Three Redwood Empire Whiskeys: Grizzly Beast + Rocket Top + Emerald Giant Cask Strength

GRIZZLY BEAST BOTTLED IN BOND BOURBON 
Batch 2 (2022)

MASH BILL – 66% corn, 23% rye, 7% wheat, 4% barley

PROOF – 100

AGE – 5 years

DISTILLERY – Redwood Empire

PRICE – $90

WORTH BUYING? – Sure

ROCKET TOP BOTTLED IN BOND RYE 
Batch 2 (2022)

MASH BILL – 87% rye, 3% corn, 5% wheat, 5% barley

PROOF – 100

AGE – 5 years

DISTILLERY – Redwood Empire

PRICE – $90

WORTH BUYING? – Yes

EMERALD GIANT CASK STRENGTH RYE
Batch 1 (August 2022)

MASH BILL – 94% rye, 5% malted barley, 1% wheat

PROOF – 116.4 proof

AGE – 4+ years

DISTILLERY – Redwood Empire

PRICE – $70

WORTH BUYING? – Yes!

My introduction to Redwood Empire was their initial Lost Monarch release back in 2020. A blend of 3-to-12-year ryes and bourbons, Lost Monarch combined sourced whiskeys with a portion of Redwood Empire’s own newly distilled rye. The tasting experience leaned into the rye of its bourye blend, with the younger and brighter flavors taking the lead over the older darker bourbon notes. All in all it was a very amicable introduction to the distillery, though not a bottle I’ve felt compelled to return to since.

My next encounter was an exquisite 2021 Haystack Needle single barrel release, featuring nearly 14-year bourbon sourced from MGP and finished in a 60-gallon French Oak Le Grande barrel that once housed chardonnay. Though this did not offer an experience with Redwood Empire’s own distillates, it did showcase their exceptional finishing skills.

Redwood Empire is based in Sonoma County, not too far from San Francisco. Sonoma is a region known for its world famous wineries. Redwood Empire and their neighbor, Sonoma Distilling Co., are steadily working to broaden that reputation to include whiskey as well.

Also of note: Redwood Empire has partnered with Trees For The Future, and, through them, for every bottle of whiskey sold the distillery contributes to the planting of a new tree. This is a very Northern Californian impulse that I greatly appreciate. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, surrounded by trees that I’ve watched suffer over the years from various acts of humankind. Redwood Empire’s commitment to helping sustain the region adds to my desire to support their products.

But of course that product must be a tasty one. Today I’ve set myself up with a flight of three whiskeys, all distilled entirely by Redwood Empire. Together they exemplify the distillery’s penchant for exploring unique mash bills alongside a knack for blending.

As these are each quite different in their make up—two are bottled in bond and one cask strength, two have four-grain mash bills and one three-grain, two are ryes and one a bourbon—I’ll try them each in turn before then reflecting on the trio as a three-stop flight across the Redwood Empire landscape.

The Grizzly Beast was uncorked five weeks ago and I’m six pours into it. The Rocket Top was uncorked three weeks ago and I’m six pours in. The Emerald Giant was uncorked two weeks ago and I’m four pours in. All three were tasted in traditional Glencairns.

Here we go…!

GRIZZLY BEAST BiB

COLOR – brassy and toasty autumn oranges

NOSE – vanilla fudge, baking and rye spices blended, strawberry and cherry fruit rollup

TASTE – those sweet fruit rollup notes, oak and gentle oak tannin, caramel fudge, a bit of chocolate

FINISH – medium-short in length, with dried rye grasses, gentle oak tannin, cinnamon in pastry dough, the caramel fudge

OVERALL – sweet, rustic, oaky, fudgy

Despite its foreboding name, Grizzly Beast is light, sweet bourbon wrapped in rustic qualities. We’re definitely not in Kentucky or Indiana here. There’s a California mountain quality to these flavors and textures. Like a gurgling mountain creek is easy on the eyes and ears, this bourbon is easy on the tastebuds. It moves along like a creek as well, in no hurry but gone about as soon as it’s arrived. The finish doesn’t linger long. So while the whiskey is genuinely lovely and easygoing, it’s not particularly memorable.

