal of effort into connecting itself to the original, including by acquiring original bottles and furniture. They’ve extended the throwback theme in their modern packaging. In homage to the original company’s designs, the bottle heavily features a horseshoe motif and the dark green color of the original labels. Interested collectors can find quite a bit of original merchandise and promotional materials on eBay. Under the Owensboro Distilling Co. label, Green River produces bourbons for private labels, including for a producer I previously reviewed, Broken Barrel.
The first release of the Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon, made in house and aged for over five years in barrel, launched in February 2022. Interestingly, the corn for the mash is all Kentucky-grown and is purchased from local farmers. It’s high in rye, which the distillery notes gives it “warm spice notes” alongside its profile of “vanilla, caramel, and chocolate mint.”
Tasting Notes: Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged a minimum of 5 years in new American oak, 45% ABV, mash bill: 70% corn, 21% winter rye, and 9% malted 2 and 6-row barley, SRP $34.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is deep golden amber in color with a golden undertone.
Nose: The nose opens with a bright confectionery note of candied cherries, ripe strawberries, and a whiff of acetone. It’s rather restrained with notes of roasted chocolate underneath the fruit.
Palate: The whiskey is rich, silky, and oily in the mouth. Notes of ripe red fruits and fresh lemon show up with a sweetly saccharine note like walking into a candy store. The alcohol gives a peppery feel, accentuating notes of candied cherries. The finish is long, but a bit green and astringent on the palate like over-steeped green tea.
Given the chocolate on the nose and the greenness on the finish, I can see the “chocolate mint” note mentioned in the official tasting note, an intriguing note for a bourbon. Water deepens the vanilla note, playing nicely with the red, fruity notes.
I love the story behind the renovations and appreciate the profound effort that has gone into both the whiskey itself (including by sourcing local grains), outreach to McCulloch’s descendant, and to recapturing the history of the place. Though subtle, this is a fruit-forward and candied whiskey. I found it extremely appealing, if a touch lacking in complexity.
It clocks in at only $35 for a bottle, which I think is extremely reasonable. The Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon is available in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Florida.
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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...