There aren't many better times in the whiskey world than getting to try something completely new. The lovely Brittany (@bourbonchick_6) from the Spirit Animal Society crew sent me along a special surprise... I opened a box from her to find a note saying that the bottle was wrapped up good (in order to blind me to the label) and to crack it open for a blind taste before unwrapping any further. Well... I obliged and got on a quick video call with her and some other SAS members and gave a few quick hot takes that I'll try to summarize from memory here:
Before getting into it I asked one question and that was if this was a store pick from somewhere, which it was - a pick from Maisano's which I've been hearing great things about
I immediately smelled grapes and asked if this was a brandy upon first smelling it
There was a ton of red fruit but really the grape was most distinct on the nose before going in for a sip
My first sip was an absolute explosion of all the red fruit you can think of
Sticky raspberry jam, plum, raisin, you name it!
Powerful.. I guessed near 130 proof
I asked if this was finished in something which turned out to be true
We started exploring what mash bill it might be and four grain came up
I first said Penelope and then second guessed Lee Sinclair which Brittany told me was spot on!
I loved my first tasting of this so much I wanted to come back and sit down with another glass and give it some deeper thought. See what Founder Jonathan Maisano had to say about this pick on Instagram:
After two weekends of doing inventory in my shop I have finally found the time to sit down and give my Hand Select Spirits Of French Lick The Whiskey Witch the proper tasting time and sensory evaluation it deserves! I have tasted about 1,400 different Whiskey barrels straight from the barrel and this is the most unique one I have ever tried. I will try to put this incredibly layered Whiskey into words; First I get orange cream soda followed by sweet notes of smoke immediately followed by mint oil and star anise then touches of roast coffee (brought out by the cigar) the finish is oily and ever lasting! The 127.3 proof is never detected on the nose or tongue. If you want to enjoy a non Bourbon that will absolutely blow your mind this is it. Below is the abbreviated description given by the brilliant creator Alan Bishop @thealchemistcabinet
The mash bill is composed of 51% Red Wheat, 24% Oats, and 25% Peat Smoked Malt. While oats and wheat aren’t often seen in modern Irish and Scottish expressions, both were once very common, and often used to this day by the handful of true “small pot” illicit distillers in Ireland, eager to preserve their distilling legacy. The Hoosier spin on this legacy is the use of peat harvested from bogs in Northern Indiana to smoke a small proportion of the Ye Olde Pale ale malt from Sugar Creek malt company. This peat brings a light fruitiness to the distillate and botanical like flavors as opposed to the typical phenolics of Scottish peat.
The barrels originally held Bourbon then were last filled with 135+ proof grape brandy.
The resulting whiskies when selected as single barrels became night and day expressions, the used oak presenting bright, citrus forward, and botanical like notes and the New American Oak presenting round, supple, sweet, and more restrained citrus and botanical like elements with a nudge towards more traditional American style whiskies.
This Whiskey is beautiful paired with a @davidoffcigars Winston Churchill 2021 Limited Edition.
I chose to mainly skim over the summary provided above before going into my tasting to try not to have any flavor bias, but I will definitely will be digging into this brand much more once I'm done with my tasting below! Read on to see what I thought of this pour.
Company on Label: Spirits of French Lick (distilled and bottled by them in West Baden Springs, Indiana)
Whiskey Type: American Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 51% Red Wheat, 24% Oats, and 25% Indiana Peat Smoked Malt
Age: 4 years (labeled as aged 4.5 years)
Further identification: This unique whiskey is a single barrel selection (barrel 2558) from Maisano's Fine Wine & Spirits from the Gulf Coast; the bottle was sent to me by the awesome Spirit Animal Society member @bourbonchick_6. The whiskey was aged in barrels that originally held bourbon then were finished in 135+ proof grape brandy casks.
Nose: Distinct grape sweetness is definitely prevalent on the nose - so syrupy it almost becomes a full blown grape juice that I'm smelling. I love that brandy influence that's clearly all over this. Orange peel zest jumps off the glass on deeper inhales. The nose feel is incredibly soft and silky for being nearly 130 proof. I get a nice dry oak aroma that doesn't come across too dusty or barren for the nose. Cherry juice and black pepper develop softly in the background. A swirl of the glass definitely brings on a bit more spice to the nose; I find clove, nutmeg and a tarragon mixed with a lovely citrus zest. Time to go in for a sip!
Coming back to the nose I get more of the creamy citrus zest like a freshly made cream cheese lemon bar... that's lovely. Oh wow, there's that brandy sweetness again on the nose too. There are tiny flashes of a warm tobacco note nestled into the oak. Oh now the rich chocolate tones are seeping in. I find it splitting time between a raspberry jam, dark chocolate and a coffee bean aroma as I work through the air atop this whiskey. Silky vanilla can be found on the back end of most inhales. Hints of old school leather remind me of a local rollerblade skating rink in my hometown. I think on the nose we've pretty much come full circle as I return to a silky, syrupy grape (brandy) profile that is fairly delicate, but delicious. The empty glass smells of funky cranberry, creamy chocolate, the remnants of frothed espresso, and a lovely soft oak.
Palate: This one is punchy and it's not shy about it at all! My first sip is an intense wave of plum, apricot, a distinct rolled oat characteristic, and a toasted smoky oak characteristic. The linger is incredibly soft compared to that first flash of flavor and any evidence of the 127.3 proof is completely hidden. Another sip builds in the orange peel flavor I was getting on the nose and adds a ton of creamy layers. I'm again intrigued experiencing this oat flavor that I haven't really experienced on any other whiskey before, likely a neat byproduct of the oats that were used in the unique mash bill. There are some great bergamot tea notes and the mouth coating is something thick and fierce. I find my saliva trending towards the consistency of honey the more I sip on this as nutmeg, blackberry and grenadine bombard my senses. A longer sip and swish with some air introduction really shows off a nice, dark red grape influence that sticks to the surface of the tongue well. I wish it was a little more forgiving in the way of the mouth coating holding on so tightly, but if you are looking for something you can sip slowly on a relaxing evening without getting too intoxicated - one sip of this gives you flavor that can certainly go the distance. I'm still finding new notes as I take a sip near the bottom of the glass and a yummy graham cracker flavor comes roaring into the center of my palate. I think that's how I'd best describe most of the delivery of this pour - it's a bit of a roaring rollercoaster that slow builds in some sections and then rockets you off at the speed of light at other times. My last sip is a beautiful bouquet of sweet fruit as cherry skins, raisin and hot tamales. The finish is a touch hot, but once that bit of shock passes I'm left with a honey, blackcurrant, and angostura bitters profile that sits with me like a long hug.
I'm pleased to say this pour made the "Keep Amongst the Whiskey" list; something not many other pours have done in a long time. Click the image above to see some other whiskeys that have made that list. This was something super unique and I am thankful for both Brittany sending me this and Maisano's for picking such an incredibly layered whiskey experience. This bottle will certainly be savored and shared with more folks who need to try this awesome spirit. I do think I want to try that cigar pairing that I read about above! Cheers!