Great Wagon Road Rua American Single Malt

Release #56 (2020)

MASH BILL – 100% organic, non-GMO malted two-row Pilsner barley

PROOF – 92

AGE – 16 months

DISTILLERY – Great Wagon Road Distilling Co.

PRICE – $45


It’s premature to mention it, but, that aroma! Within a split-second of uncorking the bottle, it reaches right out to me…!

Okay. More on that in a moment.

I heard of Great Wagon Road Distilling Co.’s Rua American Single Malt Whiskey through whiskey critic Fred Minnick. He uncorked a bottle of Seelbach’s single barrel pick on his live YouTube show, and this is how he reacted:

A month later, to make certain that single barrel wasn’t a carefully selected anomaly, he put a bottle of the regular release to the test:

Confirmed. Rua was special. I hopped online and purchased a bottle from Seelbach’s that very night. Good thing, too, because by morning they were sold out!

Before I go any further, here are some brief notes, taken about a week after uncorking and tasted in a traditional Glencairn:

COLOR – in sunlight and electric light, an incredible range, from dusty burnt orange to rich syrupy maple

NOSE – bright toasty malt, molasses, honey, caramel, fresh milled grains, fine sawdust from sweet spring oak, fresh toast with honey-butter; with more air comes buttery caramel, some cream on a bready fruit compote like nectarine or peach…

TASTE – young for sure, but whip smart; molasses, dried figs and plumbs, fresh cream and vanilla, a tart peach or apricot jam on swallowing, a dusting of a bright cinnamon and brown sugar blend, the flavors setting every inch of my palate on alert

FINISH – warm, the fresh fruit compote and jam lingering nicely, a dusting of the toasty malt and bread flavors, a whiff of that young barley and wood, all lingering quite awhile…

OVERALL – unique, surprising, delightful, young, accomplished, challenging in a great way

By “challenging in a great way” I mean this whiskey utterly belies expectations of young, craft American single malts. And it is indeed young. Sixteen wee months? Unbelievable. The way that nose reaches out. And how the taste divides and conquers the palate, with the darker grain, caramel and molasses notes taking center and the brighter, more pronounced fruit notes surrounding on all sides. Those fruit flavors are the ultimate headliner of the experience. That it’s been watered down to a quite common and low 92 proof, and yet is so flavorful? I can only imagine what it would be like at barrel proof.

How do they do it? The barrels are a standard No.3 char American White Oak, nothing unusual there. However, the barrels are only 25 gallons, rather than the typical 53 gallons, offering more surface-to-surface contact between the wood and whiskey. (This is considered “cheating” by some people. I’d say it’s simply less common.) The choice of organic, non-GMO grains must certainly be one factor. Spring water from the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains is another. They only slightly filter the whiskey, using a paper filtration process rather than the more common process of chill filtering. Is that the crucial detail? Or the North Carolina weather?

It’s a guessing game. Suffice it to say, any whiskey the aroma of which literally leaps out immediately upon uncorking is already achieving something. That the many flavors gathered in this whiskey march along with such consistency from the uncorking to the nose, then literally scamper all over my palate before carrying on into the long-lasting finish… Well, I agree with Minnick that a star would seem to have been born.

Will that star continue to shine? Time will tell. I have no reason to be pessimistic. Of course I would want something like this Rua to grow ever greater as its young makers continue on their journey. With such an uncommonly accomplished start, following Great Wagon Road’s progress will be a pleasure.

Of course, for now I must rely on Seelbach’s if I am to go along for the ride with Great Wagon Road. If at some point they go national, I’ll be grateful.

Now, am I under the influence of Minnick’s mouthgasm? For sure. Would I be as taken with this whiskey had I come across it without his enthusiastic heads up? Can’t ever know. There’s no fully escaping an influence once it’s come to roost. But based on my range of craft whiskey experiences to date, I do feel confident that I would have been taken by this on my own accord. I love the flavors in this whiskey’s profile, and I love coming across accomplished new craft distilleries. The underdog has always been my favorite mutt.

Very well and thoughtfully made, exceptionally tasty, elegantly bottled, and affordably priced, Rua is a new favorite on my shelf. BAM!


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