Revisiting: Bodie 5 Dog Single Malt California Whiskey

Barrel #3 (2019)

MASH BILL – 100% two-row malted barley

PROOF – 80


DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings Distillery

PRICE – $44 (375ml)


I first wrote about Bodie 5 Dog about a year ago in notes on a flight of Dry Diggings Distillery offerings, which also included their Rubicon Rye and little known but highly prized 31n50 Bourbon. I’d previously interviewed distillery owner Cris Steller. He was a gold mine of candid information and insight into the process of making these whiskeys and the motives behind doing them the way he does. I’ve since returned regularly to stock up on old faves as well as pick up the occasional experiment that Steller and his team come up with—like a single barrel Engine 49 Rum they recently bottled, a one-off that came about when they found a forgotten barrel left off to the side and realized it was a stand-alone treasure.

I’m not as experienced with rum. But this study in honey and butter made a perfect sunset sipper in the hot and dry summer heat of El Dorado County.

All that and the fact that Dry Diggings is my home county distillery gives their products a special place in my whiskey-fan heart. Even setting aside my personal connection, their Rubicon Rye is easily among my favorite ryes. Fruity, spicy, both rugged and smooth, it goes down easy whether sipped neat or mixed in a cocktail.

The elusive and rare 31n50 Bourbon, on the other hand, is a kind of caramel atomic bomb, each explosive single barrel clocking in at 140+ proof and bottled uncut, unfiltered, as straight from the barrel as possible. I love it. I can’t say it’s the best bourbon I’ve had or even my favorite from a purely tasting standpoint. But it is easily among the most unique and interesting, and a conversation starter with a great story behind it.

Each batch of 31n50—there are twelve total—is released only after the previous has sold out, and though there are barely 100 bottles per batch if that, it takes the good part of the year for a given batch to go. This is because Dry Diggings doesn’t advertise it or submit it to competitions. It’s a project of love, sold lovingly to those who will appreciate it on its own terms. Anyone I have served it to has been stopped in their tracks, and inevitably slid their glass forward for more. It’s weirdly enticing and dangerously easy to drink for such a hazmat monster of a whiskey.

Bodie 5 Dog is in certain ways an opposite experience from 31n50. More like the single barrel Engine 49 Rum, this single malt is simple without being simplistic. Despite its low 80 proof it carries a wonderful flavor punch, bringing out the malted barley’s floral and fruity notes like a late-summer bouquet.

This is my second bottle of this same barrel #3 release, sampled now with another year of tasting under my belt. (Under my tongue?) Tasted in a traditional Glencairn, about two weeks after uncorking and just a few pours into the bottle, here are some notes in brief:

COLOR – cloudy unfiltered honey with golden orange flecks

NOSE – fragrant long dry grasses, floral herbs, more unfiltered honey, lemon, candied orange, fresh pine needles, sage, oak

TASTE – the grasses, herbs, and pine darken and blend with the soft malted barley, a squeeze of the citrus aspects, some nice dark caramel in the background

FINISH – malted barley, the array of herbal elements, a soft and fine peppery warmth lingering at the back of the throat

OVERALL – simple, rustic, light, and lovely

There is something at once rough and refined about this young single malt, with the various grass, herb, and pine elements really conjuring the Sierra Nevada foothills from where it comes. The cloudiness in the bottle is evidence of its raw, unfiltered nature. It almost seems like the herbs and pine needles were left to soak in the bottle for a time, leaving their particles. Sometimes pine can go astringent for me, or even taste glue-like when it’s too green. Here it’s much more fresh, like how the millions of long needles in a forest of pine trees infuse the very air with their scent.

With Bodie 5 Dog, Dry Diggings makes a case for a Northern Californian—specifically Sierra Nevadas—terroir. Cris Steller’s project with 31n50, to find out what the particular impact of the region’s weather would be on the aging process, shows itself in this California single malt as well. Something that strikes me in all the Dry Diggings products I’ve had is how very local they do taste. Having grown up in that region, my senses are highly tuned to its smells, its weather, the way the light looks in all four seasons. Bodie 5 Dog captures the thick pine forests of the region in a fresh and lively way.

It’s young, for sure. Those who do not favor young whiskeys may be disappointed. I myself am typically such a person. But the softness of the flavors in Bodie 5 Dog win me over, the way they blend together like the scents in a field or forest. The nose is enticing, the taste has surprising kick, and the finish is rustic-lovely. And I love the murky, glowing color, like a shallow earth-bottom pond of fresh mountain water. It’s a great Spring, Summer, or Autumn sipping whiskey. (Use 31n50 to keep warm in the Winter. 😉)

You’re not likely to find Bodie 5 Dog anywhere but at the distillery itself, or very nearby. But one upside of the Stay-at-Home era is that California craft distilleries can now ship within California. So if you live in-state, or have a friend who does, and this whiskey sounds interesting to you, seek this little bottle out.


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