MADAM BLENDED WHISKY
a blend of whiskies together forming a more perfect union (2020)
MASH BILL – 37% corn, 58% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 92
AGE – 5-year rye and 7-year bourbon
DISTILLERY – Republic Restoratives
PRICE – $102 (includes shipping)
BUY AGAIN? – If it ends up a regular release and more readily available near me, I might.
“I’m Speaking” edition, single barrel #6 (2020)
MASH BILL – 95% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – 5 years
DISTILLERY – Republic Restoratives
PRICE – $92 (includes shipping)
BUY AGAIN? – When it’s more available near me, yes.
Established with crowdfunding in 2015 by Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner, Republic Restoratives in Washington D.C. is a women-owned, politically engaged hub for cocktails, social events, and its own line of spirits. Their motto is “Outspoken, Disruptive, American,” and it’s printed on every bottle’s label. The operation is a fitting one for the most politically hopping city in the country. Their social media features about as many political posts as it does cocktail or spirits posts, all delivered with the same positive, clear-eyed, unshakable vitality.
I first came across Republic Restoratives while doing research into women-owned distilleries in preparation for a 2019 interview with Ali and Sam Blatteis of Home Base Spirits. Shortly after then, I came across a 200ml bottle of their Borough Bourbon in a local shop and picked it up. Aged in an Armagnac cask, Borough was a buttery, sweet, satisfying bourbon. It was a touch too light and expensive for me to go for a full 750ml bottle. But it was very good, and I’ve been keeping tabs on Republic Restoratives ever since.
A pair of their latest creations exemplify their mission even more robustly: Madam, a blend of bourbon and rye, and a new edition of their Purpose Rye with “I’m Speaking” engraved on it. Together these whiskies honor Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female, Black, and South Asian person to hold that office. A triple glass ceiling shatter.
Artist Lex Marie was commissioned to paint a portrait of Harris for use on the Madam label. (Marie is even credited on the label itself—an excellent touch.) As Republic Restoratives’ own website puts it:
Madam is a celebration of those who inspire us to resist and persist. A blend of 7 year old bourbon and 5 year old rye, the finished whiskey is slow-smithed before bottling to produce what we all strive (and vote, and protest, and organize) for – a more perfect union.
The “I’m Speaking” engraved release of Purpose Rye is similarly stamped with the Republic Restoratives ethos, featuring bold slogans akin to Madam’s bold central image. Again, the Republic Restoratives website:
Telling white male privilege to STFU is exhausting. Pour yourself a drink or celebrate someone who is taking the mic, no matter how hard the patriarchy is holding on.
There is no mistaking the thoroughly engaged, celebratory sentiment behind these products, nor the generations of struggle fueling their creation. Madam and the “I’m Speaking” Purpose Rye are unapologetically joyous expressions, trumpeting the unprecedented significance of what Harris has accomplished.
I’m always fascinated by how what’s in a bottle of whiskey connects to what’s wrapped around it. Borough Bourbon successfully captured the welcoming, buoyant energy of Republic Restoratives. I was so curious how the whiskeys in Madam and Purpose would embody the bold, confident pride and joy the company also brims with.
When these bottles arrived by mail and I unpacked them, my partner Beth joked that whenever we drink them together I’ll need to be quiet and listen. It seemed fitting we do this tasting together, and that she speak first.
So, here we are, three weeks after uncorking and a handful of pours into each bottle. We each tasted the 92-proof Madam first, followed by the 100-proof Purpose Rye, in traditional Glencairns. We did our tastings separately, so as not to influence one another.
Beth asked not to write, so I interviewed her and transcribed what she had to say:
MADAM BLENDED WHISKY
COLOR – a reddish-brown amber
NOSE – low-sugar butterscotch and apple fritter
TASTE – a cool center with a prickly heat around it, challah bread, light cherry
FINISH – black pepper
OVERALL – refreshing, warm, the flavors well blended
COLOR – a California fire, very saturated red-amber
NOSE – bright, chocolate fudge brownie with walnuts, a little peanut butter
TASTE – cooked pear or a pear compote, peanut brittle
FINISH – rooibus tea or another red tea, dry, bitter
OVERALL – warm, and nice if you’re in the mood for some bitter spice
Mark – So, your overall thoughts?
Beth – The Madam whisky is refreshing and smooth, has a crispness to it, very drinkable and comforting. It has a bright, happy energy. From the nose to the taste to the finish, every part is equal energetically. It doesn’t go up and down. It’s “aaaah” all the way through. Bright and easy.
And then Purpose Rye is rich, with the dark, fudgy chocolate. Dense. Flavorful. It also has a nice arc to it. But it goes a little deeper, a little earthier. A little more saturated in every aspect. I like it. It’s spicy and dry. It has a holiday feel to it.
