I always enjoy experiencing new local spirits wherever I go. I was in a liquor store in upstate New York (well, “upstate” for someone who grew up in Westchester County) when I spotted an interesting looking bottle that seemed to come from a local distillery, specifically this Black Dirt Bourbon. Having tried (and loved!) the maple cask rye from another local distiller, Tuthilltown Spirits, I figured this was worth a taste.
The Black Dirt region of New York State is known as one of the most fertile farmlands in the entire United States. Once the site of a great inland lake following the last ice age roughly 12,000 years ago, the collected fertilizer from that ancient biomass of prehistoric fish and wildlife gives the local soil its eponymous black color and rich fragrant smell. This 5,500 acre region is alone responsible for half of the onions grown in New York State as well as a large variety of other crops (including corn, which will become critical for this particular product).
The Black Dirt Distillery folks started distilling while they were originally at the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, creating a couple brands of spirits that were getting some significant attention and sales. In order to meet that demand, co-owners Jason Grizzanti and Jeremy Kidde founded Black Dirt Distillery in March 2012 and began expanding their product offering to include other liqueurs and brandies.
This spirit starts its life as a Black Dirt Bourbon. The first step is making a mash containing 80% corn grown in the Black Dirt region, 12% malted barley, and 8% rye. That heavy usage of local corn allows the distillery to take advantage of the special (markedly cheaper) licensing for New York distilleries who use local ingredients.
From there, the spirit is distilled and aged in charred oak barrels for a period of roughly 3 years, making an absolutely delicious bourbon.
Once finished, the bourbon is mixed together with maple syrup from the Taconic hardwood forest local to the distillery and aged for an additional year.
The bottle itself is a design we’ve seen before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a traditional liquor bottle design with rounded sides, a slightly flared bottom, and a rounded shoulder that rolls into an elongated neck.
I like the labeling on the bottle. The brown paper and the font speak to the age of the region and I find it visually appealing. Even with the rather large label the bottle still lets the spirit be seen through the bottle, displaying that beautiful amber color.
It smells like pure straight maple syrup in a glass. There’s a bit of peppery spice underneath from the hint of rye in the mash bill and I think I detect a bit of vanilla, but really the maple syrup is overwhelming.
It tastes almost exactly the way it smells. There’s a pleasant alcohol burn on the finish and a bit of pepper from the rye, but again the maple syrup is in the driver’s seat. The liquid is thick and viscous, well beyond the weight that a 45% ABV spirit should exhibit.
To me this is a bit much. My wife, who loves maple syrup, would probably appreciate it (or maybe not, since she also hates brown liquor) but anyone who doesn’t regularly enjoy straight maple syrup might feel it’s a bit sweet.
It’s still very sweet, but no longer overwhelming. Now it’s simply a sweeter version of the bourbon.
I appreciate that there’s a bit of spice on the finish that comes through even with the added ice, it makes the spirit a bit more complex and delicious.
In this form, it’s a much better drink for sipping.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is where this spirit starts to shine.
As mentioned, on its own the sweetness of the bourbon is a little much for me. But with the added bite of the orange bitters, it tones down the sweetness and balances out the drink. Plus, the added rye in the bourbon brings a spice that adds a bit more complexity.
There’s just a touch too much sweetness still in here for me. Typically, the ginger beer in a mule adds some needed sweetness that balances the drink, but in this case it compounds with the sugar already in the spirit.
It’s not a terrible mule, but the rye in the grain bill once again is the star in the spirit, as really the only element that comes through.
I appreciate the effort here, but I think this concept is something that really needs to be mixed with a rye. The base bourbon used for this product is simply too sweet to start and doesn’t have enough rye content to bite through the sweetness. Compared to a similar local product (the Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey) this is a little too far on the sweet side for comfort.
Black Dirt Crown Maple Bourbon
Owner: Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery
Production: Warwick, NY
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Grain bill: 80% NY corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye
Aging: 4 years (3 alone, 1 with maple syrup)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $41.45/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
I’d love to see this with a 100% New York grown rye grain bill. Or their bourbon without the maple syrup is good enough. But this is just too sweet.