Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples 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 links towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Also, a previous version of this review indicated the distillery was founded in Detroit, when in fact it was founded in Ferndale, Michigan. Additionally, it exists as one of the early craft distilleries in the United States. The Whiskey Wash regrets the errors.
Rifino Valentine first delved into spirits after exploring vodka, which he found to be overpriced and over-marketed products of international liquor conglomerates. He knew he could do better. He founded Valentine Distilling Co. in Ferndale, Michigan in 2007, becoming one of the first craft distilleries in the country and one of the state’s oldest modern distilleries.
The focus in their distillery is to create greener, eco-friendly distilling by focusing on recapturing and reducing the usage of water. Valentine estimates that the company will save almost five million gallons of water over ten years. Estimates vary for how much water is used to produce whiskey (some estimates cite 20 gallons per shot to 190 gallons per bottle of Scotch).
It’s important to note that water is more than just for proofing: from the irrigation used in most grain growing (though non-irrigated whiskeys do exist!), to water-based cooling and cleaning systems in the distillery itself, water is so essential and so easily overlooked. I think it’s admirable that this distillery is working to cut usage. One of the ways is through closed cooling systems. Creative uses of such systems act as heat transfers within the distillery instead of simply dumping the hot water down the drain.
The Valentine Distilling Co. offers a wide portfolio of spirits, including several styles of vodka, gin, and whiskey, as well as COVID-inspired hand sanitizers. The whiskeys are named in honor of Hazen S. Pingree, who served as mayor of Detroit between 1890 and 1897. Pingree is known as one of America’s great mayors. He helped alleviate difficulties faced by citizens of Detroit as the city urbanized and industrialized.
The Mayor Hazen S. Pingree Straight Bourbon Batch No. 038, also known as the Red Label, is selected from “barrels of [their] own Ferndale, MI triple pot distilled bourbon,” while the Mayor Hazen S. Pingree Small Batch Rye Batch No. 016, is “made from a combination of two mash bills.” Both are non-chill filtered, which many craft producers prefer in order to preserve the complexity and authenticity of aromatics.
These two bottlings represent the youngest releases from the distillery. The two whiskeys have developed a following in the states where they’re released. These include a small handful in and around Michigan and the northeast.
Tasting Notes: Mayor Pingree Red Label Bourbon Batch No. 038
Appearance: This is deep golden yellow in color with a reddish mahogany undertone.
Nose: This felt a touch reserved on first crack, with a hint of nail polish remover and some grain-forward aromas of toasted white bread, oatmeal porridge, and flaky butter pastries. As it opened, it reminded me like a cognac with faint notes of cherries, grilled pineapple, and toasted vanilla pods. There’s a faintly nutty aroma like hazelnut skins. There was a slightly unpleasant chemical note reminiscent of cooked eggs that I didn’t love alongside melted butter and raw flour. Fortunately, this blew off after opening!
Palate: The palate felt a touch thin and watery with a sharp sting from the alcohol. It had an initial flavor of simple syrup on the palate, almost to the point of tasting like vodka. The finish saved the day, with notes of buttered popcorn, maple sugar, and pineapple juice. It tastes remarkably young with a pop of tannins on the finish.
Tasting Notes: Mayor Pingree Orange Label Rye Batch No. 016
Appearance: This whiskey is pale golden yellow with an orange undertone.
Nose: There’s a more forward rye-spice nose than many ryes I’ve enjoyed recently. This reminds me of caraway and fennel seeds. There are notes of burnt vanilla and toasted brown bread alongside tropical fruit notes such as dried bananas and under ripe papaya. I enjoyed the green smoky note that evoked agave along with aromas of gingerbread cookies. It feels like there’s more going on here than the bourbon, and boy, if I’m not charmed by a heavily scented rye.
Palate: On the palate, the initial impression is savory with a note of warm oak and raw bread dough. It tastes more mature and composed than the bourbon, with a light note of fresh orange peel and brewed Lipton tea on the finish. There are no off aromas, but again it lacks a bit in complexity. With a dash of water it becomes pleasantly minty.
I really wanted to like these whiskeys, but I they simply did not speak to me. Both had no obvious flaws, but didn’t wow me aromatically or on the palate. I had a slight preference for the rye since the spice added interest. They seemed a touch thin and harsh and far too obviously youthful for my tastes. It seems like there’s oodles of potential here and that I would most likely be extremely satisfied with their more venerable expressions.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...