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.
Moonshiners going pro is a very American dream. From prohibition to the boom of craft distilling, who hasn’t thought about setting up a still in their backyard, but for the mountain of bureaucratic and legal obstacles? Fat Labrador Distillers, a new craft distilling company out of San Francisco, comes from these humble dreams. From moonshiners and brewers Christopher Dean, Minott Wessinger, and Michael Cecconi (and their portly pups Poco, Maya and Maddie), comes Whiskey Town three-year-old Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The name “Whiskey Town” was chosen to reflect the history of San Francisco as its “notorious Barbary Coast had crime, depravity and viciousness, yet it possessed more glamour than any other area of vice and inequity on the American continent.” The many ne’er-do-wells who came to the Bay Area “developed a refined taste for California’s fine food, spirits, and adventuring.”
These first Whiskey Town expressions capture this swashbuckling, yet Victorian air with one three-year-old whiskey and one 26-year-old “Lost Barrel” whiskey. The first, assumedly, is their flagship dram, where the second appears to be a cool side project of resurrecting long forgotten barrels and giving them their moment in the sun. Perhaps this arose from the spirit of the 49ers, drawing gold from the rough hewn ground, or perhaps it was something closer to “that sounds awesome.”
Either way, these efforts should be applauded.
The Whiskey Town three-year-old Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a young start for a flagship bourbon (notes indicate it was “distilled and aged in Indiana”), as anything with an age statement with lower than 5 years usually raises eyebrows. However, the distillers’ use of a modern method of finishing the whiskey with oak staves, rather than further aging in a barrel, creates the experience of a more tamed bourbon.
This method, while unusual, has become more common with distillers, such as Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. The advantage of staves is that distillers, and at home whiskey tinkerers, have more agility to craft the flavor they want. Wanting more oak and roasted flavors? Add a stave with a higher char. Want more vanilla? Consider throwing in a French oak stave.
The mash bill is an unusual mix of grain. The 75% corn is right in the mix with other recognizable bourbons, but the marriage of 21% rye (toward the higher end for bourbon) and only 4% malted barley (on the low end for bourbon) creates an expectation of something sweet and spicy, but low on the toasted/nutty notes expectant in a higher malted barley dram.
The end-product is a subdued whiskey, shockingly smooth for its age, with a lot of potential. This writer will wait with interest as this brand expands its range to (hopefully) include rye whiskey, bourbon, sweet feed American whiskey, beer-based whiskeys, and a range of California-inspired American whiskeys.
Tasting Notes: Whiskey Town Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged three years. 90 Proof (45% ABV). Craft finished on oak staves. $55.00.
Appearance: It has orange burst with tints of red and brown like a sunset through clouds.
Nose: Notes of hay and sawdust hit immediately but soften to quieter tones of cherry blossom, and light plum, with roasted hazelnuts filling the center.
Palate: Buttery butterscotch mix with hints of milk chocolate while anise and spice kick in. Cornmeal and vanilla persist through the palate, with a nice finish of darker berries and plum.
Whiskey Review: Whiskey Town Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This bourbon is a young spirit that surprises in its approachability and smooth character. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with persistent clarity on the palate, though a few drops of water are necessary to really open it up. Good whiskey, good story, portly pups, what’s not to get behind?
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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....