Whiskey Review Round Up: Painted Stave Distilling

Seemingly with every thing it does, Painted Stave Distilling has a penchant for repurposing underutilized resources.

Reportedly Delaware’s  first distilling operation since before Prohibition, the Smyrna-based distillery chose to name most of its whiskeys “Diamond State,” using the brand name of the last distiller in the state, Dover-based Levy & Glosking, which closed in 1920. That brand name is used for their bourbon, as well as the straight bourbon and straight rye being reviewed here.

After making its home in part of what was originally a 1940s-era movie theater (turned concert hall, then heating and plumbing supply shop, then vacant), the distillery purchased the whole building and surrounding lots earlier this year to expand.

In their latest experiment, the distillery repurposed more than 3,000 bottles of Fordham Brewing Company’s 2015 summer seasonal release, SunSeeker Wheat Ale. Post season, distillery staff and volunteers reportedly spent 45 minutes dumping these bottles into a holding tank, which was distilled into ten gallons of whiskey and aged in an old bourbon barrel for 18 months, then released this summer in time for the solar eclipse in August.

With plenty released by this distillery since its 2011 inception, this review covers its Diamond State Straight Bourbon, Diamond State Straight Rye, and SunSeeker Wheat whiskeys.

Painted Stave Distilling

image via Aaron Knapp/The Whiskey Wash

Tasting Notes: Diamond State Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Vital Stats: Straight Bourbon with a mash bill of 66% corn, 26% rye, and 8% 6-row malted barley. Aged two years in new American white oak barrels. Bottled at 44% ABV. Sold in 750-milliliter bottles for a recommended price of $40 (but only available in Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C.)

Appearance: Both in the bottle and in the glass, this straight bourbon is coppery amber, redder than most but not unusually so.

Nose: Wafts into the nose like a spicy vanilla with notes of ginger, rye and lemongrass. After a few moments, that transitions into an earthier, smokier bouquet – now with a more caramel-like base with notes of grapes, pepper, nutmeg and hints of oak and smoke.

Palate: This first few seconds are a very gentle affair as a sip comes off as a pleasant, though largely nondescript honey, with a bit of floral flavor to it and a very faint hint of spice. That sits for a moment and then grows to become a bit spicier as pepper and cloves begin to manifest themselves. Swallowing brings a mild wave of those spices, but still largely restrained compared to other bourbons, leaving more of a rye-like tingle toward the back of the mouth and a sweet but thin coating on the tongue.

Tasting Notes: Diamond State Straight Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: Made with a mash bill of 65% rye, 25% corn, 5% 6-row malted barley, and 5% rye malt. Aged two years in new American White Oak barrels. Bottled at 44% ABV and sold in 750-milliliter bottles for a recommended price of $40 (but only available in Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C.).

Appearance: Darker golden amber with a reddish hue.

Nose: Spicier up front than the straight bourbon, but with many of the same scents: an earthy vanilla with a kick of rye, ginger and a touch of tangerine. A smoky element eases into that equation after a moment, bringing with it oak and a touch of licorice.

Palate: The difference between a mash-bill of primarily corn versus primarily rye is apparent when comparing these two side by side. While the Straight Rye also starts off sweet and honey-like, with a touch more spice, the higher rye content manifests after a few moments, gradually building up into a spicy wave that’s reminiscent of cloves and pepper, although still mild compared to other ryes. Swallowing brings a small burst of that spice before fading back into a sweeter, coating on the tongue that flares up into spice on occasion.

Tasting Notes: Sunseeker Wheat Whiskey

Vital Stats: A wash of beer, specifically more than 3,000 bottles worth of 2015 SunSeeker Wheat Ale fermented to 5% ABV with Belgian yeast distilled in one batch. Aged in a 10-gallon barrel previously occupied by Diamond State Bourbon for 18 months. Bottled at 42% ABV and sold for $30 per 375-milliliter bottle. With only 130 bottles produced, it is only available at Painted Stave (if any are left).

Appearance: Bright golden amber and a touch lighter than the average whiskey.

Nose: The first whiff smacks of yeast, with an earthy and mildly bitter base of wheat and with faint notes of orange, caramel and oak. That eventually shifts into a sweeter caramel with a bit of salt, citrus and indistinct flowers.

Palate: A sip plops onto the mouth like a simple syrup, mostly indistinct but for a mild tingle that resembles cloves or more generally allspice with a hint of wheat. That gets a bit spicier as you hold it in your mouth, but not much. Swallowing sends a gentle wave through the mouth that’s very mildly spicy like nutmeg and cloves, leaving almost more of a wheaty presence that never reaches the tingly sensation most whiskeys induce. That leaves an aftertaste that tastes blandly of wheat with the most intense spice coming in occasional flares afterwards.

The Takeaway

In all three cases, Painted Stave’s whiskey’s might best be described as mild-mannered and inoffensive. All three are fairly sweet for their types, generally easy-drinking and thereby versatile for whichever way you might like them – neat, on ice, mixed or even for cooking. However, that versatility comes at the expense of personality.

They are generally pleasing but lack distinctiveness and those who either like a spicy bourbon or rye may be underwhelmed with these. In particular, the SunSeeker Wheat is a laudable experiment, but comes out bland and more expensive.

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Aaron Knapp