Craft distillery alert! We've got a great little operation called Whiskey Acres up for review, a distillery out of DeKalb, Illinois. I had not heard of this distillery until a sample crossed my desk from Jes Smyth, also known as @gigglesnsips in the whiskey community. I love getting to try new things and sample swaps are a great way to explore new whiskeys without breaking the bank, so thank you for sharing, Jes! If you've never heard of Whiskey Acres, please allow me to give you a proper introduction. There are many fantastic craft distilleries across the United States that are producing some delicious products that can easily rival some of the big brand names you already know. Whenever I discover one of these hidden gems, I try to make it a point to cover these operations in some way - perhaps through a review like the one you are perusing now, a visit to their distillery to meet their team & see the operation firsthand, or sometimes a quick shoutout on my instagram. I believe as a whiskey enthusiast that investing time in building up smaller distilleries benefits everyone. Why drink the same flavors from the same big six distilleries when you can be exploring local heirloom grains, terroir-driven aging, and true small batch distillation? Craft is key for this.
After getting in touch with Nick Nagle from the Whiskey Acres team I got to learn a little more about this small family-run operation. Below are a few interesting points I'm excited to be able to share!
Founded: 2013 by 4th and 5th generation family farmers
Still: 500 gallon Vendome copper still with an 8 plate reflux column
Master distiller: Rob Wallace who has a Master's Degree in Distillation and Fermentation Sciences from Heriott-Watt University and was mentored by Dave Pickerell when getting started
Cooperage: 53 gallon Kelvin barrels at a char level 3
With a local seed to spirit farming & distilling tradition being established since at least 1897, why shouldn't DeKalb, Illinois be on the whiskey map? Yes, my dear reader, bourbon CAN be made in any state of the US, not just Kentucky... but you knew that already, because you're a well-read whiskey enthusiast - right? You're also here for a review, so let's get into that part!
Company on Label: Whiskey Acres
Whiskey Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 75% blue popcorn, 15% soft red winter wheat and 10% malted barley
Age: 4 years (a blend of 4 and 5 year barrels)
Further identification: This Artisan Series release from Whiskey Acres was released in 2023 at an MSRP of $70
Nose: Upon first nosing I raise an eyebrow at what feels like a fairly high malt content perhaps due to things coming across chocolatey. The malt evidence fades quickly, but it's got a distinct character that is apparent right away, perhaps due to some local terroir effects. Buttercream frosting, Summer bed sheets out on the clothesline, and dusty black pepper laced oak suggest its been aged quite long enough. My right nostril finds bright vanilla and toffee with the air feeling vibrant, almost ribbed, as it passes into my airways. My left nostril says it's picnic time with graham crackers, a wicker basket, and a soft flannel blanket atop the light Summer grass. It's delicately creamy with a distinct craft uniqueness that is neither grainy nor unpleasant. Deep inhales offer complex undulations of copper, whispers of sherry sweetness, tickles of clove, and teases of anise. Late in the exploration the mind wanders right to the intended parallel - a bowl of buttered popcorn at the ready for a quiet movie night in. Given the great quality thus far, I think I'd prefer the whiskey to the snack.
Returning to the nose is where all the magic is when delicate fruit notes begin to poke through the cornbread base. Flashes of salinity, florality, and subtle black pepper undulate in delicate balance. For a lower proof point there is certainly no lack of volume. The empty glass smells of a vanilla latte loaded with frothy, steamed milk, creamy caramel, and milk duds.
Palate: At first sip I find such a distinct corn on the cob flavor that has been grilled to perfection: 20 minutes on each of two sides with the husks just beginning to char on their tips. Classic creamy caramel tones anyone should be able to recognize on a good bourbon dance on the tongue. The silkiness of the nose translates this linger into creamed corn. A long sip and swish gets an audible 'woah' from me. It gives off honey and malt vibes that reminds me of some of the most wonderful non-peated Islay single malt whiskies I've tried, such as an old Bruichladdich 10 year. Sipping further rounds the glass into milk duds, caramel and just the skin of a green apple - not quite coming across juicy here. It offers a thick, viscous mouth coating that suggests pot still distillation, without as much oiliness as would be traditional, but it's clear they've taken the time to craft a good product here. Fans of distilleries that operate North of Kentucky will find parallels to love in the subtle terroir differences that can be discovered exploring outside of comfort zones. Late in the glass I find a buzzing, boozy feeling quite alike to that of sipping a bubbly white wine. My last taste is quite satisfying like a perfect evening snack; there's a full charcuterie spread here, but I'm mainly after the blackberries and honey. Mmh!
TL;DR: A great craft whiskey that is unsurprisingly corny with a lot of subtle underlying nuances
If you're looking for a little extra frame of reference, I get some King's County and New York Distilling Company vibes from this whiskey, both of which produce whiskey I have thoroughly enjoyed. If you're a fan of either of those distilleries, this should be right up your alley.
This pour was a big surprise for me and I find myself going back to this bottle often lately. I often like to hear when whiskey enthusiasts or whiskey writers go out and spend their own money on things that were otherwise provided to them for free - put your money where your mouth is if you will... Well, I did just that and now have my own bottle of this Blue Popcorn to enjoy as you might be able to tell from the photographs. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Whiskey Acres has up their sleeves in the future and have to say kudos to Master Distiller Rob Wallace on a job well done with this one. Have you tried this release? Drop me a line down in the comments here! Cheers.