When do you imagine drinking these?
Madam feels lighter and summery, early evening, cocktail hour. And the Purpose Rye is more after the meal.
Madam for the hors d’oeuvre and Purpose Rye for dessert?
Yes. The one gets you going, and other is when you’re winding things up.
Does the fact that they’re made in tribute to Kamala Harris have an influence?
It was fun to think about while I was drinking them. That the Madam whisky is refreshing, yet has some kick—that makes me think of her. We need new, fresh energy in this country. New perspectives and new thoughts. But then there’s the prickly heat, so, you know that she’s going to get to work and there are going to be some sparks.
And then the “I’m Speaking” rye, I thought about the complexity of it, the challenge of it. It’s called Purpose Rye. That word, “purpose.” It’s strong. A purpose has a through-line, and so does this rye. It has energy that’s moving somewhere. The times we’re in are complex. So the richness and layers of flavor make me think about the complexity of our times. And then the bitterness, it’s not negative. If it’s a bit medicinal, that’s okay. We need this now. We need to stand up, have purpose, and say, It’s my turn to speak. The Purpose Rye lingers in your mouth for a while. We need new ways of doing things that are going to stick around.
I don’t have so much experience with whiskey. I hear the stories you tell me about different whiskeys and their histories. But these two are more contemporary, more now. Drinking whiskey and thinking about the stories that are happening right now is a fun thing, as opposed to drinking whiskey and thinking about stories from a long time ago. It’s fun to relate the flavors to contemporary life. It works. We think of whiskey as being so old fashioned. But whiskey can reflect today.
MADAM BLENDED WHISKY
COLOR – toasted lemon yellows, brass, sienna
NOSE – floral rye spices, fragrant long grasses, lemon caramel, a bit of creamy custard, melted butter, a light whiff of toffee
TASTE – candied fruit, rye spice, butter, a bitter oak-tannic edge
FINISH – the butter, some cream, that tannic oak lingering prominently with some grapefruit peel
OVERALL – the oak tannins are on the edge of too strong for my tastes, but I very much enjoy the flavors that precede and eventually linger beneath that aspect
COLOR – rich vibrant orange with gold highlights
NOSE – dry rye grasses, old fashioned taffy, honeyed butter on fresh toast, a rich caramel in the background, oak
TASTE – mouthwatering right up front, with pungent floral and grassy rye spices, a texture both creamy and gritty, with vanilla caramel and bitter oak in equal measure
FINISH – the bitter oak winning out over the other flavors, like an oak fence surrounding them
OVERALL – both gooey and dry, rich and crackly, sweet and savory
These are indeed very much siblings, bound by the rye. The Madam blend—technically a rye, it would seem, given the 58% rye in the blended mash bill—comes across softer in certain respects as compared to the 100% rye mash bill of the Purpose Rye, and yet ultimately more bitter when it comes to the oak tannins. The Purpose Rye is richer overall, and bolder in flavor, with the bitter oak tannins more balanced with the other flavors as compared with the Madam.
If I had to choose between them, currently I’d go with the Purpose Rye for its overall richness. That may change over the course of these bottles. They were each indeed drier overall at uncorking than currently. Oak is a flavor area I enjoy exploring. However, both these whiskeys ultimately lean more into their bitter tannins than I tend to go for. I hope the evolution from the drier impact at uncorking to the now comparatively sweeter and fruitier flavors will indeed continue…
…And in that regard it’s worth noting that as I’ve been typing up these notes and time has passed, with the whiskies taking air in their glasses, their bitter edges have indeed abated a bit. It took awhile. But now when I sip them they are even more pleasant, the edge coming across more as definition than bitterness. Interesting.
In any case, both whiskeys have something to offer on the theme of rye spice. And to be frank I’m glad to have them for their novelty alone. That novelty contributes to their price, which is not insignificant. That, and that I must have them shipped, likely means they won’t be regulars on my shelf. But I enjoy the conversations these whiskies have inspired between my partner and I. She already has plans to bring them to an upcoming gathering of friends, whom she knows will appreciate them. For this impact alone, as compelling and tasty conversation starters, they are worthwhile.
And I enjoy supporting Republic Restoratives, an operation that speaks to so much of what I value—namely, advocating the good time spirits offer us while acknowledging the world we live in is indeed political on every single day. One may or may not share Republic Restoratives’ exact politics. But I’d have serious questions about the historical acumen of anyone who would deny the multi-partisan patriotism of their motto—outspoken, disruptive, American.
Beth wrote this song in 2017 as an anthem for the first annual Women’s March.