With the number of whiskey distilleries in the US on a meteoric rise, we have entered an age where the number of distilling operations has eclipsed the number that existed in pre-prohibition times. Prior to the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, roughly 2000 distilleries were operational in the US. Modern distillers shot past that number in 2020, and I'm certain the growth opportunities in those ZIRP years continued on an up-and-to-the-right trajectory.
One such distillery that has burst onto the modern whiskey scene: Southern Distilling. Starting their journey in 2014 on a 20-acre farm in Statesville, NC, Pete and Vienna Bargerset out to rekindle whiskey distilling in North Carolina. I've covered several of their previous releases before and have been quite impressed by their whiskey thus far. As a hunter, I have to admit the Hunting Creek label really caught my eye. It features a young frontierswoman kneeling to retrieved a downed pheasant, looking off majestically in the direction of what new action her bird dog is pointing towards. The word "CELEBRATED" adorns the most prominent crest of the label, a great reminder to mark special moments in our hearts. There are many further acoutrements on the label I implore you to explore.
One such feature is a statement of compliance with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, not required of these up-and-comers, so seeing that standard being upheld only adds to my confidence that this is a distillery with good intentions. Aimed more towards the whiskey enthusiast compared to the Double Rye, Hunting Creek pays homage to the vintage Carolina rectifiers of old. Southern Distilling describes their intentions saying:
North Carolina’s whiskey history is as long as the Catawba River, a rich tradition being reignited by Southern Distilling Company through innovation and stewardship. In the late 1800s, hundreds of federally licensed farm distilleries surrounded the Statesville region and supported the major rectification companies that were shipping spirits out on the rail lines up and down the East Coast.
Prohibition hit Statesville early in 1903, due to the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League and the Temperance Movement, shutting down a robust industry — but their spirit lived on. Southern Distilling Company is proud to announce the return of Hunting Creek Straight Rye Whiskey, a bottled-in-bond release that commemorates a celebrated rye whiskey sold by historic rectifier J.C. Somers & Co. at the turn of the century.
After the smashing success of the Double Rye against my palate, I've been excited to dive into this one. The company goes on further describing the historical significance of this label, saying:
Inspired by the heritage, tradition, and ingenuity of Statesville, Southern Distilling Company founders Pete and Vienna Barger are excited to this authentic bonded rye.
J.C. (John) Somers, Samuel Lee Tays, and Westmoreland opened J.C. Somers & Co. in 1885 in Asheville, North Carolina. Even though they were late to the game, they found success in the distilling business, and quickly expanded by purchasing a saloon and hotel. They had a reputation in the sales of spirits but were better known for the manufacturing side of the trade, including distilling and producing their “Poplar Log” corn whiskey and celebrated “Old Hunting Creek” rye whiskey.
Old Hunting Creek was exported by Statesville’s railroad across the northeast as a national brand. Featuring all the qualities of “age, purity, flavor and rich mellowness,” J.C. Somers & Co. considered this “wholesome whiskey” to be “the only whiskey without a headache.”
Cool story, huh? I'd like to thank Angelique de Buhr for sending along this information alongside a bottle for review with no strings attached. In accordance with my editorial policy, I reserve the right to offer my unfiltered, honest feedback on all whiskey. Will the modern distillate live up to this incredible historical chronicle? Let's find out.
Company on Label: Southern Distilling Company
Whiskey Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 51% Rye, 39% Corn, and 10% Malted Barley
Age: NAS (minimum 4 years)
Further identification: This is the first release of Hunting Creek, reborn in 2023, which carries an MSRP of $49.95
Nose: Sweet lemon funk, cornbread and vanilla biscotti jump out of the glass upon first raising it to my nose. Notes of hard maple candy are alluring and intoxicatingly sweet. The nose-feel is light, sweet and funky - very reminiscent of some of my favorite Kentucky straight ryes from Willett. I find tons of barrel influence here without any of the tannin that the younger years of new American white oak tend to impart. Earthy tones suggest a high average age on this well integrated blend. Light lemon frosting, molasses and hints of bubblegum round out an enchanting opening scene.
Returning my nose to the glencairn shows off soft dinner rolls, confectioners sugar, maple syrup, and the remnants of a gone out cooking fire. Well seasoned cast iron carries forward pancake notes riddled with sweet bits all throughout. White chocolate chips and hints of vanilla latte give this wonderful depth and complexity. Late in the glass the soft confectioners sugar and chocolate tones take over in a creamy delight. The empty glass smells of warm sourdough bread and vanilla sugar cookies.
Palate: My first sip tingles the gums with lemon zest, tart plum, sugary peach rings, and milk chocolate. The mouthfeel is one of my favorites in recent memory. It's oily in the mouth without being too thick, coating without standing over the taste buds. Another taste elevates sweet bubblegum, touches of anise and deep oak tones that, like the nose, suggests a well-aged whiskey is within. Flashes of graham cracker and leafy greens gives this lovely depth, as if one was suddenly aware of a great distance between objects on the horizon. Exploring the glass further shows off an effervescent sip of ripe raspberries, sugar-coated strawberries, deep raisin tones, and lemon macarons with chocolate sprinkles. With every sip I have to correct my desk posture, my natural reaction being to throw my head back in exaltation while the muscles in my back release all tension. Grapefruit, lemon frosting and tarragon are certain highlights of the glass. My last sip is all around sweet with hints of deep, rich tobacco underlying. The finish is medium with creamy peach crisp pudding showing up alongside the feeling of being in a sunlit room with thin, white curtains gently blowing in the breeze. This is an incredible whiskey to sip through slowly and let the delightful wave of well-made whiskey wash over you, rather than trying to understand or dissect it.
TL;DR: Wonderfully well integrated, complex rye with a plethora of citrus fruit, bread and sweetness
Time and oxygen has been very, very good to this bottle. I have admittedly been working on this review since July of this year, never quite finding that I've done justice to my experience with the glass via the words that I have at my disposal. The real reason I never felt I could finish it was likely because every time I went in with my analytical mind, rather than letting myself relax and just experience it, I couldn't describe it just right. Some things just aren't meant to be communicated in an orderly language of communication. Sometimes it's a sparked memory, or a feeling that can only be yours. This whiskey does a lot of that for me. It's taken me on many little wondrous journeys every time that I have tasted it, and for that I am grateful.
Another release that makes me feel this deeply connected with the whiskey is the 2023 Parker's Heritage Collection 10 year rye. Despite the nearly 30 proof point difference, I think I actually might even prefer the Hunting Creek. Look out Kentucky, North Carolina is coming for ya!