Our tour through the state of Ohio has seen us visit Akron, Columbus, and now we find ourselves in Canton. If you’ve never heard of Canton, it’s where the NFL was organized. (Seriously; the conversations took place in an automobile showroom on September 17, 1923 and this is why the NFL Hall of Fame is located there.)
But this is an article about bourbon, not football, so let’s shift gears to Gervasi Winery. A large sprawling vineyard, winery, restaurant — and now, a distillery. I had dinner there with some friends and stopped by their stillhouse to grab a bottle on my way home.
Gervasi Vineyard started in 2009 when the Swaldo family purchased the expansive 55-acre property, intent on being true to their family roots and their Tuscan heritage by starting a winery. The name comes from owner Ted Swaldo’s grandmother, whose maiden name was Gervasi.
The property is now a working vineyard, which of course means there is a winery on site. In addition, the property boasts an upscale Italian restaurant, a pizza pavilion, a wine bar and bistro, a cocktail bar, a wine tasting room, a coffee shop — and if all of that wasn’t enough, there are also 48 luxury overnight suites (just in case the other offerings make it unwise to stumble home, I suppose). There is quite a lot going on at the site, and driving around the property felt like a maze.
For our purposes, though, let’s just focus on the Still House. Opened in December of 2018, this cocktail bar highlights creations made by their in-house mixologists using Gervasi’s own spirits. There is room for live music (which we got to experience when I stopped in), and even a heated outdoor cigar lounge called “The Sin Room”. The distillery opened a few months after the room was finished in January of 2019.
The distillery is described as a state-of-the-art facility and is said to be able to produce 25,000 bottles of spirits annually. There is no mention about the aging of bourbon and what that does to the bottle volume, but in addition to bourbon they produce the usual suspects of vodka and gin. The vodka and gin aren’t surprising, as newer distilleries will often make neutral grain spirits (which do not have the aging requirements of bourbon) as a way to create revenue while some of the longer, aged products are resting in barrels.
There is a lot more to be said about Gervasi and all that they offer. The rest of the article will focus on their wine barrel bourbon, but I would feel remiss if I did not mention that their wine is delicious, and I have never had a bad meal there. It’s worth a stop if you are in the area – but for now, back to your regularly scheduled bourbon review.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
For as much history is available about the property — the winery, the restaurants, etc — there is next to nothing about its bourbon making process. Even their own writeup about the bourbon seems to focus more on the fact that they are a winery and using wine barrels to finish the bourbon than anything else:
Gervasi’s hand-selected wine barrels lend to our Wine Barrel Bourbon an elevated character and reflect Gervasi winemaking craft. Enjoy notes of sweetness and spice with elegant grain and barrel tones.
I mean, that description makes the bourbon an afterthought.
Considering the age of the distillery, and the lack of information, I would say there is a good chance that their bourbon is sourced. In fact, I would hypothesize that the only step that is taken by Gervasi before it’s bottled is the aging in the “hand-selected wine barrels”. Now, I could very well be wrong about this… but I have a strong suspicion that this is what is going on.
All that said, no matter where it happens, we can still talk broadly about the bourbon making process.
Grains are milled and mixed with water and yeast in a large vat. The vat is heated, and the mash is cooked. There is no disclosed mashbill for this bourbon, but since it’s being marketed as a bourbon, we know that it’s at least 51% corn. The remaining 49% could be corn, rye, and/or barley in any proportion.
After the mash is fermented, it is distilled into a high proof white whiskey. This is placed into new charred oak barrels to age for some time (since this is a “no age statement” bottle, and since bourbon technically has no time requirements to meet the definition, that could literally be as little as a few seconds or as much as a few years). After that maturation process, the Gervasi Distillery properly takes control, and this bourbon is then finished in ex-Gervasi wine barrels for an undisclosed amount of time before being finally bottled and served.
