Whiskey Review: Iron Fish Mad Angler Whiskey

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Iron Fish Distillery. 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.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time reading the back labels on our whiskey bottles beyond, maybe, where it was distilled. But if you happen across Mad Angler Whiskey from Iron Fish Distillery, linger for a moment on the back of the bottle.

“Consider holding the wildness of a place in your hand, and then tossing it back, dreaming of rivers, wild fish, pure water, the spirit luminous inside you allowed to roam where it wishes,” the label reads, courtesy of Michigan outdoors writer Michael Delp.

Iron Fish co-owner Richard Anderson, like Delp, is an avid fly fisherman on Michigan’s extensive network of trout streams. When he first read Delp’s stories and poems about fishing and the natural world, he decided to drive the five hours to meet Delp in person. (Delp has for decades called himself “the mad angler” in his writing.)

“I had to go out and meet the guy who had written these poems, even if he didn’t know me from Adam,” Anderson says. “I told him I was inspired by his poetry, and fishing on the Betsie River, and wanted to create a premium whisky named after the mad angler. Before I could even finish, he interrupted me and said ‘go ahead, let’s do it.’”

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Iron Fish Distillery, named for the Great Lakes steelhead that return to spawn in the nearby Betsie River each year, has survived since its 2016 inception by making gin, vodka, and rum, and buying MGP-distilled whiskey that it put through various types of finishing before bottling and labeling as its own. But the long-term plan was always to create a line of whiskies based entirely on estate-grown grains and production on-site.

The recently released Two Peninsulas and Mad Angler are the first two whiskies in what Iron Fish is calling its Estate Series. The goal is to be as environmentally sustainable as possible at every step, from treatment of the soil to bottling and shipping, and offer a true grain-to-glass experience.

The connection between Iron Fish and Delp’s writing seems likely to be a long-term one: Anderson says all future releases in the Estate Series will be under the Mad Angler label. Mad Angler bourbon, rye, and four-grain whiskey, at least. This first release, in the meantime, is an example of the four-grain whiskey.

“Our brand is aligned with the land, the water, the air – with outdoor culture,” Anderson says. “Mad Angler speaks to all that.”

Iron Fish Mad Angler Whiskey review

Iron Fish Mad Angler (image via Debbie Nelson)

Tasting Notes: Iron Fish Mad Angler Whiskey

Vital Stats: Four-grain whiskey aged in 53-gallon barrels for “slightly under five years”; mash bill of 51% wheat grown on-site, 26% yellow corn from a nearby farm, 14% malted barley from Great Lakes Malting Co., and 9% rye grown on-site; 90 proof/45% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $67 for a 750 ml bottle.

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Appearance: Amber, tending toward brown.

Nose: This smells less sweet than its sister Two Peninsulas Whiskey, which is the opposite of what I’d expect based on the mash bill. There’s an earthiness to it, like a grain barn or field of wheat. You can detect a bourbon-like familial resemblance, which makes sense with 26% corn. But the relatively low rye content means that the wheat takes precedence.

Palate: Citrus notes right away, reminiscent of orange zest and, if there is such a thing, spicy honey. It settles in the mid-palate into flavors of fig, chocolate, and almonds. A hint of rye spiciness comes back with the relatively long, pleasant finish. Mad Angler is more consistent throughout the palate than Two Peninsulas, which tends to hit hard and fade fast. This one lingers nicely.

 

3.5

Summary

The Iron Fish founders went to Louisville and met early on with Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr., who had been president and CEO of the Kentucky bourbon brand for 35 years. Samuels is a sixth-generation distiller, and Anderson said he told the newcomers to imagine Iron Fish as a 300-year-old brand. What will it be known for, what is the essence of the whiskies and the experience, what will stand the test of time? These questions, Anderson said, continue to guide Iron Fish as it moves beyond startup status and into expansion plans for the future.

I taste a lot of whiskey from young distillers, and the lack of experience often shows. If this first iteration of Mad Angler is any indication, that’s not much of an issue with Iron Fish. It’s not a perfect whiskey, but it’s a pretty decent one. The fact that they can do an estate whiskey of this quality this quickly is a promising sign.

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3.75 (4 votes)

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Scott Bernard Nelson

Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.