Two Whiskeys From Big River Distilling: Blue Note Juke Joint Bourbon & Riverset Rye

BLUE NOTE JUKE JOINT BOURBON

MASH BILL – 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% barley

PROOF – 93

AGE – 3-4 years

DISTILLERY – Big River Distilling (sourced from KY)

PRICE – free sample (msrp $30)

BUY AGAIN? – Yes!

RIVERSET RYE

MASH BILL – 95% rye, 5% barley

PROOF – 93

AGE – 4 years

DISTILLERY – Big River Distilling (made in TN, but not clear whether it’s distilled by B.R. Distilling or sourced)

PRICE – free sample (msrp $30)

BUY AGAIN? – Yes!

I’d not heard of Big River Distilling prior to these sample bottles being sent my way by them. There are so many new distilleries opening each year it’s hard to keep up. But like when you hear an unusual word one day, and then start hearing it all the time, once the folks at B.R. Distilling had reached out to me I started catching sight of their products in my Instagram feed.

So I looked into them. As someone with an interest in marketing and showmanship, I’m always curious about how distilleries present their whiskeys.

B.R. Distilling is based in Memphis, Tennessee. Their four products—these two, plus a 9-year sourced Tennessee Whiskey (George Dickel, given the mash bill) and a 10-year single barrel of the same—are promoted through a trio of interconnected websites. As a marketing approach, dispersing product information over three websites seems overly complicated. It means more digging around for information. If that’s the point—a tactic meant to increase online engagement—I personally find it more cumbersome than compelling.

Additionally, inconsistencies between their bottle labels and websites give the impression of B.R. Distilling striking a balance of transparency and its lack. On their websites they offer up the mash bills, age, and the fact that each batch is drawn from 20 barrels—all appreciated information. That the bottle labels don’t echo the same age stats quite exactly is a quibble. Of greater interest are the origins of the whiskeys. The websites clarify that Blue Note Juke Joint is “distilled in Kentucky and aged, blended and bottled in Memphis,” while its bottle only mentions the distillation and bottling locations. Riverset Rye, according to its label, is “distilled in Tennessee and bottled by B.R. Distilling Company, Memphis, Tennessee,” with no further clarifications on the website. This leaves it unclear whether B.R. distills the rye itself or sources it, and the extent to which they themselves age it. There is a general statement on the websites that their whiskeys are aged along the banks of the Mississippi—though whether fully or only partially is not specified.

Do these discrepancies matter? Not if one only cares about how the whiskeys taste, which is perfectly fair. But collectors and aficionados eat details for breakfast. The apparent accuracy of information becomes a question of integrity in a business known for its history of shysters. (That history is sometimes also a source of pride, of course, adding a certain romantic love of the outlaw to the mix.) A lack of consistency between labels and websites brings into question why things aren’t being made perfectly clear.

Equivocal language seems a bit old fashioned for this relatively new company. The current trend in whiskey is definitely transparency. Transparency gives consumers confidence in a product. Even contractual obligations around sourcing need not stop a distillery from sharing in clear language everything they can—something exemplified by recent Bardstown Bourbon Company bottle labels, which give exact percentages of mash bills and ages. B.R. Distilling’s mini website maze and inconsistent information isn’t proof of anything. It just grabs my aficionado’s attention in a way I don’t imagine they intend.

Okay. So that’s the marketing. How do these whiskeys taste? Sampled in simple brandy glasses, four days after uncorking and three pours into the bottles, here are some notes in brief:

BLUE NOTE JUKE JOINT BOURBON

COLOR – medium orange with faint russet highlights

NOSE – baked cherry, fresh bread, fresh cracked black peppercorns, some peanut butter, very pretty floral notes reflecting the high-rye mash bill

TASTE – a brightening right up front like the sun coming out, then the cherry now with caramel, fresh black pepper on home-baked crackers, a cola note, and is that papaya I’m tasting?

FINISH – warm with the cherry, black pepper, that cola note and a bit of the papaya

OVERALL – very smooth, very nice, both classic and fresh, that unexpected papaya note, and the surprising savory cracked black pepper threading nicely through it all

RIVERSET RYE

COLOR – an almost cool pale amber with gold highlights

NOSE – dill, floral rye, crisp flatbread crackers with rosemary, fresh cracked black pepper, a light plumb-like fruitiness wafting in the background

TASTE – sparkly like sunlight on water, the dill with other herbs mixed in, fresh peaches, creamy and rich but relaxed

FINISH – light and creamy caramel, dill, a nice peppery tingle alongside a return of the fresh cracked black pepper, those plumb notes wafting back in, all lingering for a surprisingly long time given the proof

OVERALL – really good and so easy to drink

All in all, wow. Two excellent new whiskeys at an excellent price. I hope they make it out to California soon. All things considered, I’d say these are no-brainer buys with very broad appeal. They are so smooth, without losing their interest. Left unfiltered, so much flavor comes across. And the 93 proof lifts those flavors up clearly without hurling them at you.

What’s particularly interesting is that one is a bourbon from Kentucky and the other a rye from Tennessee, with radically different mash bills. And yet there’s that fresh cracked black pepper note that unites them. Is that the barrel type? The Tennessee weather? The water used to proof the whiskeys down? They also share certain floral notes. Tasted separately I wouldn’t associate them with one another offhand. Blue Note is definitely a bourbon and Riverset is most definitely a rye. But tasted adjacent to one another, a familial relationship is discernible. Very interesting.

The Riverset Rye’s dill aspect means it will likely appeal to fans of WhistlePig and certain MGP-sourced ryes like Bulleit or the older Willett sourced bottlings. The Blue Note’s cherry aspect might appeal to Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig fans. It might even appeal to scotch fans, due to the papaya and floral notes, which, for me, are reminiscent of certain scotches with tropical flavors.

There is a lot to like in these bottles. The ratio of flavor to price is exceptional. They’re fully enjoyable neat and will no doubt pop really well in cocktails. The label designs are simple and creative, balancing the classic and the contemporary and firmly locating the whiskeys regionally. The convoluted marketing scheme is an oddity. But so long as B.R. Distilling succeeds at getting people to give these whiskeys a try, I think they may be around a long time.

I’m grateful for the introduction. I cannot wait to taste their well-aged products in a few years, and would love to try cask strength variants. But in short, with Blue Note Juke Joint and Riverset Rye, B.R. Distilling has added two thoroughly excellent and affordable whiskeys to the shelf. I’m a fan.

Cheers!

Bonus Track

Tennessee Waltz

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