Back in May of 2022 we had the great pleasure of visiting Starlight Distillery as part of a collaboration between the group that @bourbondipity_ and I run for our local community in Massachusetts called Mass Bourbon Alliance. We collaborated with a great local store that is expanding and thriving here in MA: Liquor Junction. We went in with low/no expectations and left amazed with 4 barrels - the first barrels to ever hit MA! I'll drop a synopsis of each here, but wouldn't feel comfortable honestly reviewing these without some level of bias being at play, so I won't be attaching a score to these. I hope you find the notes helpful!
Starlight Bourbon Barrel No. 18-0247
114.4 Proof - Aged 4 Years
This is one of their flagship bourbons that will certainly satisfy your sweet tooth. We picked this one for its rich candied fruit, vanilla and baking spice profile coming from a great Spirit Premium barrel by Canton cooperage. The unfinished bourbons have seriously been growing on me lately. I have a bottle from Liquor Depot in CT that I was incredibly impressed by as well. Our barrel definitely brings a bit more fruit complexity to an already delicious, viscous, oily, rich mouth coating whiskey.
Nose: Goodness that's delectable - prominent vanilla, tiramisu, cherry syrup and rich chocolate present bold & complete. Continuously soft and delectable to inhale throughout the glass, it finishes with notes of crème brûlée and woodshop aromas.
Palate: Big bready tones flash up first followed by that signature fruity sweet tart profile. I find cherry skins, plum and thick raspberry jam. It's oily, jammy and altogether a crushable explosion of rich flavors. Another sip produces more pot still oily tones as well as buttercream frosting and rich oak. The linger is thoroughly satisfying with flavors of strawberries and crêpes. My last sip is just as delicious as the first with a trove of fruit notes bombarding the palate. This glass is sweet beyond measure without becoming cloying. Yum.
Starlight Double Oaked Bourbon Batch 22-2080-1
112.6 Proof - Aged 4.5 Years
This double oaked bourbon whiskey was an absolute must-have for Derek who frequently reminded the pick team that the 2nd half of this sip truly has 'something special' He's so damn right too! It comes from a Spirit Legacy by Canton cooperage featuring 5 year American staves with 4 year Hungarian heads. The barrel was air seasoned 60 months. We tasted a lot of things this day, but this one clearly stood out with the other Canton barrels, producing marvelous toasted vanilla notes. Sip this one while you relax to some Don McLean.
Nose: Banana foster jumps out on the nose followed by rich toasted marshmallow. Plenty of charred oak aromas are here as well giving this the illusion of age beyond its statement. It's creamy in the nose which is definite treat. The end of the glass smells of molasses, troves of oak, and Pillsbury dinner rolls.
Palate: Punchier than the straight bourbon - this release throws orange peel, plum, apricot and hefty molasses at the palate with both elegance and vigor. The linger is impossibly long and full of confectioners sugar, caramel, dark chocolate and wave after wave of sweet amaretto. My last sip is loaded with beautiful coffee bean flavors that shimmer long into a creamy delight.
Starlight VDN Finished Rye Barrel No. 21-2298-2
106.2 Proof - Aged 4.5 Years
One sip of this and you will know what the name means! This VDN (Vino de Naranja) finished rye brings just a squeeze of that orange wine to the table, building on a lovely sweet mash rye that has no equal. This zesty citrus forward rye is what all Summer whiskeys try to be - refreshing, bright and deliciously sweet. It reminds me a lot of the kind of profile that Willett rye blends give off. Given how distinct & unique this barrel finish is - this may not be a crowd pleaser, but it is unforgettable to the whiskey curious. Get this one on hand for the best enjoyment you'll find this Summer!
Nose: Fruity florals burst out of this glass. Lemon tea and orange sherbet merge wonderfully. Cardamom, pine boughs, dusty oak and clay give this great depth. Chocolate undertones complete the well layered nose.
