OLD MONROE SINGLE BARREL SELECT
Pot Distilled Wheated Bourbon
MASH BILL – Unstated mash bill of corn, winter wheat, and barley malt
PROOF – 90
AGE – NAS (4+ years)
DISTILLERY – Stumpy’s Spirits Co.
PRICE – $38
BUY AGAIN? – No, but only because there are similar craft distilleries more local to me that I’d like to $upport.
I’m always on the hunt for wheated bourbon alternatives to Buffalo Trace Distillery’s over-hunted, and therefore typically over-priced, Weller and Van Winkle lines. The Van Winkles were intended to be a premium item. But the Weller trio—Special Reserve, Antique 107, and 12-Year—were once dependable bottom shelf wheat bourbons, affordable and readily available. Fashion and FOMO have since stolen them from the masses.
So when I caught wind of this affordably priced craft wheater from Stumpy’s Spirits in Columbia, IL, I jumped on it.
Mainstream stalwart Lux Row Distillers recently released their Rebel Yell 100, a no-age-statement wheater in the 4-year+ age range, the taste of which smacks of more experience and 10 more proof points than Old Monroe. Rebel Yell 100 balances its woodiness with more prevalent caramel and fruit flavors. It makes a more relatable alternative to the similarly balanced and mainstream Weller Special Reserve than Old Monroe does.
Old Monroe has a familiar “craft” taste to it. Rebel Yell 100 tastes familiar in another way—that mainstream way that uses larger equipment and not strictly local, homegrown ingredients. Comparing them left me wondering about what is lost and gained in mass production, and what is lost and gained in small craft production?
Craft distilleries have a tendency toward bottling very young whiskeys redolent of bread and often tannic or sappy wood flavors. The best of them manage to pull fruits, caramels, or rustic spices into the mix—though often not enough to overpower the dominant grain and young wood flavors. Tom’s Foolery Distillery, MB Roland Distillery, and Home Base Spirits are all cousin examples to Stumpy’s.
Often these craft whiskeys are simply too young for me, too bright and sawdusty and lacking complexity. But as often they can be amazing and fresh, like Home Base Spirits’ recent Red Flint Corn Whiskey. The fact that Stumpy’s chose to wait until their wheated bourbon had aged a full four years, and then released it as a single barrel offering, intrigued me. They also use grain grown and malted on their own farm, and fresh limestone water drawn from their own well. Every aspect of their process is in-house, so it’s a true “grain to glass” offering, which I also appreciate. Cask strength might have been nice. But you can’t have everything. And, of course, cask strength does not always make a whiskey better.
Here are some notes in brief, taken about a quarter of the way into this open bottle:
COLOR – an autumn sunset’s copper-orange
NOSE – fragrant, bready, tannic fresh cut oak, some pinewood sawdust, a faint background of fruits like apricot and peach, faint tangy caramel, zingy dashes of lemon zest and cinnamon
TASTE – a young tannic oakiness and pinewood, tangy walnut bread, very soft vanilla-caramel, a rounded tang on swallowing
FINISH – the sweet oak and pine, a lingering round and tangy warmth with intermittent flashes of caramel and cinnamon
OVERALL – Very “craft.” (But then taste it in a brandy glass… See below!)
It’s indeed very “craft,” almost to the point of cliché. The predominance of raw grain and sawdusty, woody flavors tastes quite familiar. There are so many of these on the market now. Stumpy’s does distinguish itself with a relatively approachable price and single barrel status. Most other similar craft distilleries produce blended small batches and price their bottles around $50 on average. But the taste is very typical of young craft whiskey distilling.
I tried this in three different glasses. The first was the Canadian Glencairn, which I chose given the fragrant nature of the whiskey. The Canadian Glencairn shows off fragrant ryes, so maybe it could show off a fragrant wheater. The notes above come from this glass. In it, the bread and wood-shaving notes were indeed very forthcoming.
The Norlan Rauk heavy tumbler has become a standard glass for me. It can bring a whiskey into sharper focus, sometimes sacrificing a bit of the darker bass notes in favor of crisper bright notes. The effect in this instance was to clarify the distinctions within Old Monroe’s flavor profile, without drawing out anything the Canadian Glencairn hadn’t already done.
Next I used a standard brandy glass. Wow. Here the whiskey was notably creamier on the nose, in the taste, and on into the finish. This added cream aspect makes a big difference for me, taming the tannins and sawdusty aspects. Here the whiskey is lovely, rustic, and subtle, like a small hometown bakery’s un-flashy daily baked goods, made of fresh local ingredients. The young tannic notes aren’t entirely smoothed over by the brandy glass’ contours. But the cream aspect does soften them enough to show off Old Monroe in a much more appealing way.
This almost makes it worth buying another bottle. Only almost, because, again, this flavor profile is very familiar. The lower than usual price gives the product an edge on much of its craft competition. But there are other craft distilleries more local and available to me that I’d rather support with my buying.
In five and ten years it will be very interesting to taste what is coming out of all these high quality, source-conscious craft distilleries. There is nothing like a good, small, family-owned bakery that uses only fresh, local, often organic or otherwise carefully considered ingredients. Many of the new craft distilleries are following this traditional wisdom. Economics often force them to put out whiskeys at a premature age and a premium price. Patience and time will tell if the wait for their later efforts will be worth it. But I’m eager to wait.
Stumpy’s Spirits joins a list of serious craft distilleries—making their own product and not sourcing—that I’ll continue to follow. I do believe their Old Monroe Single Barrel Select would benefit from more time. I’d love to try it aged six years. In the meantime, I’ll take my time with this current bottle, and always in the brandy glass that shows it off at its best.