WOODINVILLE MOSCATEL FINISHED BOURBON
Harvest Release 2021
MASH BILL – 72% corn, 22% rye, 6% barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – NAS (5 years plus some months in 10-year-old Moscatel de Setúbal pipes)
DISTILLERY – Woodinville Whiskey Co.
PRICE – $70
WORTH BUYING? – For. Sure!
In August 2021, I visited Woodinville Whiskey Company in Washington state for a tour and interview with senior distiller Mike Steine. Steine mentioned the then upcoming annual Harvest Release, a very special bourbon aged in rare Moscatel de Setúbal casks from Portugal. He was very excited for it. I was intrigued.
Often limited in quantity, the annual Harvest Release is something Woodinville fans line up for at the distillery twenty-four hours in advance to get a bottle of, and the 2021 release was no exception. Luckily for me, after that initial rush there were still some bottles available.
I cracked this open late one night after a long and taxing day. I wasn’t in a great mood and hoped to lift my spirits with a glass of something new and that I’d been looking forward to. This Woodinville Harvest Release was top of my list. I’d recently been making my way through a bottle of Woodinville Cask Strength Rye, another distillery-only offering, which I’d not found fully satisfying. So there was the possibility of disappointment. But Woodinville has overall been a solid brand in my experience, especially their bourbons. So, with fingers crossed, I popped the cork.
Right away the aroma struck me as unique. A strong wave of savory herbal notes hit my nose first. Very familiar, but what was it exactly? After some parsing, it seemed to me a fine blend of dried oregano, thyme and rosemary—a blend my mother often used in her cooking when I was growing up. Behind that came cherry, black pepper, caramel, cream and custard. The taste was then very true to the nose—the dried herb medley, the fruit notes now amped up with a rich syrupy apricot preserves note added to the mix. The finish lingered long with the fruit notes, creamy caramel, and oak…
Out of the gate, this was an incredible bourbon, gloriously rich with bright fruit notes perfectly paired with those unique herbal spices, all held up with confidence by the solid 100 proof. Just what the doctor ordered! My spirits had indeed been lifted.
These brief notes were taken just over two weeks after uncorking and a few pours into the bottle, using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – vibrant orange blossom honey
NOSE – that savory dried herb medley, weathered oak spices, dried red berries, cherries and apricots, loose leaf African and Indian teas, a faint gooey caramel note
TASTE – those herbal and tea notes, the fruit notes now more syrupy than dried, with plum and cracked black pepper
FINISH – mouthwatering, leaving the tea and wood spices, and richly caramelized red fruit syrups
OVERALL – a unique mélange of herbs, spices, teas and fruits
I really enjoy this. It is not at all a background sipper. Its unusual blend of herb, tea and fruit notes together create an attention-heightening experience, at once savory and sweet, dry and fruity. It’s the kind of bourbon I might sip when I’d otherwise make a cup of exotic herbal tea—something calming but also enlivening and in a way luxuriant.
Like all Woodinville bourbons, those rustic weathered oak notes are there. I don’t know whether this aspect comes straight from the weather-seasoned oak barrels themselves or if it’s the result of the unique terroir where Woodinville is situated, their open-air fermenters taking in the local air and its rich array of flavorful bacteria from nearby wineries and forests. However exactly it’s achieved, in just over a decade Woodinville has identified, honed, and articulated a unique central flavor profile. And in this instance, those rare Moscatel de Setúbal pipes contribute a complimentary fruitiness and syrupy richness that blend exceptionally well with Woodinville bourbon’s rustic woodiness.
Woodinville has experimented with several wine-cask finishings—port, oloroso sherry, Pedro-Ximenez sherry… It makes sense that wine casks of various kinds would add something complimentary to Woodinville’s bourbon, given the contribution the wine country air makes from the start. I expect Woodinville will continue to seek out opportunities to pair their bourbon with unusual wine cask finishings, to explore their whiskey’s full range.
I’m reminded here of Westward Whiskey’s founder, Christian Krogstad. He told me that with Westward, which also makes frequent use of wine cask finishings, the intent is not to bring anything new to the Westward single malt but rather to bring out more of what is already there. I get that same sense here. Those innate rustic, dry, herbal wood and fruit notes I associate with Woodinville bourbon are heightened by the Mocatel’s rich, honeyed fruitiness. Even nosing my now empty glass, I still get the bourbon’s full range of aromas. Very satisfying.
That this bottle is a once-only release, timed to celebrate the vibrant Autumn harvest season—nature’s last full breath of life before laying down to sleep for Winter—adds to the special sense of the whiskey. Knowing I can’t just run out and get another bottle of this, or hope to see it on any shelf in the future, I will savor and share it with particular care.