So far, the folks at Chattanooga Whiskey have been putting out some delicious spirits by combining a higher than usual percentage of malted grains into their bourbons and rye whiskies. It’s been working out well so far, but one of their latest releases not only kicks up the malted grain content to the maximum level but also seems to be getting fancy with the cask finishing options by using a Cabernet Sauvignon barrel. The result is on our table today and I can’t wait to see what’s in this glass.
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.
Chattanooga Whiskey has been creating bourbons and rye whiskies with a higher than usual percentage of malted barley and rye grains in the mash bill, but this is the first time that I’ve seen one of their bottles actually labeled as a “malt whiskey”. This unfortunately rare designation in the United States means that at least 51% of the grains that are used to make this spirit are malted barley. In this case, they went all-in and 100% of the grains used for this spirit are some form of malted barley.
As a reminder, the process of “malting” a grain means soaking it in water and allowing it to start to sprout (since all grains are seeds) and then stopping that process by gently heating the grains. That heating was traditionally done by peat fired ovens in Scotland, which is where the characteristic peaty smoke flavor comes from in those bottles.
While the exact proportions of the specific blend of grains aren’t really disclosed we do get an inside peek into the specific strains of grain that are in here. According to the distiller, this is a blend of a few different distillation runs that they have done over the years, specifically R18077, R18087, R18088, R18096, and R18097, respectively:
- Riverbend Munich malted barley
- Pale malted barley, riverbend Munich malted barley, biscuit malted barley, beech smoked malted barley, carafa (chocolate) malted barley
- Pale malted barley, riverbend Munich malted barley, brown malted barley, coffee malted barley, caramel malted barley
- Pale malted barley, riverbend Munich malted barley, caramel malted barley, aromatic malted barley
- Pale malted barley, riverbend Munich malted barley, aromatic malted barley, dark caramel malted barley, double roasted malted
For each batch, 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 (a traditional bourbon-style configuration for a still designed for high output and a heads-y flavor profile), thus creating the new make whiskey. That whiskey is then placed into charred new American oak barrels for a period of no less than four years.
This is where things start to get interesting for this specific bottle. Samples of those batches of whiskey are pulled and combined into an oak barrel that had previously been used by the Silver Oak Winery in Napa Valley, California to produce their Cabernet Sauvignon wine. This whiskey sat in the barrel for an additional 18 months maturing and soaking in all those flavors before being bottled.
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.
It looks like this might be the first bottle I’ve come across from Chattanooga Whiskey in their new version of the labeling. The basic concept is the same — the labeling on this bottle is accomplished with a single band around the upper portion of the body. What’s different this time around is that the label is still straight and square, but the printing on the label makes it look like the label is slightly tilted and askew.
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.
Each variety of the whiskey is differentiated by the color of the band around that label, in this case a wine red color that looks like you just spilled a merlot on your fancy white tablecloth.
The red wine influence is apparent before you even take your first sip — this is the typical dark colored liquid we’ve come to expect from Chattanooga Whiskey, but instead of the typical amber orange hue there’s more of a rose colored tinge. The aromas are heavily influenced as well, with blackberry jam, dried raisins, and figs being some of the core components of what I’m smelling. There’s also a supporting tone of fresh baked sourdough bread underneath those aromas (which is typical of a malted barley whiskey), and a bit of brown sugar.
There’s definitely something unique about this flavor profile. I’m not sure if I can completely attribute it to the red wine finishing, since there are so many unique barley strains in here, but to say that this is different than their bourbon is an understatement.
Right up front, there’s a flash of dried raisins and blackberry jam that seems pretty obviously to be the result of the barrel finishing, but then things proceed to really get dark and interesting. Almost immediately there’s a dark chocolate flavor that kicks in and adds a depth and richness to the profile, almost to the extent that it stops being chocolate and starts becoming straight charred oak in flavor. Around this point there’s a bit of smoke that wafts through, and that eventually resolves into a cereal flavor that when combined with the chocolate from earlier tastes exactly like a bowl of Count Chocula cereal. On the finish, that fruity note reappears, with more emphasis on the blackberry and maybe a bit of black cherry as well adding a bit of levity to that darker flavor.
Malted whiskey typically doesn’t do very well with added ice — the flavor profile tends to be lighter, fruitier, and more delicate than the corn based bourbon counterparts. But in this case, not only does it enhance the richness of the malted barley but even some of the fruit makes it through unscathed.
I will note that there’s a bit of a switch here, though. Now the darker chocolate flavor comes first, combined with some of the smoky characteristics to make something that tastes closer to roasted coffee. That’s mixed with a bit of blackberry and dried raisins and the result is something that is still surprisingly complex and delicious. (Even if it is a few degrees colder than it was a few moments ago.)
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I usually don’t subject malted barley-based whiskey to an old fashioned. It doesn’t typically go well, with the lighter flavors being unable to properly balance out the bitters and the aromatics. But in this case, the dark chocolate and the coffee flavors in this whiskey are the perfect flavor combination to make a delicious cocktail.
Overall, this is a great balanced drink and the aromatics provide just the right lift to keep this from being a dour and depressing drink. But while there’s a little bit of fruit in here, I think these flavors could be stronger. The blackberry and dried raisin aren’t quite forceful enough to make themselves known, and as a result doesn’t really add the same kind of delicious fruity undertone that I would have wanted. It’s a problem you can usually fix with a splash of cherry juice, but just something to note.
This is just a decent Kentucky mule — it does some things really well, but there’s just something missing.
The flavors up front are the first thing I look at in a mule, trying to figure out if they are well balanced and interesting. In this case, the chocolate and coffee flavors do a great job balancing out the fruity and tangy lime juice and ginger beer, and the combination tastes almost like a tropical cocktail of some kind. It works, and it’s a flavor combination that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in this kind of a drink.
What doesn’t work is the texture. The cocktail is very flat and one note when it comes to the texture; normally, I’d be relying on the black peppery spice of a little bit of rye to provide some kick and some excitement on the finish but there’s none to be had. Instead this is just a flat, smooth, uninteresting mellow texture.
Chattanooga is a relatively young distillery, but one that has never shied away from experimentation in their offerings — and I think they are doing a great job. Not only are they showing a lot of skill in their distillation process by choosing the right kinds of specialty grains for the flavor profile they want, but they are also making the right moves by picking interesting barrels to finish their spirits.
What we have here is a whiskey that is deep and rich, but also still fruity and delicious. There’s a lot going on here and as a result it seems to work better on its own rather than in a cocktail — but it may make for some fun experimentation of your own in the right cocktail. And for this price, if you can find it, I’d say it is well worth the buy.
|Chattanooga Whiskey Silver Oak Cabernet Cask Finished Straight Malt Whiskey|
Produced By: Chattanooga WhiskeyProduction Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Straight Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47.5% ABV
Price: $57.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
If you are the kind of person who likes those blackberry or raspberry truffles covered in chocolate then this is absolutely the whiskey for you.