Redwood Empire Lost Monarch Whiskey

a blend of straight rye and bourbon whiskeys

MASH BILL – 60% rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% barley), 40% bourbon (75% corn, 21% raw rye, 4% malted barley)

PROOF – 90

AGE – blend of 5 to 12 year old bourbon and 3 to 5 yr old rye, including a portion of house-distilled rye

DISTILLERY – Redwood Empire

PRICE – $40

BUY AGAIN? – No, though I’ll enjoy this bottle

I was introduced to Redwood Empire at a local in-store tasting early this past Fall. The sample I was given was of a now discontinued blend, mixing younger and older sourced whiskeys. The younger, cheaper whiskeys clearly made up the majority of that blend. It struck me as another average young craft rye, too young for my personal tastes, and I didn’t bite.

But I was intrigued by the distillery. They’re based in Sonoma County, not too far from San Francisco, and I have a local’s interest in what is particular to Northern Californian whiskey. Though the majority of their distillate remains sourced, they now age everything in the Sonoma climate—more known for its world famous wineries than for whiskey. That said, they were established in 2017, so, a majority of the aging cannot yet have been impacted by the local climate.

Also of note: Redwood Empire has partnered with Trees For The Future, and, through them, for every bottle of whiskey sold the distillery contributes to the planting of a new tree. This is a very Northern Californian impulse, and I’m born and raised here, so, I appreciate it. Having grown up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, surrounded by trees that I’ve watched suffer over the years from various acts of humankind, Redwood Empire’s commitment adds to my desire to support their product.

But the whiskey, not only the politics, needs to be good to make me a regular customer. And there are increasingly many Northern Californian disitlleries to support for one reason or another. So when Redwood Empire recently revamped its look, putting out three new bottlings…

  • Pipe Dream Bourbon – blending 4 to 12 year old barrels of a 75% corn, 21% raw rye, 4% malted barley mash bill.
  • Emerald Giant Rye – blending 3 to 5 year old barrels of a 95% rye, 5% malted barley mash bill
  • Lost Monarch Whiskey – as per above.

…I took notice. Immediately, the Lost Monarch blend was getting called out nationally as the most interesting of the three. Based on the stated blend, I agreed. So I started there.

Tasted in a traditional Glencairn about three weeks after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle, here first are some notes in brief:

COLOR – soft pale orange verging into yellows

NOSE – rye spices and florals, spiced melon (is that a thing?), watermelon candies, a fruit taffy, bubblegum, a whiff of sweet pine sap and honey, a bit of black pepper

TASTE – both creamy and spicy, with the rye spices and florals, some cinnamon now, and the nose’s taffy goes more caramel

FINISH – rye spice, a mild tingle from the proof, the taffy and caramels sprinkled with the rye herbs and a dash of that cinnamon

OVERALL – younger than it is old, more of a rye experience than a bourbon, more interesting than some and far less than others

I don’t have much more to say about it than that. It’s of interest without being terribly compelling. It does taste young. And though literally this is a rye and bourbon blend, the impact is ultimately that of a young craft rye, with all the sweet florals and rough blending I associate with that broad category. While young Kentucky distilleries like Peerless and Wilderness Trail have managed to sidestep those qualities, many others do not.

Nor may the many others wish to. If everything tasted the same, the whiskey landscape would be a boring plane of sameness. I’m grateful for the variations. They compel me onward in my exploration. However, this Lost Monarch tastes a bit too familiar to arrest my attention. And although the price is good—a good bit better than the afore-mentioned Wilderness Trail and infinitely better than Peerless—there are other young ryes I’d reach for sooner. For a floral rye I’d gladly go for Old Forester at half Lost Monarch’s price. For the spicy, herbal, fruity aspects, I’d pay triple for an Old Potrero Single Barrel Rye.

Peerless and Wilderness Trail are based in Kentucky. Maybe their differences from this Redwood Empire, or even the quite different Old Potrero, mark a difference between the Kentucky and Northern Californian terroirs? Not likely. Journeyman, for example, puts out young ryes the flavor profiles of which I can relate to this Lost Monarch, and Journeyman is based in Michigan.

All sipped and done, Redwood Empire’s Lost Monarch is interesting enough, and their mission compelling enough, that I’ll continue to follow their development and try future products. I do appreciate their pricing, notably cheaper than many similar craft distilleries. It’s not uncommon for young distilleries offering young products to charge $50 minimum per bottle. With tax, Lost Monarch came out at about $40. This makes the experience much more approachable. At even $50 I may have leaned further away from it.

I’m writing these notes on a sunny evening. The fickle San Franciscan weather has just taken yet another turn, this time from an almost autumnal chill to a heat much more like Summer. And this light, floral, creamy, spice-sprinkled whiskey hits the spot. That’s not bad at all.


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