Editor’s Note: This whiskey 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.
When founder Kaveh Zamanian of Rabbit Hole Distilling told his wife that he was going to leave the field of psychology and open a distillery in Louisville, she told him he was taking the family down a rabbit hole from which they could never return. Thus, the name “Rabbit Hole” was born. Lucky for all of us, Rabbit Hole is now 10-years-old and was ranked last year as among the fastest growing bourbons.
For the inspired reader, the phrase rabbit hole is originally found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where in its opening chapter, “Down the Rabbit-Hole,” Alice follows the White Rabbit into his burrow, transporting her to the strange and nonsensical, yet vibrant world of Wonderland. I perhaps prefer this meaning, as the pursuit of good whiskey can frequently be heady and nonsensical.
Having toured Rabbit Hole Distilling in 2021, I was greatly impressed by the state-of-the-art facility. Enormous fermentation tanks and column stills filled a vaulted warehouse. Metal staircase and catwalks crisscross the structure which is walled on three sides by grated windows. Producing 1.7 million proof gallons of whiskey annually, you can see the entire fermentation, distillation, barreling and bottling all in a 30 minute tour, giving one the feeling of being little Alice. “Down, down, down.Would the fall never come to an end! I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?”
Rabbit Hole has four signature expressions, their Cavehill Bourbon, the Heigold high rye Bourbon, the Derringer Bourbon finished in PX sherry casks, and their Boxergrail Rye Whiskey – the first three of these having received awards at various competitions. I was excited when we recently received a sample of their limited edition Tenniel Double Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey to try.
The Tenniel release is a celebration of their 10th anniversary and is their first double oak expression. Double oak is a method by which a bourbon, already aged in a new charred oak barrel, is transferred to a second new barrel to up the intensity. The process is dangerous and can leave a whiskey overly tannic and oaky.
Rabbit Hole advertises the Tenniel as a blend of their Cavehill and Heigold, which is then finished in a charred American oak barrel. The choice of a level 1 char is closer to a toast than a true char and is seldom used by distilleries, focusing on much lighter flavors such as brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. To my surprise and enjoyment, this plays out in the whiskey with a thick cardamom nose and a palate which I describe as candied hazelnuts, but brown sugar would be an apt comparison as well.
If you want to try a double oak bourbon more available than the Tenniel, I highly recommend the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
With the American whiskey boom showing no signs of slowing, distillers are increasingly pursuing new grains as well as new blending, aging, and finishing methods to attract customers and explore the limits of whiskey. I’m happy to see Rabbit Hole venturing out of its core range and hope this anniversary edition translates into regular, and affordable, limited barreling expressions.
As I would like to tell Mr. Zamanian: go nuts, let’s see what you can do. As the Cheshire cat emphatically concludes, “we’re all mad here.”
We review Rabbit Hole Tenniel Double Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a blend of their Cavehill and Heigold whiskeys finished in a charred American oak barrel. (image via Rabbit Hole)
Vital Stats: Finished in charred American oak casks. 108.8 proof (54.4% ABV). $650/750ml.
Appearance: Medium brown amber.
Nose: Cardamom fills the nose with cinnamon applesauce. Hints of mint and cloves can also be found.
Palate: Butterscotch and candied hazelnuts lushly fill the plate. Thick oak creeps up in the middle, but only after a heavy dose of water to cut the heat. Toward the end, anise comes into play while the finish is more oak and charcoal.
A thick and woody dram, you can definitely tell this is a double oak without much difficulty. At 108.8 proof, the whiskey feels very hot, enough that I was not able to fully enjoy it without a healthy dose of water (not over 20%). It’s a shame that this is a limited release as I think Rabbit Hole has room in their lineup for a robust offering such as this. While $650 means it’ll be nigh impossible for most to try, if you can, it’s a fun celebration of a whiskey.
I am a Portland area attorney whose career has dovetailed with a love of fine spirits and cigars. With no formal training in the field, my own interest spurred a thorough education through books, articles, visits to distilleries all over the United States, and a few deep dives into Wikipedia....