- On March 10, 2016
This week we continue the theme for this month of ALL WHISK(E)Y, ALL THE TIME! We’ll take a look at something that a lot of people have been talking about for the better part of the past year: NDP whiskey. What’s an NDP, you say? Glad you asked!
An NDP (Non-Distiller Producer) is a deceptively common entity. They’ve existed in one form or another for centuries. In early America, rectifiers or other purveyors of their sort were the go-to for most of America unless you or someone you knew owned a still. Store-owned Private Labels (Kirkland, etc.) are the legacy of that time. Blended and Vatted Scotch are both examples of great, lasting whiskys that have little to no distilling done in-house. No one lambasts that type of production, so why the big hubbub here in America? The quick answer? Marketing and perception. Most American NDPs seek to hide the source of their spirit and craft an image of their company that helps it sell better. Templeton Rye is probably the most well-known example of that sort of shenanigans. That’s not to say that there aren’t some fantastic drams out there coming from NDPs. None of the whisk(e)ys discussed today come from true NDPs, and perhaps that’s why they soar above the others. Whatever the case, as long as the juice is good, we can forgive the rest!
George Dickel has been a distiller of fine Tennessee whisky for many decades, and is the only true competition for Jack Daniels. However, they sell a Straight Rye that is not their make. Their rye comes from the same place as everyone else’s, the current favorite distillery to hate on: MGP. If you see a rye on the market and it lists a mash bill of 95% rye, we can pretty much guarantee you that it came from MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Dickel takes aged product from MGP and, in a move that DOES separate them a bit from the rest, subjects that spirit to the Lincoln County Process. Dickel makes sugar maple charcoal on site and places that charcoal in a 13’ high vat, then fills said container with chill-filtered whiskey and allows it to drain through. This imparts a signature flavor to the spirit, and in this case it is a welcome one. Signature MGP rye aromas of dill and spice with a little bit of orange zest and burnt sugar. On the palate, the spice is immediate and aggressive, eventually taking a bit of influence from some fruit and maple and a bit of drying oak tannins. The finish is quite long, with caramel, rye spice and a hint of earthiness. (George Dickel rye $26.99, on sale for $24.29)
Zipps has been a vocal proponent of High West’s products from the start. After launching in Minnesota, it was hard to find a better rye to take home than one of their flagships. While they do distill their own product, you won’t find an aged spirit of their own make on the shelf for a few years still, and even then it will be phased in to their blends. High West does NDP the right way, transparently and without reserve. They disclose sources, ages, mash bills and pretty much everything you could ask for! The idea is that they could cut corners, age their whiskey in small barrels or use some sort of patented process to rapidly age it, but that would yield an inferior product. They are patiently waiting for the day that they use entirely their own product, but until that day they will continue to source and blend and turn out truly fantastic whiskeys. We’re going to look at an endangered species this week: Son of Bourye. High West originally released a spirit called Bourye, which was a first of its kind and spawned imitators all over America. It blended a bourbon and a rye together, and came together to be more than the sum of its parts. Eventually, they ran out of the whiskey to make that blend and substituted a new blend labeled Son of Bourye. Essentially a younger version of the earlier release, it had a brasher flavor profile but was still an immaculate pour. It has since hit the chopping block, but for good reasons… Bourye is back, baby! Not quite the same as it once was, but very similar. So, let’s enjoy this SOB while we still have the chance! It is a blend of a 6 year old MGP bourbon (75 corn/20 rye/ 5 malt) and a 5 year old MGP rye (95 rye/ 5 malt), but has a flavor that belies its age. The nose is redolent of crunchy mint and honey, with a green, almost spruce-like note following after. The tongue has a good weight to it from the oak; soft at first, with the honeyed nose coming through and flavors of cinnamon, baking spice and more mint to follow. Big, bright and brash, it’s everything you could want from an American whiskey! (High West Son of Bourye $36.99, on sale for $33.29)
If you pay attention to liquor blogs like we do, and we’re sure you do, you might have heard something recently about Smooth Ambler. Their 10 year old single barrel bourbon snagged a prestigious award from Whisky magazine as the World’s Best Single Barrel Bourbon. This caused a bit of discussion in the blogosphere about whether or not that award was merited by a company which didn’t create that whiskey. Our opinion? Hell yeah they earned it! Creating a whiskey is not just about running it through a still and aging it. It takes a talented palate to pick which barrels marry with which others to create a cohesive and tasty batch. Or an even more nuanced nose to decide which is worthy to stand on its own as a single barrel. Smooth Ambler is yet another distillery which is slowly releasing its own product, but has garnered a TON of respect and street cred by purchasing and bottling spirits under their Old Scout line. They have been very straightforward about it. Everything produced in the Old Scout line was not distilled by Smooth Ambler, and they make no bones about it. Their 10 year old bourbon is a “low rye” (still 21%) and is bottled at 100 proof. Woody aromas abound, with a bit of barrel char and pencil shavings (Ticonderoga if you ask me) up front. The taste is soft, with a sweeter flavor. Classic banana bread flavors here. You’ve got vanilla, walnuts, ripe banana and a bit of pepper or clove to back it up. Truly great stuff, and once it’s gone, it’s gone! (Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 year bourbon $52.99, on sale for $47.69)