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Tamworth Distilling Launches Small Batch Rye Honoring A Donkey

Tamworth Distilling, the experimental liquid lab of spirits maverick and historian Steven Grasse, have bottled their flagship Chocorua Rye Whiskey since the first year of operation.

And as the distilling team experimented over the years with various mash bills and single barrels using the organic rye whiskey, they dove deeper into the rye’s ability to age and its approachability.

And that led them recently to the “Royal Gift,” a hand-crafted 24-bottle release showcasing a healthy dose of organic corn and malted barley housed in a hand-labeled bottle adorned with a keepsake charm in the shape of its inspiration and namesake … a donkey.

Tamworth Royal Gift
Royal Gift (image via Tamworth Distilling)

In December of 1785, George Washington received a long-awaited gift, a donkey named Royal Gift because the animal was a present from the King of Spain.

Tamworth’s Grasse said in a prepared statement, “Why would George Washington want a donkey? Because he wanted mules. Washington foresaw (accurately) that mules could be a valuable resource for the development of the United States.”

He said the Journey of Royal Gift’s story is interesting in itself, though Spain and the United States had worked together against Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, conversations had grown a bit tense. Spain was well known for producing the best donkeys and when King Charles III heard that Washington was looking to secure a donkey, he sent two to the United States.

The donkeys took different ships and were to land at different ports to ensure at least one survived (and only one did). Royal Gift landed in Massachusetts before taking a two-week trip down to George Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, where he proceeded to live a life of luxury mating with the top mares Virginia had to offer.

Speaking of Royal Gift (the whiskey), Grasse said, “As a northern crop, rye offers the colder climates a flavorful cereal grain capable of making complex whiskey. Often generalized as ‘spicy’ or ‘herbal’ this class has seen a big resurgence in recent years. Where our Chocorua Rye is sort of restrained with lots of fruit and elegance, Royal Gift is more robust and vivacious, a truly special whiskey released just in time for the holidays.”

Royal Gift is described as being made with non-GMO corn that is a cross between the flavorful flint and the starchy dent species, and is then distilled through a bubble cap, four tray whiskey column. The distiller’s notes show the results provide a rye that is fruity on the nose with apple tartness.

The whiskey’s nose is given structure from the maturing years, a cherry cola mid-palate and a smoldering sweetness from the elevated proof. Similar to heated caramel, Royal Gift has a confectionary evolution that lingers on the finish that is reminiscent of ‘sweet rye’ bread topped with cherries.

“This is a special recipe, and a rarity in the production schedule. It’s very different from Chocorua Rye, with very limited amounts made,” said Tamworth Distiller Jamie Oakes. “With that said, everything onsite is quite handmade in nature. We hand feed the grain into carts to be weighed, we hand load the mill to a controlled grind. To put it in perspective, each barrel is a representation of just three mashes, and the Royal Gift Rye makes up a tiny fraction of our barrelhouse inventory. We make it so infrequently that it’s really a drop in the pond of matured spirits that we produce, with the entire Royal Gift allotment tallying about one percent of our barrels.”

While Royal Gift (100 proof, $250) sold out in less than 48 hours from Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire, it’s still available for national purchase online at

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