The 21st century version of the Roaring Twenties has certainly gotten off to a less than joyous note, what with social unrest, economic strife, and oh yeah… a literal plague. (Not to mention we’re certainly lacking in art-deco glamour compared to our 20th century ancestors.) But Coalition Whiskey is here to brighten things up with a bit of “roaring twenties” style — not to mention, some tasty whiskey.
Leonid Yangarber is a man who has spent quite a long time in the industry. Formerly the CEO of the American wing of Russian Standard Vodka, he wanted to strike out on his own and get into the American whiskey game. After looking around at the market and trying to find something legitimately interesting for his new product, he eventually found a stock of 100% rye Kentucky whiskey that he thought tasted fantastic and wanted to share it with the world.
But he didn’t just want to bottle it and ship it out the door — he wanted to put his own stamp on the product. With some encouragement from his wife (who was born and raised in France), he decided to import a selection of French wine casks to use for finishing the spirits.
The product has only just launched in 2021, and is incredibly new to the market.
This whiskey doesn’t try and hide its provenance — the spirit pre-dates the company, and is sourced from the Kentucky Artisan Distillery. I honestly don’t mind companies that don’t make the whiskey themselves, as long as they’re transparent about it. If you’re focusing on the finishing process and honest about where you got your spirit, I’m not one to look down on that practice. There are several distilleries using this same process (WhistlePig, for one) and they are generating some amazing, unique results.
What makes this interesting is that a 100% rye whiskey would usually be sourced from Canada, where the hearty rye grains are prevalent in the icy north. Rye whiskey was actually more common in the early days of the United States, but with the popularity of Kentucky whiskey and the rise of bourbon, American distillers focused more on corn based spirits. So finding a Kentucky-based 100% rye whiskey is quite rare indeed.
We don’t have much detail on the original source spirit other than being 100% rye and qualifying as a straight whiskey. Which means that only rye grains were used in the production of the raw whiskey, which was then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of no less than four years (as there’s no age statement on the bottle, we don’t know if this was aged beyond the minimum requirement).
For this barrel proof version, that’s the end of the line. Coalition is trying to build their reputation on the strength of their wine barrel finished spirits, but they also put out this regular barrel strength edition of rye whiskey. (Which is great for us as reviewers, since it means we can later compare this whiskey to their other wine barrel finished lines and determine to what extent the wine barrel had any impact.)
This is a gorgeous art deco bottle that stands out from the crowd.
I had a chance to speak with Leonid, the founder of Coalition Whiskey, about his unique design. He said that he was inspired by the Roaring Twenties — a period of American history typified by the flashy art deco style, and also by prohibition. Between 1920 and 1933, the sale of liquor was illegal in the United states, and so there are no (non-medicinal) mass produced American liquor bottles from that time period.
Most of the contemporary liquor brands that reference that period lean into the bootlegging nature of the period, with rustic labels and mason jar inspired designs. Leonid wanted to do something different, imagining what a commercially-produced American liquor bottle of the era might have looked like and using that for his new rye whiskey.
The result is something that my wife absolutely adores. It looks almost like a large perfume bottle: a wide and relatively flat body ribbed with raised lines of glass that are molded into the surface. That design obscures the clarity of the glass, but lets the color of the liquid shine through nonetheless. The bottle sports a rapidly curving shoulder that ends in a very short neck, and is capped off with a cork and glass stopper.
If I have one complaint about the bottle, it’s that the short neck and the extraordinarily wide body make it somewhat difficult and awkward to pour into the glass. Not impossible, but it takes some practice to pour with ease.
The branding on these bottles is in the form of a gold colored metallic plaque on the front of the bottle that sports the brand information and the legally required identifiers.
Straight out of the bottle, it smells spicy and complex. The first aroma I get is baking spices (specifically some nutmeg and cinnamon), followed by some brown sugar sweetness with an almost buttery aspect. As things calm down, the fruit starts to appear: dried apricots, peaches, and a bit of orange zest.
And that’s only the aroma.
This whiskey certainly brings some big numbers when it comes to alcohol content — 54.4% ABV — but unlike some of the other heavy hitters on the market, it doesn’t feel like I’ve just been punched in the face when I take a sip. The experience is a bit smoother and more refined.
Right out of the gate, there’s a buttery texture to the whiskey, which may partially be explained by the alcohol content but also by the flavors involved. The brown sugar sweetness is the first component to make an appearance with a bit of vanilla, which is followed very quickly by the nutmeg and cinnamon in the baking spices. From there, a bit of dark chocolate creeps into the equation and it adds some depth, complexity, richness, and just a hint of bitterness to the flavor profile. Some of the fruit makes an appearance on the finish, specifically a bit of peach and apricot that all melds together in a delicious mélange.
One thing that is suspiciously absent is the black pepper spice that I usually see at the end of the experience. That doesn’t seem to be shining through as you’d usually expect from a rye whiskey, but that might be a result of the aging process mellowing it out a bit.
This all worked surprisingly well when taken neat, and the only possible complaint I had was a touch of bitterness associated with that darker and richer chocolate tone. Thankfully a bit of ice can help that particular situation, but it does come at some risk of changing the flavor profile around.
Once that ice drops into the glass, what you get is a bit of a rearranging of the order of operations for the flavors. Instead of the spices being front and center, the fruit is now what comes through the clearest. It’s a sweeter version of the spirit with the apricot and peach up front (and maybe even a touch of apple), and the spices now playing a supporting role. It’s a lot closer to a New York apple cider than it is a traditional rye whiskey at this point, but it’s still delicious.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I tend to like a richer, darker whiskey as the base for my old fashioned, as it pairs better with the angostura bitters and makes for an overall more complex cocktail. And while this Coalition barrel proof whiskey might not be the darkest or the richest whiskey we’ve tried, it still strikes a good balance. There’s enough here to balance out the bitters while providing some sweetness and deliciousness of its own.
As I mentioned in the section above, the fruit flavors are much more prominent when you add a bit of ice. The sweet fruitiness does a great job balancing the bitterness of the bitters, and leaves the richer spicy aspects to dance with the aromatics for a well balanced flavor. It’s sweet, but complex.
There are two things I look for in a good mule: (1) to see that the flavors have balanced out in the cocktail, and (2) that the whiskey brings something unique to the table that you wouldn’t see in a vodka-based mule.
In terms of balancing the flavors, I think this does a great job. The bitter and bright ginger beer combines with the fruity and rich aspects of this whiskey to result in a delicious experience that is as refreshing as it is interesting.
Where this falls a little flat, sadly, is with the uniqueness factor. Typically, the easiest way for a whiskey to accomplish this is pepper spice flavors from the rye content, but that isn’t present here. There is no spicy kick to the finish, which means there’s no pepper coming through in the end. It’s a slightly disappointing blandness from an otherwise well performing spirit.
There’s no doubt that this is a damn fine whiskey. It is delicious and unique, especially as a Kentucky made straight rye. Add in the amazing job they’ve done with the aesthetics of the bottle design and I think you’ve got a real winner on your hands here.
In my opinion, this matches right up with the Dalmore Cigar Malt we reviewed previously. It’s in the same price range, pulls off some interesting tricks of its own, and came away with a four star rating. I think that this bottle is the American rye version of that scotch, and I can’t wait to see what the wine barrel finished versions contain.
|Coalition Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Produced By: CoalitionProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 54.4% ABV
Price: $129.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
This might be a bit of an expensive bottle, but it’ll be one of the jewels of your collection.