As I mentioned in my review of Chattanooga Whiskey’s 111 proof edition, I was originally tipped off to this brand from a friend who shared his beloved bottle with me. When that same friend also procured a bottle of Chattanooga’s 91 Proof, he was again kind enough to share — and we were again curious to investigate this brand. How will this slightly-lower-proof version stack up against its higher-proof sibling?
After the end of prohibition, the state of Tennessee only allowed whiskey distillation in three counties: Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee. They expanded that list in 2009, but it still didn’t include the county where Chattanooga is located. Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter decided to change that, forming the Chattanooga Whiskey Co in 2011 with the intent to re-write the law to allow distilling in their county and bring distilling back to their home city.
While their legislative efforts were in process they worked with a Lincoln County distillery to create their own strains of spirits that they could sell and fund their campaign. Their efforts paid off, and on May 16, 2013, the Governor of Tennessee signed a new law making distilling in their county legal again.
The pair hired a staff and opened their new distillery in March 2015, releasing their initial 100 proof white whiskey in November of that year.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Chattanooga Whiskey is doing something interesting with their bourbon here — specifically, taking the approach of including as much malted grain as possible in the mash bill. As a bourbon, this is required to use a minimum of 51% corn but the remainder of the grain bill is comprised of malted rye, caramel malted barley & honey malted barley. The exact proportions of each are not disclosed.
Those grains are combined, cooked, and fermented for a full seven days — much longer than the typical 3 day fermentation cycle for most distilleries. This allows the yeast to interact with the liquid longer, creating more interesting and complex flavor components.
Once the fermentation is complete, the liquid is distilled using their column still and doubler setup, thus creating the new make whiskey that is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of more than two years.
Once the maturation process is complete, multiple barrels are combined to create just the right flavor profile. What makes this bottle especially interesting is that all of those barrels come from a single fermentation, keeping the pool of potential barrels very small. Additionally, there is zero filtration involved of any kind, which can sometimes lead to particles of char from the barrel making their way into the bottle.
This is a pretty standard bottle at first glance, but there are some cool touches here that I appreciate.
The shape of the bottle follows the common short and stout construction that we see with a number of craft distilleries. What makes this unique, though, is that the distillery went to the trouble of embossing their name into the bottle itself — a step that requires a bit more time and money than usual, and which creates a cool effect as the light shines through the bottle. The cylindrical body rounds to a short neck, and is capped off with a unique all-cork stopper.
Labeling on this bottle is accomplished with a single band around the upper portion of the body. It isn’t exactly the most exciting label I’ve ever seen, but I appreciate that they thought ahead far enough to put the label at the top and leave enough space below for the whiskey to really shine through and be visible. Good thinking, there.
This smells exactly like that waft of musty air you get when opening your grandmother’s cedar chest. Front and center is this cedar wood component, supported by a touch of brown sugar sweetness and with some fruit backing it up — specifically some apple, banana, and a hint of orange citrus.
The order of those components is pretty much reversed when it comes to the flavor. The banana is the first thing that registers in my mind, supported by some orange citrus that lingers around and mixes well with the rest of the components. Those flavors are followed pretty quickly by a good bit of caramel and brown sugar, a sweetness that helps balance out the flavor profile.
On the back half of the experience is where things start to fall apart a little bit, in my opinion. I mentioned in my review of the 111 version of this spirit that there was some dark chocolate — and that appears here as well, but it crosses the line into bitterness momentarily before getting some support from the cedar wood flavor. On the finish, that bitterness reappears and leaves a charred caramel impression behind.
On the one hand, the addition of some ice does iron out the bitterness that we saw earlier. But it also removes some of the character that was making this whiskey interesting.
Instead of a progression of flavors, everything hits all at once now. The orange citrus and banana are still the biggest components, but there’s also a malty cereal component underscoring the flavor profile that is adding this nice, soft support to the other aspects. I do also get the dark chocolate mixed in and a bit of brown sugar, but it no longer dips into bitterness.
What I’m missing, though, is the cedar note, which was a strong differentiating factor when taken neat. This is now pretty much just a Jack Daniel’s with chocolate bitters — not bad in any sense, but missing some of that unique character it had at the beginning.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I think this does a really nice job as a modern Old Fashioned cocktail.
There’s a good depth and richness to that dark chocolate note in the whiskey, which is ideal for the aromatics in the bitters to mix and balance against. The result is a lighter and almost herbaceous take on the drink, but one that is still anchored by that deeper chocolate note.
You’ve also got a good bit of fruit in here, which almost gives it that 1950’s throwback feel as well. Bartenders of the era pretty much tossed in an entire fruit salad and hit it with a muddler (making it something closer to a Hawaiian punch than a whiskey cocktail) — and while I don’t love a fruit-forward Old Fashioned, I appreciate when you get a hint of those sweet and fruity notes around the edges.
Chattanooga 91 makes for a pretty good representation of a mule. A little bit flat and soft, but definitely drinkable.
Up front, you do get a good balance of the bright and cheery ginger beer with some of the darker and richer aspects of the whiskey. I think this is where the dark chocolate note really comes in handy, and it makes for a delicious cocktail with some character.
Where this falls apart a bit is on the finish (the finish is a pretty consistent struggle with this bottle, in case you couldn’t tell). With a rye-forward spirit, you’ll get some pepper spice or interesting changes to the flavor profile near the end… but here it’s just as smooth as silk. I think that’s the malted grains to blame, softening the flavors and making them a bit more even keeled. Which makes this just fine for a sipping whiskey — but I want something with just a few sharp elbows when used as a mixer.
To be honest, I think the 111 proof edition is the better expression here. There’s a deeper saturation in the flavor and a little more kick to the components that just make it more enjoyable.
That said, this ain’t bad at all. There are some delicious flavors in this bottle, like that dark chocolate note that we tasted in almost every iteration we tried, and it makes for some great cocktails. But taken neat, I think there’s just a touch too much bitterness for my taste.
|Chattanooga Whiskey 91|
Produced By: Chattanooga WhiskeyProduction Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45.5% ABV
Price: $31.49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A fruity, chocolatey whiskey that has some great flavors and just a hint of bitterness when taken neat.