Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Off Hours. 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.
Off Hours’ master blender, Ashley Barnes, knows a thing or two about rye-heavy bourbon, having cut her teeth at Buffalo Trace before joining Four Roses. Today, she is Master Blender for The Spirits Group, which she co-founded. To formulate the Off Hours Straight Bourbon Whiskey blend, Barnes sourced whiskey from Midwest Grain Products Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, aka MGP.
It’s widely known today that MGP sells base whiskeys to numerous brands and craft producers around the country, whether they admit it or not. If a whiskey is well made and tastes good, I, for the record, do not have a problem with the source being MGP or other large distilleries. It’s easy to ridicule spirits if they’re not bottled by the distiller. But when we do, producers feel pressure to obfuscate, and only drinkers lose out. Sourcing from a large and established distillery with a massive stock of aged spirits is a great way to make affordable whiskey, get a brand launched without waiting for the booze to age, and/or raise capitol for self-distilled products, should that be the goal.
Fortunately, Off Hours takes a refreshing perspective on using sourced whiskey. There’s no attempt to gloss over the origin of the spirit: it’s right on the label. Sourcing from MGP enabled Off Hours’ founder, Jake Ireland, to release a whiskey with character aimed at a market (young and/or female) that is overlooked at best and derided at worst. Kinda like MGP. I applaud Ireland’s openness, as we all should.
So what did Barnes select from MGP’s massive catalog to bottle for Off Hours? She went with their 21% rye bill bourbon. This is a predominately corn-based mash bill with rye and a dash of malted barley. This was aged for at least five years in new charred oak. According to MGP’s website, their 21% rye bill bourbon offers notes of caramel, vanilla, fruit, and cream with rye spice on the finish. Off Hours’ rendition certainly lives up to what’s promised.
Off Hours Straight Bourbon Whiskey (image via Suzanne Bayard/The Whiskey Wash)
Vital Stats: Aged at least five years in new charred oak, 47.5% ABV, mash bill: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley, SRP $46.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: The Off Hours Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a moderate amber in color.
Nose: The nose is moderate in strength with notes of sweet pastries. I pick up aromas of maple and butter on pancakes, homemade vanilla buttercream frosting, and vanilla extract. The vanilla note seems to grow in strength over time. It’s rather beguiling.
Palate: The mouthfeel is viscous and thick with a gentle peppery feel. The sweet vanilla carries through on the palate, becoming somehow more intense. It’s pungent, like freshly baked frosted sugar cookies with French vanilla ice cream. I pick up notes of freshly baked white bread, angel food cake, sliced yellow apples, homemade marshmallows, and clove. There are layers of vanilla and baked goods on the finish. The very mild sweetness and gentle astringency on the finish keeps this from becoming cloying. I would pair this with white chocolate, pastries, dried dates, or coconut desserts. This would be interesting with heavily spiced or white stews made with chicken or vegetarian.
Jake Ireland’s mission was to create a whiskey brand meant for the casual, modern drinker. The label design fits that demographics’ love of the paradox of minimalism: a carefully curated casual attitude. The stuff in the bottle, too, has mass appeal without being cloying or boring. Heck, it’s what crowd-pleasing should be: affordable and delicious without any divisive characteristics. So what’s inherently wrong with a well-made whiskey crafted and priced to appeal to younger drinkers and women? Nothing. So let’s pour a glass and sit with this a while: minimalist chic, vanilla frosting, MGP bourbon, and all.
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...