Comparison: Bodie 5 Dog / Rubicon Rye / 31n50

BODIE 5 DOG SINGLE MALT

Barrel 3, Bottle 332 (2019)

MASH BILL – 100% 2-row barley

PROOF – 80

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings

PRICE – $44 for 375ml

RUBICON RYE 
 
2019 blend / double-barrelled

MASH BILL – 100% rye

PROOF – 96

AGE – NAS (websiteindicates 2 years in the first barrel, 6-18 months in the second)

DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings

PRICE – $72

31N50

Barrel 4, Bottle 55 (2018)

MASH BILL – 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% barley (MGP-sourced)

PROOF – 143.1

AGE – 10 years 5 months

DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings

PRICE – $203

These three highly distinct whiskey experiences are united by their maker, Dry Diggings Distillery, located in the hot dry fields of El Dorado Hills, CA. Together they demonstrate the aim of the distillery to create diverse whiskeys that are unique to its local climate. 

First, some brief notes:

COLOR

Bodie – pale but vibrant honey yellow

Rubicon – rich cherry-russet amber

31n50 – deep sunset orange

 

NOSE

Bodie – toasted honey drizzle, lively young malt, light cream

Rubicon – juicy dried cherry, crisp rye, fresh cut oak

31n50 – the ABV up front, then faint rich caramel, oak, fresh well water

 

TASTE

Bodie – soft, buttery, lemony, caramel, lightly toasted bread

Rubicon – rich red dark fruits, dark sugars, crisp rye grain, caramel

31n50 – a slow deep burn, tangy caramel, a fiery flare at the end that steams the nose’s well water

 

FINISH

Bodie – warm toasted sugar, vanilla, a surprising tingle given the low proof

Rubicon – warm, lingering cherry and caramel, a nice light tingle

31n50 – caramel and long, lingering, smoldering heat…

 

OVERALL

Bodie – really easy drinking, flavorful and light

Rubicon – very pleasing and rich, bellies its young age

31n50 – a decadent oddity, attention-nabbing and puzzling

 

BUY AGAIN? 

Bodie – Yes. Though not often, given the price.

Rubicon – Yes. I’d be happy to always have a bottle on hand.

31n50 – No, given the price and scarcity. But I’ll certainly try one more batch if I can.

My curiosity is inclined toward these whiskies, I’ll admit, given they hail from my home county. Last year I enjoyed a bottle of 8-year Engine 49 Barrel Strength Bourbon—Dry Diggings’ most commercial friendly line—which impressed me with its cherry, chocolate, and oak. It even held its own alongside some Wild Turkey and other bourbons late one night:

Last year I also happened upon a bottle of 31n50 Barrel #1 in a San Francisco shop, to my great surprise given so few bottles were produced. I bought it, but could not get through it. It was 7 years old and 122.5 proof. The nose was reminiscent of well water conveyed through new metal pipes, with some sugary caramel. The taste echoed that well water / metal pipe aspect up front, with sugary burnt caramel in the middle, and a flash of pepperiness at the end. The finish lingered, with burnt sugary caramel and a numbing warmth. I really wanted to like it, and kept at it. With water. On ice. After this or that other bourbon. On its own again. But in the end the well water and new metal pipe aspect continued to dominate for me. Altogether, 31n50 Barrel #1 was narrowly and forcefully what it was—intense and inexperienced, like a teenager.

This was a surprise, as I had previously tried a taste of 31n50 Barrel #3 (9 years old and 140.5 proof) at the distillery and very much enjoyed it—for similar reasons, as I recall, that I now enjoy Barrel #4. 

The color of Barrel #4 is gorgeous, whether in the bottle or a glass. The nose then, is perhaps the weakest element—dominated by the ABV, which obstructs the perceptible caramels and oak. There is an aspect of that well water I’d found so displeasing and metallic in Barrel #1. But here it’s fresh from the earth, rather than conveyed through newly laid metal pipes. The taste is then all tangy rich caramels, surrounded by a heat that doesn’t sting so much as soak, deeply, into the tongue, mouth, chest, and stomach. Overall, it’s more sensation than flavor. And in fact it’s the sensation that lingers longest. And although that’s not a bad thing, it does not make this bottle one I’d reach for often or buy again.