Palate: Oh. My. Goodness! If you thought the Sweet Tart bourbon was sweet - this is an orange creamsicle embodied perfectly. It's sweet like a big bite of a juicy orange plus it has the vanilla forward profile that provides a creamy blanket over everything. The undertones are fun with herbal and floral subtleties that most will miss but aficionados will rejoice in. Lindt Intense Orange chocolate bars produce rather proofy, but it's a welcome zest. Marbled rye bread sits in the medium linger. My last sip is fruity with a few late surprises of sweet skittles.
Starlight Port Finished Rye Barrel No. 21-2126-3
This one is a dreamy sister barrel to Lakeside, but it would serve best enjoyed in the opposite season. A port finished wine has been done a few times by now, but not all are created equal. The port wine cask used and the final product are often really dependent on the quality of the wine. We're well covered here as the Hubers actually started in wine before whiskey, so they have an incredible supply of plenty of great casks. If you're bummed about not being able to find A Midwinter Night's Dram bottle, or just want to sip on a similar profile for a good bit cheaper - this bottle is for you. The beautiful port sweetness adds just enough to an already exceptional rye without going overboard into the tannic wine territory. You'll love this as your new snow shoveling whiskey for any blustery Winter month.
Nose: My my, the sheer volume of chocolate and sweet port aromas is mind bending. Plum and rich, dark grape aromas fill my nose with the warmth of a warm mulled wine. Fig, amaretto and rich raspberry aromas really push this into the exceptional category. It smells just like some of the best Midwinter Night's Dram releases I've tried. The volume somehow surpasses the 11 setting that the double oaked release achieved, and I'm left dumbfounded in fruit heaven. This glass is incredibly consistent, and I find it doesn't slouch, amplify nor undulate. It's just solid straight through and has shown no signs of being affected by oxidation on my way through the bottle. The empty glass smells of chocolate covered raisins and beautiful plum pudding.
Palate: Creamy tiramisu hits first with beautiful espresso soaked ladyfingers. This creamy punch is followed by beautiful coffee bean flavors mixed with subtle fruit tones. This glass is a touch bready, but in a way that reminds me of Pirouline wafers. As the snow falls outside my window, I find this to be the perfect glass for today, though I know holistically - having tried this release many times now - that it falls just behind my general personal preference towards the unfinished bourbon. My last sip is like a carnival ferris wheel - a solid experience from start to finish with grandiose views without any real inherent risk. Any sip produces about as much happiness as your first kiss when you think nobody can see you at the top of the ride... In two words: Just. Delicious. My last sip is like a milky way with pure class, delicious creaminess and a finish that keeps you wishing for more. Just fantastic.
Rating: Two Thumbs Way Up
In an effort to continuously bring Amongst the Whiskey readers honest reviews, I don't feel comfortable doing numerical ratings on picks I was involved with. For further clarity - I don't get anything (except for great experiences) as part of my involvement with picking barrels with this store.
My normal rating scale can be found here.
My Personal Ranking: Sweet Tart > Fireside = Lakeside > Starry Night
(Straight Bourbon > Port Finished Rye = VDN Finished Rye > Double Oaked Bourbon)
Starlight Distillery is making some of the best whiskeys out there - evidenced by their latest Ascot Awards achievement, being recognized as the 2022 craft distillery of the year.
Within this lineup there are no losers, though they are very different whiskeys individually. I'd urge anyone trying all 4 of these to savor them each on their own, as attempting to compare and contrast will leave you with a really wild array of flavors stuck on your palate. The double oaked in particular can be a little overpowering for the other releases & as such tends to be most people's favorite when they do try all 4 together. I think this is more of a factor of total flavor volume rather than a difference in quality personally, but everyone drinks differently. The Fireside will surely drink better if you happen to sample in the Winter and the Lakeside is a perfect Summer sipper - so those are a bit situational. If any of these releases sound like hits to you - I'd urge you to pop into any Liquor Junction store in MA and grab as many as you can carry!