Whiskey Reviews: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills

Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. 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 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.

San Luis Obispo, or SLO as it is often called, is an interesting city located along the central coast of California. For instance, SLO banned drive thru restaurants in 1986 citing concerns of pollution while also wanting to promote a pedestrian friendly community with the goal of having people enjoy their city. This mindset seems to be alive and well in their city with a culture of food, museums, and outdoor activities. And even their distilleries embody their city’s culture, such as at Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills.

Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills was founded in 2019 by Rod Cegelski and Hamish Marshall. Rod is from California and Hamish comes from Australia. Their company comes out of SLO Brew, a craft brewery that Hamish took over in 2010. They distilled their first whiskey in 2012 from the brewery, but it is unclear what became of that distillate as all current offerings are only at two years of age. They use purified water from the Pacific Ocean to “capture the soul and essence of the waters that united (them). California meets Australia.” And keeping with the culture of SLO their brand reps consist of a race car driver and a surfer. 

I’m looking at the core offerings from Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. Those are a bourbon, a cask strength bourbon, and a rye all aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak. All three are distilled in Indiana, cut with water from the Pacific Ocean, and bottled by Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. In addition to these three, and not being reviewed here, they sell a Distiller’s Reserve Rye Whiskey that uses a lower percentage of rye in its mash bill and is only aged a year. 

The distillery also has a Spirits Club and a Barrel Club. The Spirits Club is a free to join way to get invited to distillery events and a chance to purchase limited release products. The Barrel Club is $1500 a year membership due for access to a five gallon barrel that can be customized with wood spirals to speed up aging. These are presumably the larger spirals normally used in actual production, but they act very much like the spirals used for aging in a bottle at home. The annual fee is followed up with a $10 per bottle fee for pouring off the liquid inside. If you want to age for more than a year it will cost you an additional $1500. Each barrel sees about 28 bottles bringing total costs to about $1780, making it only slightly more expensive per bottle than their normal offerings. 

But how is their whiskey? Read on for tasting notes and details on each of the bottlings. 

SLO Stills whiskey review

Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills whiskey (image via Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills)

Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Straight Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 95% rye. Bottled at 45% ABV.  Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak. From $31.99 per bottle.

Appearance: Golden yellow in color, this forms small tears on the glass that are slow to fall. 

Nose: Smells of toasted rye bread with honey. A kind of marshmallow sweetness is on the nose with some subtle apple and spice.

Palate: This has a very pleasant spice throughout it. It has that kind of nondescript sweetness up front, flavor of rye crackers in the mid palate, and a meaty finish that is just quite savory. The addition of water shifts the flavor profile towards the sweeter notes with hints of caramel coming in at the mid palate and making the finish a combination of vegetal and sweet.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 55% corn, 35% rye, and 10% barley. Bottled at 45% ABV. Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak. $42.99 per bottle.

Appearance: Appearance is almost identical to the rye, with just the slightest copper hue added to the color.

Nose: Smells of cotton candy, corn, and a savory vegetal note that almost reminds me of green olive.

Palate: The cotton candy on the nose really carries over to the front of the palate with just a ton of sweetness at first. This shifts to pretty classic bourbon flavors of vanilla and oak on the mid palate. The finish is pretty long with a mild spice and good warming sensation. The addition of water really killed this for me. I get almost nothing from the front of the palate and the finish. The mid palate becomes a standard bourbon with the caramel and oak flavor.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Cask Bourbon

Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 55% corn, 35% rye, and 10% barley. Bottled at 56% ABV. Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak. From $36.99 per bottle.

Appearance: This is slightly darker in color than the straight bourbon with the tears on the glass taking longer to form and fall. 

Nose: I get caramel, white pepper, and a note of charred corn. The corn scent makes me think of corn cooked on barbecue for just a little too long.

Palate: I get caramel and pepper up front. This shifts to a marshmallow sweetness with a bit of oak in the mid palate and a good amount of heat from the alcohol. The finish is filled with spice and a little bit of that corn flavor from the nose. Surprising no one, adding water puts the flavor profile in line with the straight bourbon.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Final Thoughts: In my opinion all of these need a bit more age on them. There isn’t anything wrong with them, but they all drink a bit hot and come off as a bit young. The flavors don’t seem as  developed and I feel they lack a depth that you can find in so many other ryes and bourbons on the market in the same price range. 

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