Whiskey Review: Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye (Batch 001)

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Hard Truth 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.

The sour mash distillation process, as Margarett Waterbury explained on this site recently, involves taking some of the acidic, nutrient-rich gunk left behind in the still after a distillation run and mixing it with fresh grain, water, and yeast to make another batch. It sounds weird, but the process makes bacterial contamination less likely (by regulating pH levels) and it helps provide consistency from one batch to the next – which is why most whiskies are made this way.

Some distillers, though, swear by more labor-intensive sweet mash distilling. It reportedly requires additional time and attention on sanitation and monitoring to avoid contamination, but it allows a distiller to control every element that goes into a new batch. Proponents of sweet mash claim it also results in whiskies that are less heavy or have a lighter mouthfeel.

Hard Truth Distilling Co. is jumping into the sweet-vs-sour debate with both feet, as it were. The Indiana distiller has an extensive list of liquors it sells already, from coconut rum to bourbon cream to a variety of sourced whiskies. Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye, though, is the first whiskey made, aged, and bottled on-site at the distillery’s 325-acre property.

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It’s intended to be the first in what will become a series of home-grown, sweet-mash whiskeys from Hard Truth. The distillery has already said it plans to introduce additional sweet mash bourbons and ryes soon, which makes Batch 001 a sneak preview, of sorts.

Jeff McCabe, co-founder and executive chairman of Hard Truth, and Bryan Smith, master distiller, recently visited with The Whiskey Wash in an interview about this whiskey and what the future holds for the distillery.

Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye (image via Debbie Nelson)

Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye (image via Debbie Nelson/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye (Batch 001)

Vital Stats: Mash bill of 94% rye, 6% malted barley, aged a minimum of 2 years in American oak; 115.2 proof/57.6% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $69.95 for a 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Darker than you’d expect for a 2- to 3-year-old whiskey. The legs are watery, but the color is dark amber verging on brown.

Nose: Sweet mash doesn’t suggest that it should smell sweet… but in this case, it is sweet – almost bourbon-like. The combination of dark coloration and sweet nose suggests Hard Truth’s barrels are new, heavily charred, and having a definite impact on the whiskey. Vanilla and maple syrup aromas are strong, with more subtle grace notes of grass and earthiness.

Palate: The rye comes through much more profoundly in the mouth than it did in the nose. Black  pepper, granulated brown sugar, and ginger snap cookies at the front end fade into a long honey and molasses finish. I’ll admit to a personal bias for barrel-proof whiskies, and the 115 proof on this one feels just right. It isn’t a rye that wants to be watered down any further.

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Hard Truth dumped only 30 barrels of Batch 001 last October, so it’s very much a small batch – and a first step toward what the Indiana distiller hopes is a new identity built around distinctive sweet mash flavor profiles. More important for someone deciding whether to buy a bottle, it held up remarkably well alongside some of my favorite ryes in an impromptu taste test. At less than $70 for a bottle, this is one I’d happily stock up on – and/or keep a sharp eye out for future batches. This is not a perfect rye, but it’s a damn good one. And an impressive effort for a first batch.

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Scott Bernard Nelson

Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.