That said, 31n50 is by design not a daily drinker but an opportunity for something more complicated. This exceptional experience—exceptional for being almost intellectual despite its sensorial attack—is in sharp contrast to the Rubicon Rye and Bodie 5 Dog, both of which sport a vibrant sensuality alongside their intelligence.

The Bodie 5 Dog is the younger, spritelier of the two. It surprises with its combination of lightness and fully realized flavor. It does leave me curious what it might be like at a higher proof. Yet it is perfectly pleasing as it is, compelling thought alongside its pleasures, infectiously young with a bright future ahead of it. I could drink it endlessly without tiring of it.

The Rubicon Rye gives the impression of having a bit more experience under its belt than the Bodie 5 Dog. It’s darker without brooding, smart without intellectualizing, and richly sweet without ever cloying. I could also drink this on and on and not get bored with it—the balance of fun, thought, and sensation are so well done. No doubt the double barreling process plays a strong hand in all this.

I am very happy to have all three of these bottles on my shelf. I would recommend the Bodie 5 Dog and Rubicon Rye to anyone, and the 31n50 to those with a serious interest in whiskey and who do not mind a thinker they might tangle with. The 31n50 is not an easy whiskey. But it is rewarding in its challenges. 

It also makes a perfect case for how one’s knowledge about a whiskey’s origins impacts the experience of it. I believe such impact is legitimate, that whiskey is not only about taste but also history, people, and circumstance. Having now tried three batches of 31n50, and then spoken at length with Dry Diggings owner Cris Steller about it, I greatly appreciate this Barrel #4, even as I struggle with it. The struggle, in fact, is an aspect of the enjoyment. I would serve it to friends who I know would enjoy an in-depth discussion of the nature of experiencing—how one’s own values and expectations play a role in our experiences—because that is what 31n50, for me, compels above all else: Conversation.

…Funny, now that the glasses are empty, I smell the 31n50 glass and get strong cherry and fresh oak. From the empty Rubicon glass I get cream and oak. From the Bodie 5 Dog glass I get a dry set of punchy baking spices—also found in the other two, as I now go back and forth.

Bodie 5 Dog
31n50
Rubicon Rye

It is very interesting to try such remarkably different whiskeys from the same distillery. Each share unusually vibrant colors, including a visible cloudiness from the unfiltered sugars allowed to swim freely in the bottles. There is this particularly lively baking spice mix they also share. Is it the water, flowing down from the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains? Can’t be, since 31n50 is an MGP-sourced distillate. Is it that fragrant El Dorado County air, sweeping through vast pine and oak forests and then across rolling fields of perpetually dry grasses? Could be. Or that intense, dry El Dorado County heat? Or is it Cris Steller’s utter passion for what he’s doing, and his insistence on extracting from his whiskeys precisely what is local to El Dorado Hills? Is it also that I got to know him a bit, and that I’m aware these whiskeys hail from the land where I grew up?

Yes to all that.

None of these are widely distributed. If you have the opportunity, visit Dry Diggings Distillery and spring for a tasting. I suspect you might walk away with at least two bottles under your arm, if not more.

As for the 31n50 specifically, it won’t be listed or on display in the tasting room. But ask Cris Steller about it and he’ll be glad to have a chat with you. If you’ve read my interview with Steller you know already that 31n50 is a very personal project, that only a finite number of bottles exist at all, and when they’re gone the 31n50 will be a matter of history never to be repeated. Steller wants each bottle to be appreciated as it was intended to be—purely on its own terms. And so no bottle leaves the tasting room without a conversation. This aspect of how 31n50 gets sold—when it does get sold—irritates some folks. I understand that point of view, and even shared it initially. But after learning more about the nature, history, and motivation behind this particular bourbon, I have come to appreciate the integrity behind Steller’s perspective. It may never please customers who do not wish to be denied their wants when they want them. But in Steller’s own words, “It’s not famous, so you’re drinking it because there’s a connection there.” And if one doesn’t feel that connection, I’d say, then no harm done. There are a zillion other “unicorns” to be had. And the Rubicon Rye and Bodie 5 Dog are excellent, in my opinion more satisfying tasting-experiences overall, and themselves well worth a trip to this remote distillery.

Whichever bottles you end up buying, afterwards make your way into downtown Placerville, take a seat on the steps of the Bell Tower on Main Street, or find some perch overlooking the vast and varied mountain ranges. Have come prepared with a glass, and enjoy your Northern California whiskies where they were made.

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