The bottle is unique, I will give them that. While similar to a very basic bourbon bottle, this version flairs out slightly as it goes from the bottom to the neck, giving it an edge in terms of visual appeal. From there is a very sharp shoulder that meets a short neck, and it’s all topped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The label comes across as a pretentious circus, though. There is a tall tent-like point in black and gold that highlights the Gervasi logo and name. The name of the spirit – Wine Barrel Bourbon – resembles a font that you might see advertising a strongman, Jasper the bear-boy, Snarla the world’s crankiest fairy, or other some other sideshow act.
Continuing the circus tent motif, the back label has a starburst printed on the inside that appears as you drink more. After drinking the first third, the sunburst looks like a striped circus tent. I’m not sure how this ties back to the brand, and it feels like a missed opportunity to highlight either their own history, their location, or even the wine-finishing aspect.
The bottle shape is unique, I’ve not seen it before — but that is where the appealing things end for me. I am lost with the label and color scheme.
The aroma does not stand out from any other basic bourbon. It’s slightly sweet, maybe with some discernable notes of caramel or vanilla, and a touch of baking spices. It’s all tied together with a very mild wine note (not surprising, given that it was aged in wine barrels).
Like the nose, the flavor profile is also very non-descript. This bourbon starts with a mild sweetness, like a dull toffee. There are also some sweeter fruit notes – think melon, more specifically honeydew. Throughout, there is a general bitterness that seems to be accompanied by allspice and raisin.
It’s bland, and nothing stands out. It’s a decent bourbon, but borders closely to a sub-par bourbon for its forgettable profile.
When adding ice, we often expect the flavor profile to change — and in this case, the ice seems to open the door to a candy shop. The sweetness is amped up and the toffee is no longer dull, it’s front and center. It’s also been doused in a layer of powdered sugar.
The baking spices in the flavor have become more refined. Rather than the dull flavors when sipped neat, the allspice is much clearer, and seems to have been joined by some cinnamon and clove. The raisin flavor is still present throughout.
Between neat and on the rocks, I much more prefer this spirit on the rocks. The flavors are more pronounced, and the entire experience is much more enjoyable.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is a pretty good old fashioned. The sweetness that came out on the rocks works really well in the cocktail. In fact, the entire thing could have been made better by using less sugar than you would in a standard old fashioned.
The bitters blend well with the cinnamon and clove flavors, giving a delicious, well-rounded flavor profile. And the orange adds the finishing touch that is needed to complete the entire drink.
Like I said, this is a pretty good cocktail. The bourbon seems to show through and works well with the bitters… but being a rather boring bourbon means that this particular cocktail could have been made just as well with almost any other bourbon, too.
I am not sure what I was expecting here, but as the Simpsons popularized… “meh”. I can tell this drink has bourbon and ginger beer, but I am not sure if that is because I can taste the bourbon, or if it’s just because my brain knows I added 2 oz.
For as much as I am not a fan of Kentucky Mules, they are a great challenge for bourbon. The bright and flavorful ginger beer provide a contest for any bourbon… and in this case, the ginger beer was the victor.
Like I said before, I like many of the Gervasi products. They make fantastic wine. The restaurants and grounds are top notch. I will never turn down a visit when I am in the area.
But in my opinion, Gervasi bourbon just does not hit the mark. That’s not to say it’s bad — it’s better than a lot of the bottom shelf stuff we reviewed this past October — but for about $50 a bottle, I would expect more. The wine barrel finishing does not seem to come through outside of a minor aroma on the nose.
Their larger lineup of spirits does seem to be heavy on flavored spirits – citrus liqueur, maple cask bourbon, pink peppercorn gin, and rose vodka just to name a few. I could see some of them making interesting mixers, so (as is often the case with newer distilleries) I will keep an eye on their progress and most likely visit in the future for another bottle.
|Gervasi Spirits Wine Barrel Bourbon
Produced By: Gervasi SpiritsProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $51 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A sadly bland bottle from a strong local brand known for it’s a winery and destination, but still trying to find it’s footing in the bourbon market.