Most of the reviews on this site are honestly just the result of a bottle catching our eye on the shelf of the liquor store. But every so often, one of our friends finds a diamond in the rough and insists that we try it ourselves. This is a case of the latter: a relatively little known distillery from Tennessee that has recently been given wider distribution and (so our buddy says) makes some great whiskey. Naturally, we had to borrow their bottle to confirm it for ourselves.
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 in which the city of Chattanooga is located. Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter decided to change that, and in 2011 they formed the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 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 to 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 by 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 entirely of malted grains: malted rye, caramel malted barley & honey malted barley. (The exact proportions of each of these is 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, creating the new make whiskey that is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of more than two years.
After that maturation process, multiple barrels are combined to create just the right flavor profile. What makes this bottle interesting is that all of those barrels come from a single fermentation, keeping the pool of potential barrels very small. Additionally, there is precisely zero filtration 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.
In terms of the design, the shape of the bottle follows the common ‘short and stout’ construction that we see with a number of craft distilleries. What makes this stand out 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 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.
At first sniff, this almost seems like a Tennessee Whiskey with a prominent banana note — but the more you investigate, the more clearly it becomes the apple from the malted rye. That malty aroma (like a fresh box of Malt-O-Meal cereal) is clear and present, accompanied by some sweetness that’s like a rich brown sugar or even a molasses. There’s just a hint of cedar thrown in there, and a bit of vanilla as well.
Taking a sip, there’s a surprising level of sweetness, fruitiness, and richness here that I honestly wasn’t expecting. That brown sugar or molasses sweetness is up first, with a touch of a darker twist– like just a hint of charred sugar was thrown in. Enough to make an interesting flavor and texture without being overpowering. That develops into more of a dark cherry flavor and kicks off the fruity section, with some dried apricots and figs joining the party. From there, you’ll get a bit of caramel and vanilla before that cedar note joins in the finish.
While it might be bottled at a scorching 55.5% ABV (which is pretty high compared to a standard bourbon), I don’t get any of the associated burn here. It just enhances the flavor without singing my taste buds, making for an easy sipping spirit when taken neat.
With a normal strength bourbon (something in the 40% ABV range), the addition of some ice drastically changes the flavor profile. But here, with this cask strength version, that additional alcohol content keeps the ice from watering it down too far. There are plenty of those rich and deep flavors still sticking around.
Something that does get a bit lost is the cedar component. Taken neat, it provided a nice earthy and herbal aspect to the flavor profile that sadly seems to get lost in with the ice cubes. But everything else, including the fruit, survives and continues to make its presence known.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I don’t know if this really counts as a cocktail, or if it just brings the spirit back to where it all started when taken neat.
What the bitters add to the glass is this earthy and herbal component — exactly the same flavor profile that we lost when the ice was dropped in with the absent cedar note. It really just completes the spirit once again and brings it back to its original deliciousness.
A little bit of sugar and some orange peel here probably helps more than usual to change and improve things, as those are the only components that this was missing and they would add some interesting citrus-y complexity.
This is a little different from usual, but I’m not complaining.
There’s a good balance between the fruity aspects in the whiskey and the bitterness of the ginger beer, which brings everything into harmony — specifically, that apple from the rye content and the dried fruits. But that’s not the truly interesting part. What’s significant here is that the maltiness of the spirit is shining through, adding a delicious texture and flavor like biting into a warm buttered dinner roll. As a result, the cocktail is much smoother than usual with a very chill vibe.
It’s different in a good way.
There’s something to note here — this might be a whiskey made in Tennessee, but this is not a “Tennessee Whiskey”. That might seem like a minor distinction, but the difference is pretty dramatic as a Tennessee Whiskey (note the capitalization there) is required to be filtered through charcoal as part of its post processing operations. That usually imparts a fruity, banana-esque flavor and aroma that has become a fingerprint of that style of spirits.
This has none of that. This is a Tennessee whiskey without the capitalization on the spelling. This has more apple and dried fruit, and more of that malty characteristic coming through that adds a unique flavor and texture to some cocktails.
Either neat or in a cocktail, I think this does great. It isn’t the best old fashioned I’ve ever had, but it certainly isn’t bad either. And I think that’s really the only derogatory mark here: that in some cocktail preparations it could be a bit better. But for the price, and the uniqueness compared to counterparts produced in the state, this is a very good showing.
|Chattanooga Whiskey Cask 111|
Produced By: Chattanooga WhiskeyProduction Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 55.5% ABV
Price: $41.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A deliciously high proof whiskey made in Tennessee that has some great malty and dried fruit characteristics.