WOODINVILLE CASK STRENGTH BOURBON
Cask #2555 selected by K&L (2020)
MASH BILL – 72% corn, 22% rye, 6% barley
PROOF – 122.76
AGE – NAS (~5+ years)
DISTILLERY – Woodinville Distillery
PRICE – $76
WORTH BUYING? – Absolutely!
This post is first in a series of five. I didn’t expect that to happen. But you see I had an interesting experience recently…
I uncorked a bottle of Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve I’d bunkered in 2018. (I’m intent on bunkering less and opening more, so, been reaching for the bottles with dust on their shoulders lately.) It immediately struck me as a solid, expertly blended small batch of decently aged high-rye MGP bourbon. Quality stuff.
And I was bored…
Familiarity can be a killer. There is so much expertly blended, decently aged high-rye MGP bourbon being bottled and sold under seeming endless “new” labels. It’s become for me a very familiar tasting experience.
I’ll admit, as I continued to sip apathetically at this excellent Belle Meade outing, I felt a bit like a spoiled child, privileged by access to too much of a good thing. Blasé about my expensive high quality bourbon? Talk about first world problems!
Next I poured a glass from a bottle I’d opened a couple weeks earlier, Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery Series #4. At its uncorking I reveled in the experience of this meticulous blend of carefully selected, very well-aged Kentucky bourbons—primary among them a good percentage of 13-year Barton. Having been bored by the Belle Meade, I hoped a pour of the exquisite Bardstown might lift my spirits.
Nope. Bored again. The familiar floral-rye Barton bouquet dominates Discovery #4. As with MGP, there has likewise been quite a lot of well-aged Barton sold under secondary labels of late. From Sam Houston to Lucky Seven, there’s no shortage of oaky teenaged Barton to be had.
Now petulant (in keeping with my spoiled condition) I reached for this single barrel pick of Woodinville Cask Strength Bourbon. Not sourced, made on the opposite side of the country from Kentucky, and a mere 5 years old, surely this would give me the novelty I was craving…
Indeed! With one sip my senses kicked into gear. A bourbon at once classic and utterly individual. I leaned back with a sigh and savored this welcomed change of pace.
Here are some notes in brief, taken about a week after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – rich, fiery oranges
NOSE – fresh apricot bread, cinnamon and black pepper and other baking spices, caramel, grilled tangerine peel, vanilla icing on a cinnamon roll, fresh cut oak in a forest, nicely weathered wood, everything dry overall without being actively drying
TASTE – true to the nose, with a mouthwatering juiciness to balance the dry aspects; vanilla, raspberry fruit roll up, old fashioned taffy, sweet red fruit jam, a stone fruit compote note, and the caramel aspect brightening vibrantly
FINISH – baked apricot pie, caramel, fresh bread, the many baking spices, all lingering warmly and at length
OVERALL – a rustic basket of fruit and bread and spices set out alongside some baked fruit pies on an old outdoor oak table
What I’ve loved about all my Woodinville experiences, and which has become the brand’s through-line for me, is the finely weathered wood aspects. Woodinville seasons their barrels a good long time in that northwestern Washington state weather. As their website puts it:
“Washington’s extreme temperature cycles promote the extraction of natural flavors from the oak. Prior to being coopered, the barrel wood is seasoned in open air, rain, wind, sun, and snow for eighteen months, softening the wood’s harsh tannins. The barrels are then slowly toasted and heavily charred to further enrich the wood’s desirable flavors.”
In addition, all of their grain is grown exclusively in Quincy, Washington, a couple hours drive from Woodinville. So the influence of the woodsy, weather-soaked Washington terroir is significant. Nosing any Woodinville whiskey is like opening an old wood spice cabinet in an old fashioned bakery or candy shop, the smells of the various spices blending with the hovering scent of fresh caramel and chocolate and the wood’s own natural time-released aromas.
This cask strength single barrel is no exception. It tastes traditional without tasting “Kentucky” or “MGP,” arguably two of the dominant American whiskey regions. (Can we consider MGP its own region?😉) Aged a young but respectable five years on average, Woodinville has the brightness of youth tempered by the wisdom of time and aging.
As someone who grew up in a similarly woodsy region, where each season was distinct in its weather patterns, the layers and variety of oak flavors going on in Woodinville whiskeys ping at my senses. Likewise, the smells of old fashioned bakeries, candy stores and ice cream parlors are very familiar to me. In addition to its natural beauty, the Northern California foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains have a rich history with the California Gold Rush. Remnants of that time are everywhere. As a kid I ate fresh ice cream made in a vat on the other side of the counter at the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor. I had picnics amidst brown falling leaves, bright white snow, vibrant wild flowers, and toasted summer fields of tall grass, smelling nature’s seasonal aromas around whatever fresh fruits and barbecued meats made up the meal that afternoon.
Though much farther north, this Washington State whiskey reminds me of these sense memories. I imagine when a Kentuckian sips at Wild Turkey or Jim Beam or any of the classic Kentucky bourbons, they have similar experiences. Uncorked, a bottle of whiskey unleashes its local history.
So it makes absolute sense to me that a bottle of Woodinville would provide me with the change of pace I was seeking, one much closer to home for me personally than any Kentucky, Irish, or Scottish whiskey. I love whiskeys from all those regions, and others! Drinking them is like traveling to another time and place. But when you’ve been traveling a lot, sometimes it’s refreshing to stay closer to home.
It also makes sense to me that, of the innumerable craft whiskey distilleries on the market now, Woodinville has had more success than many with going national. They waited until their stocks were five years old, so they weren’t adding to the many splintery, rough, grainy craft whiskeys put out at anywhere from two years down to mere months. Sometimes those exceedingly young whiskeys achieve something legitimately tasty. But often they come across as over eager and inexperienced.
Also, Woodinville offers distinctly classic bourbon flavors—stone fruits, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, oak—with the unique twist of their local grains and extra-weathered oak barrels. So there is something any Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennessee whiskey fan can grab onto with one hand while welcoming the unique contribution of the Washington terroir with the other.
I have zero doubt I will fully enjoy that Belle Meade and Bardstown Discovery #4, mind you. What this experience reminds me, though, is that variety is the spice of life. I don’t want to get used to exquisite Kentucky and MGP bourbons. All the more reason to keep my whiskey journey eclectic, and to really listen to my mood when I’m scanning the ol’ whiskey shelf. It’s about that personal connection to the experience, noticing habitual patterns when they set in, and breaking them to keep oneself alive to the moment in which one is living.
COMING IN PART 2:
Bardstown Bourbon Company’s
Discover Series #4