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. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Curiosity can lead to great things, such as Elaine Paul’s question to her husband, Stephen, while barbecuing: “What if you made single malt whiskey with ‘mesquited’ malt instead of peated malt?” This question sparked a journey for Stephen Paul, woodworker, furniture-designer, and Scotch-lover, to try his hand at whiskey making. His quest inspired their daughter Amanda to move back home and help found the business, Hamilton Distillers Group, under which the Whiskey Del Bac brand is made.
Mesquite is native to the Southwest. It grows readily in Tucson, where the family lives, which lies within the Sonoran Desert. This durable and dense hardwood grows in some 50 million acres across the Southwest, from Southern California to Texas and as far north as Nebraska and northern Nevada. The family uses Velvet Mesquite from local sources in their whiskey making. This particular plant is native to parts of Arizona and Mexico. Its leaves are covered with fine hairs, from which its name is derived. It produces edible bean pods and fixes nitrogen in the soil. Despite being a shrub or tree, mesquite is classified as a legume.
Though not the only distillery to experiment with mesquite – even Crown Royal got in the game – Whiskey Del Bac is still one of the few. Using Scotch whisky-making as their inspiration, Whiskey Del Bac crafts whiskeys from house-malted barley kilned with mesquite instead of peat. Like peat, mesquite imparts a smoky character to the whiskey, but with a profile that is all its own.
Although most of their whiskeys are made in-house from malting the grain through to bottling, the Whiskey Del Bac Sentinel Straight Rye Batch 2 is the rare exception. To distinguish it from their house-malted, -distilled, and -aged American Single Malts, the label pushes the brand’s name to the bottom, mentioned only as the source for the finishing casks. Instead, it features the name of the bottling and a distinctive owl design.
The whiskey is “a blend of three-year-old and two-year-old 95% rye-5% malt straight rye whiskies from Indiana,” by which I assume MGP. The blend is finished in casks that held their “mesquited” whiskey. After spending time in the finishing casks, the whiskey is filtered through mesquite charcoal produced by their malting process, much in the style of sugar maple charcoal mellowing undergone by Tennessee whiskey in the Lincoln County process. I expect the boldly sweet and spicy note from the rye base to offset the BBQ-esque smokiness and smoothness of the mesquite processing.
Tasting Notes: Whiskey Del Bac Sentinel Straight Rye (Batch 2)
Vital Stats: Aged for at least two years in new American oak and finished in Whiskey Del Bac mesquited whiskey casks, 46% ABV, mash bill: 95% rye and 5% malted barley, SRP $40/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is pale amber with a yellow undertone.
Nose: Initially, I found this is to be very expressive in the glass. I pick up mostly floral and fruit notes at first, including fresh red apples, grilled lemon wedges, quince, figs, and raisins. The spice is subtle, suggesting notes of dried dill weed, clove, and ground ginger. There are faint notes of fresh rose petals and roasted carrots. It’s quite delectable, and a bit like wandering the stalls at a farmers’ market on a hot August afternoon. The mesquite comes across in the grilled and roasted notes. It’s not overpowering but seems to complement the floral and fruit aromas well.
Palate: On the palate, this is smooth and lush with a moderate to full body. The alcohol feels well balanced with just a suggestion of zippiness to the finish, making it supremely easy drinking. Here again the dominant notes are floral and fruity: it tastes a bit like Pez candy. There is an interesting spicy and smoky note that reminds me of ozone, like the air after a thunderstorm.
The finish is moderately long with refreshing notes of quince paste, lemon juice, and milk chocolate.