Editor’s Note: This whisk(e)y 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 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.
Mike Fruge is a man with a mission to keep his Branch, Louisiana family farm as profitable as possible. His family’s history in Cajun Country of southern Louisiana dates back to the late 19th century. His great-great-uncle, J. T. Meleck, planted rice in 1896 on 20 acres still owned and farmed by his family.
Today the family farms around 4,000 acres. Fruge uses the low-lying rice fields, which rely on Providence for rainwater that naturally collects in the valleys, to co-farm crawfish. This is now the norm in the region, though he was one of the first to develop it at scale. He launched two businesses, a distribution company, Frugé Seafood Company, and a direct-to-consumer shop, CajunCrawfish.
Making the land more efficient was definitely a goal for Fruge, but how to add value to the rice itself? In a time when dozens of distilleries seem to be popping up every day across the US, Fruge was inspired to try his hand at distilling rice. In 2018 the company, named for his ancestor, began producing vodka. There was little guidance available on distilling rice. In a Discover Lafayette article, Fruge noted that rice as a grain crop didn’t take off in the country until well into Prohibition, so it’s no surprise that little historical effort went into distilling attempts.
Rice has unique oils that Fruge thinks impart a special smoothness to the finished product. The vodka received multiple awards and encouraged Fruge to produce whiskey (and hand sanitizer during the early days of the pandemic).
The first commercial release of the 100% rice whiskey occurred in November 2021 in a limited bottle “Founder’s Edition” run. Today’s whiskey under review, the J.T. Meleck Rice Whiskey, is the second and more widely available batch. All of the rice was grown in Louisiana, where the spirit was distilled and aged for almost five years.
Tasting Notes: J.T. Meleck Rice Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged for four years in 53-gallon oak barrels, 48% ABV, mash bill: 100% Louisiana-grown rice, SRP $47/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This whiskey is pale golden brown in color.
Nose: At first muted, this whiskey off notes of freshly baked banana bread. On revisiting, this reminds me of caramel baked goods like crusty blonde brownies and cherry pie.
Palate: A baked blueberry note explodes across the palate, evoking blueberry muffins with demerara sugar topping and blueberry pie. There’s a hint of matcha green tea and a subtle but savory note of cooked orange zest. The nose is warm like a pine wood fire and makes me think of burning my tongue while taste testing cooked blueberry jam. The texture is silky and lush with a not so subtle note of vanilla that seems a touch awkward.
The finish brings back the blueberry note with hints of buckwheat honey and oatmeal cookies. A dash of water slides the blueberry note to the background, bringing forward more subtle notes of brioche and melted butter. Though I found the blueberry note a touch overbearing at times, this was rather tasty.
Whiskey Review: J.T. Meleck Rice Whiskey
I wasn’t sure what to expect from an all-rice whiskey, but it certainly wasn’t the spiced blueberry notes I picked up. It reminds me of rye, but with a unique fruity twist. Though this lacks somewhat in complexity, it has an all around appealing sense. I can see this as an excellent mixer, especially since it does better with a dash of water or over ice.
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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...