77 WHISKEY WHEATED BOURBON
Single Barrel #20130013 selected by Seelbach’s (2021)
MASH BILL – 60% corn, 20% wheat, 20% malted barley
PROOF – 136
AGE – 8 years
DISTILLERY – Breuckelen Distilling
PRICE – $109
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
Breuckelen Distilling is a craft whiskey brand I’ve seen on the shelves of just two of my local stores. I’ve picked up a bottle once or twice to look it over, but never went for it. To be honest, I didn’t even know they were called Breuckelen Distilling until I bought this bourbon! I’d always assumed they were called 77 Whiskey, given that’s the most prominent graphic on their bottles.
Other than having been founded in Brooklyn, NY, by Brad Estabrooke in 2010, the Breukelen Distilling website doesn’t provide much backstory. Looking over the full website, one can piece together that Breuckelen Distilling uses grains local to New York state, and they distill everything on a Coffey style still, aiming to produce softer, sweeter whiskeys. They’ve settled in on a few rather streamlined mash bills—a 100% rye whiskey (bottled in bond at 6 years no less!); another rye whiskey made from 90% rye and 10% corn; a 100% corn whiskey; a 100% wheat whiskey; and their Brownstone Malt Whiskey distilled from 100% malted barley.
This post’s subject, their 8-year Wheated Bourbon, has the most familiar American whiskey mash bill in that it involves three grains. It’s bottled in a standard 100-proof release, and has been made available at cask strength for a limited number of single barrel store picks.
I’m always a fan of distilleries that keep things local. But what impresses me most about Breuckelen Distilling is that after just over a decade in operation they’re putting out 6 and 8 year whiskeys as standard releases. Many small craft distilleries established a decade or so ago tend to keep on bottling younger whiskeys. Woodinville could do an 8 or 10 year release now, but they’ve stayed with 5 years. Even the widely successful Willett still puts out a 4-year rye as their standard release, saving their 6 and 7 year barrels for single barrel store picks, which tend to go for two to four times the price of the standard release.
Breuckelen Distilling being in Brooklyn, America’s current single most cliché hipster mecca, was not the greatest selling point for me, I will admit. But that’s coming from a longtime resident of San Francisco, itself a former destination for multiple hipster generations. I believe San Francisco’s “cool” went lukewarm once and for all some handful of years ago, when the second tech boom succeeded in rendering the famously colorful city bland, like a virtual San Francisco Land imaginered by Disney, minus the fun analog rides. But I’m certainly not the first person to bemoan something like that. There are beatniks still keeping the seats warm down at Specs in North Beach, and no doubt they think San Francisco lost its true cool decades ago!
All that said, as a longtime San Francisco resident, I also know better than to dismiss a region with cheap and easy anti-hipster rhetoric. San Francisco in the 1990s or 1960s. Berlin in the 1990s. London in the 1960s. Paris in the 1950s or 1920s. Somewhere in and around New York City most any decade. These places and eras—when economics and the zeitgeist conspired to allow artists and students and thinkers and makers and shakers to land decent rent and do their thing on their terms—offer some legit, fun, cool, sometimes even truly important and historical, in any case really good stuff.
I mention all this in the interest of transparency. When I spotted this bottle of cask strength 8-year wheated bourbon on the Seelbach’s website, I didn’t fully clock the Brooklyn bit. I still assumed it was called 77 Whiskey and ordered it on sight due to the incredible specs and my faith in the good people at Seelbach’s. It wasn’t until after I uncorked the bottle, gave it a taste and said Woah!, that I actually did my due diligence in terms of even basic research. This negligence allowed me an introduction to the whiskey itself on its own pure terms, with none of my silly cocked-eyebrow response to Brooklyn diluting my tasting experience.
And what I tasted in that uncorking pour was truly unique. It stopped me. Was this a bourbon, or some incredibly dense and bready homemade Christmas cake? First off, the color was exceptionally rich. Then the nose wowed me—thick, dark, with dense bread and apple pastry dough, fresh cream of wheat, creamy buckwheat, dry dark maple, and lovely subdued baking spices. The taste was very like the nose, rich and dark and bread-doughy with maple and creamed grain like a good rich buttery oatmeal. It finished like a deep, dark, late Summer sunset with a fire smoldering on the horizon. A rustic yet decadent pour, and slightly dangerous at an incongruously smooth 136 proof.
So when the Brooklyn aspect elicited my petty annoyance, I thought it best to slow down and check myself lest it interfere unnecessarily with my assessment of the bourbon…
Now it’s about two months since that uncorking and I’m maybe five pours into the bottle. How has it been airing out? These brief notes were taken using both a traditional Glencairn and that most hip of hipster glasses 😉, the Norlan Rauk tumbler.
COLOR – rich burnt orange, mahogany, brassy highlights
NOSE – baking-spiced bread pudding, rich brandied prunes, baked persimmon, thick maple syrup, brown sugar for days
TASTE – a decadent desserty oatmeal or porridge, thick cream, thick bread pudding with dark red fruits and apples, roasted hazelnuts
FINISH – a prickly burn outlining the boozy bread-dessert notes and some burnt oak chips
OVERALL – though the strong ethanol aspect is discernible, it is reduced to a savory accent by the deep rich fruit and dessert notes
This is a best-Christmas-bakery-ever in a glass. It conjures images of old fashioned ginger-bread houses with all the detailing etched in white and red and green icing. Crackling fires in brick hearths, with snow outside gently blanketing an old-world London or New York. A thick oak table packed with plates and platters of holiday cakes, cookies, pastries and puddings.
I’m tasting this on a perfect day for it. I’m not in London or New York, but San Francisco, famous for only having 1.5 seasons on average—variations on a cool sunny Autumn. But currently it is cold and rainy as any Pacific Northwest mountain town or north eastern village in late Autumn on the verge of Winter. If our indoor heating were to break down, I’d survive just fine with steady sips of this bourbon in my belly.
The combination of baking and wood spices are supported with surprising restraint by the near-hazmat poof. The fruit aspects are subsumed beautifully into the thick and creamy bread and grain aspects. This is no everyday or background sipper. It’s dessert after a hearty meal. It’s unhurried conversation with friends and family. It’s a cozy indoor meditation in Winter.
There’s that faint edge from the ethanol, which I can imagine someone considering a flaw. I’m often that person. Here, however, it functions like well-balanced oak tannins sometimes do, providing a crisp outline around softer, juicier, creamier, sweeter notes.
Petty cynicism about Brooklyn or any other designated “hipster mecca” be damned. Breuckelen Distilling is a craft operation I’ll be following. This introduction is unique. I’ve already tapped a friend who lives in Brooklyn to mule a bottle of their 6-year BiB rye to me on his next visit to California.