WILLIAM DALTON WHEATED BOURBON
Single Barrel #769 selected by Seelbach’s (2022)
MASH BILL – 70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% malted barley
PROOF – 106.2 proof
AGE – 4 years
DISTILLERY – Spirits of French Lick
PRICE – $59
WORTH BUYING? – Almost…
My introduction to Spirits of French Lick was their standard bottled-in-bond release of Lee W. Sinclair Four Grain Bourbon, and a Seelbach’s cask strength pick of their Mattie Gladden Bourbon. At uncorking I had mixed feelings about them. But after only a week of their airing out, I began to come around—especially to the Mattie Gladden, which I found particularly well balanced. That one continued to grow on me, and in fact when I picked up this William Dalton from Seelbach’s I also picked up their latest pick of the Mattie Gladden.
My next encounter with Spirits of French Lick was a Seelbach’s pick of their Solomon Scott Rye. This was exceptional, right out of the gate and on to the final pour. The range of aromas and flavors was bountiful—fresh clean grains, bright stone fruits like apricot and peach and baked nectarines, raspberries and dried goji berries, creamy caramel, oak, black pepper, oolong tea, all with a syrupy and viscous texture like thick fruit compotes, sprinkled with fresh herbs and spices.
And so the prospect of a wheated bourbon from Spirits of French Lick wasn’t something I could pass up. Like all Spirits of French Lick products, it’s named after an historical Indiana figure—in this case the master distiller of 55 years for the state’s long gone Daisy Spring Distillery. And like all their products the labelling is both stylish and refreshingly informative about what’s in the bottle.
At uncorking, I was impressed. The whiskey greeted me upfront with its beautiful smoky orange color. Then the nose offered aromas of milk chocolate and a rustic creamy porridge or oatmeal with warmed dried apricots stirred in. The taste had a creamy and syrupy texture. Those apricots from the nose stepped forward as the main event, with the soft grain notes backing them up. The finish was deeply warm, with the apricot notes now very baked. Altogether a sweet, syrupy, splattery fresh apricot pie in a glass. Wow.
But in subsequent pourings, a damp cardboard note began to emerge in the nose. On the taste, this note persisted, verging into a faintly sulfurous note. This also then lingered on the finish. Those apricot notes darkened and deepened, which is a positive. But I find nothing appealing about damp cardboard and sulfur.
So, would this whiskey maintain this turn over time with consistency? Or would it continue to evolve and open up?
Here we are, now a little over a month after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – from pale dirty ambers to rich russet oranges
NOSE – fresh milled grains, apricot compote, baked cherry, dried strawberry, fresh butter slathered on wheat bread, dried savory herbs like sage and thyme, rosemary twigs, cinnamon in the gooey center of a cinnamon roll, just a wee bit of that cardboard if I really dig for it
TASTE – drier than the nose overall, with the herbs, fresh milled grains, water-splashed oak and its bitter tannins, the fruit notes now a notch darker, what might have been the cardboard now coming across more like the dried fibrous husk of a palm tree
FINISH – bitter oak tannin, remnants of the apricot compote, the milled grains now in a thick bread dough
OVERALL – a fantastic and varied nose giving way to a drier, simpler, more bitter taste and finish
If it were just its nose, I’d say this was pretty great—rustic, fruity, bready. The cardboard has eased up substantially and morphed into other dry notes, allowing for a complex range of aromas that were fun to sort through.
But then on the taste, and on into the finish, things narrow significantly. I very much miss the sweeter fruit notes, which step back to favor the drier grain, oak and herbs. The bitter aspect coats everything in a way I find displeasing. A bit of oak tannin can add definition, the way the perfect amount of salt can uplift other flavors without yet tasting “salty.” But here the bitterness is left untempered by fruit or candy sweetness and ends up feeling intrusive rather than additive.
As I mentioned, I picked up a second bottle of the Mattie Gladden, a bourbon I’d started out feeling iffy about and grew to like quite a lot. It was not the home run that Solomon Scott Rye was. But it was good. I’ll be curious to crack it open and try it next to this William Dalton. There is a flavor relationship going on here, especially in the fruit notes. A comparison might be interesting. But as of yet I don’t see myself picking up a second bottle of the William Dalton, nor going through this current bottle terribly fast. Not because it’s bad. Just because it doesn’t excite me. Without that bitter aspect, it may have been an easy rustic sipper. But it’s not without that bitter aspect, so…
Nevertheless, true to motto, the grain has been respected. Even in this less than exciting outing, I do appreciate how Spirits of French Lick manages to pull out grain flavors without their whiskeys coming across as “grainy,” even at relatively young ages. By highlighting the grain they achieve this quality I’m calling “rustic.” It offers a sense that something real has been made, something not heavily processed or jacked up with science. Like homemade bread or pies. And that’s pretty good.