ROCKET TOP BiB

COLOR – toasty autumn oranges

NOSE – organic banana bubblegum (is that a thing?), soft oak, gentle rye spice, very pretty

TASTE – syrupy, a caramel note arrives and blends well with the oak and rye spice, plus a soft coarsely ground black pepper note

FINISH – an initial wave of the organic banana bubblegum gives way to rye spice and caramel, which then lingers gently but medium-long with a fine peppery prickle

OVERALL – if a rye whiskey could be a field of wildflowers, this is it

Again the name diverges from the experience. Nothing rockets here. But I do find myself at the top of a mountain. This is a very pretty rye whiskey. It’s at once gentle and vibrant, conjuring the delicate petals of colorful wildflowers. I wouldn’t describe the taste itself as floral, although I wouldn’t fully deny it either. Overall it’s more herbal and spiced than floral. But the gentleness of it definitely has me standing in the midst of a mountain field, surrounded by long-stem grasses generously dotted by sunlit wildflowers wavering in a breeze.

EMERALD GIANT CASK STRENGTH

COLOR – syrupy autumn oranges

NOSE – vibrant and bright rye spices and grasses right up front, freshly kneaded unbaked floury bread dough, thick syrupy caramel and oak nicely balanced, finally a light strawberry-apricot fruit rollup

TASTE – syrupy, rye spicy, orchard-fruity caramel, black pepper, fresh baked bread loaves

FINISH – finely ground black pepper, apricot syrup, freshly kneaded buttery bread dough, a mildly numbing prickle from the proof’s heat, lingering gently but long

OVERALL – a freshly baked fruit pie served up on the deck of a cabin in the woods

This rye grabs me right from the nose and continues to carry me along into its lingering finish. The balance of herbaceous and fruit notes is excellent. There is a vibrancy to it all, and yet it’s never forceful. It’s confident, not cocky. Present, not overbearing. I keep reaching for it, enjoying it, and after sitting with each sip I find myself reaching for the glass again… A good sign!

Grizzly Beast / Rocket Top / Emerald Giant

Taken all together, a Redwood Empire flavor profile begins to emerge despite the radically different mash bills at work. Each whiskey shares some small quotient of wheat, and perhaps that explains this soft rustic field quality that runs across the flight. The oak notes then elevate that field into a mountain region.

Quickly nosing them again side by side, the first prominent note of each is caramel for Grizzly Beast, that organic banana bubblegum for Rocket Top, and rye spice for Emerald Giant. And with all three, fruity and bready undercurrents run parallel beneath their signature notes.

These whiskeys have a gentleness to them. They’re very easygoing. With the Grizzly Beast, the effect is to be pleasant in the moment and then soon forgotten. The Rocket Top makes a stronger impression, with that signature organic banana bubblegum note offering distinction. Then the Emerald Giant, with its robust proof, leans forward with confidence and grace.

I definitely recommend these to fans of the American craft whiskey scene. These are far from the grainy, wood-splintery reputation the craft movement was generally known for even a handful of years ago. So many of the newer, smaller distilleries are now truly coming of age. With its recent set of fully in-house releases, Redwood Empire has likewise finally articulated its signature identity. Their embrace of Northern California’s great and ancient tree species is proving to be more than just a name. Like other Nor Cal distilleries—e.g. Home Base Spirits and Dry Diggings—Redwood Empire aims to establish its own unique, regional flavor profile, distinct from the major bourbon states that constitute the worldwide reputation of American whiskeys.

Lost Monarch had me curious. But today’s flight, and especially Rocket Top and Emerald Giant Cask Strength, compel me to keep hiking through the Redwood Empire.

Cheers!

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