Whiskey Review: Virgil Kaine 5WB.HR.S16 Ashcat - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Virgil Kaine 5WB.HR.S16 Ashcat

Holy moly, there are so many distilleries in the United States. These days, it feels like every forgotten nook of the country, from Haines, Alaska, to Hartford, Connecticut, has its very own whiskey distillery (or three), many cranking out some pretty out-there whiskeys in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

But not that long ago, American distilling was more or less confined to the South, almost entirely to Kentucky and Tennessee. That time, of course, is long behind us, but that doesn’t mean Southerners don’t continue to feel a deep sense of ownership over American whiskey, especially bourbon.

In that vein, Lowcountry Whiskey of Charleston, South Carolina, uses its Virgil Kaine line of whiskeys to celebrate Southern pride without getting overly mired in tradition. The brand’s founders are David Szlam and Ryan Meany, two Southern chefs with resumes that include stints at places like Chez Panisse and Husk, and that culinary focus seems to bleed over to their approach to whiskey.

According to a recent statement, the two “created the Virgil Kaine brand to be rooted in taste profiles and flavor, over lineage.” That flavor-first approach is evident in Lowcountry’s product portfolio, which includes a ginger-infused bourbon, a rye finished in sherry and port casks, a bourbon finished in sherry casks, and a particularly quirky sour mash whiskey finished in wild ale barrels that were formerly used to mature Oregon pinot noir.

This review, however, is for the unusually named 5WB.HR.S16 Ashcat, a limited edition blended bourbon. According to the producers, it’s a combination of five-year-old wheated bourbon and high rye bourbon finished in sherry casks. It’s marketed as a blended bourbon rather than just “bourbon,” suggesting it may also contain neutral grain spirits and/or coloring, flavoring, or blending materials.

It took me several days, but eventually I realized that 5WB must stand for “five-year-old wheated bourbon,” and HR must stand for “high rye.” S16? I’m not totally sure. Sherry something, probably, but I’m still in the dark about the 16. Sixteen casks, perhaps?

As an aside, the Virgil Kaine brand name seems to pay homage to the protagonist from The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, a great song by The Band about the fall of the Confederacy. I’ve sung along about Virgil dozens of times, but until tasting this whiskey, I didn’t know he was a wholly fictitious character. Perhaps it’s for the best; invoking a fictitious character created by a Canadian songwriter may be one of the last ways to successfully align oneself with the Confederacy without turning off your customers.

Virgil Kaine 5WB.HR.S16 Ashcat

image via Margarett Waterbury/The Whiskey Wash

Tasting Notes: Virgil Kaine 5WB.HR.S16 Ashcat 

Vital Stats: Blended bourbon, a combination of 5-year-old wheated bourbon and high rye bourbon (and perhaps something else, or it wouldn’t be blended bourbon). 91.2 proof. 

Appearance: Thin body, medium amber color. Great production value on the heavy, embossed label.

Nose: Sweet, oily, and grassy, with a very glossy feel. I get spun sugar, tea, honey, chamomile, peanut skins, orange, and vanilla fudge. Over time rye starts to poke through, mostly in the form of tingly cinnamon and wet cardboard.

Palate: Also sweet, with an herbal note and lacy tannic structure that reminds me very much of Southern sweet tea (maybe that’s the marketing talking?). There’s also orange peel, peppermint leaves, and soy sauce for an earthy anchor. Oak’s in the tail, but it’s very low key, along with sticky, raisin-like sherry with a lightly oxidative quality. A thin mouth feel and relatively low flavor amplitude make this almost too easy to drink.

The Takeaway

Ashcat is not for me, but I can easily imagine a person who would enjoy this. It’s tasty over ice, a good base for cocktails, and easygoing enough to serve to mixed company. For $75, it won’t impress purists on the hunt for the next hidden bourbon gem, but it’s an interesting option for a friendly, approachable, somewhat “designed”-tasting bourbon that goes down easy

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About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.