Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family, overeating and… drinks, of course. This year’s drinks included a new whiskey, introduced to me by my wife’s uncle and made in upstate New York not far from where I spent my childhood summers. After trying some on its own (and then in far too many Manhattans), a new Thanksgiving tradition may have been born.
In 1999, John Carr opened a microbrewery and pub in Lake George, New York called the Adirondack Brewery. The business was successful, riding the wave of popularity for craft breweries and becoming a staple of the Lake George experience.
Seeing the next wave of craft distilleries on the horizon, John decided to take his alcohol creation skills from the brewery to the distillery by opening High Peaks Distillery just down the street from his brewery in 2016.
High Peaks Distillery prides itself on following in the tradition of the Scottish distillers and this straight whiskey may be the best example.
The whiskey starts as a fermented mash of 100% malted barley, sourced locally from New York farms. The bottle hints that there may be some peat smoke involved — but I can’t confirm that hunch.
Once fermented, the concoction is fed through their pot still, which was designed in the tradition of Scottish stills, with a tall slender distillation column. The height of the column helps ensure that only the lighter and sweeter compounds make it through the still and the extra copper helps reduce the sulfur content of the finished product.
From there, the whiskey is aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years, as per the “straight whiskey” designation.
The bottle is more of a wine bottle than a whiskey bottle, which I appreciate. There’s a slender body that rapidly tapers to a long neck, which should make it stand out on store shelves or bars.
There isn’t really a paper label here, instead the distillery has opted to paint a Japanese landscape scene with some significant negative space. I really do appreciate that negative space in the artwork — letting the whiskey do the talking is something I appreciate, especially when it looks this beautiful in the bottle.
The whole thing is topped with a cork and wood stopper, and comes with a little tag with some extra information that explains the origin of the “Cloudsplitter” name. According to the tag, the name comes from the original native name of the highest peak in New York (now called Mount Marcy). The distillery believes that this is their pinnacle of whiskey production and deserves to be named after the tallest mountain in the state.
As an industry note, packaging on this level from a distillery that’s barely four years old is unusual. Either it means that there’s a ton of investment behind the marketing from other ventures, or that the whiskey production itself is secondary to the branding (which can be a huge red flag). In this case, it seems like the former — I suspect the owner is using his existing successful business to make sure that the whiskey is set up for success, and using the experience he gained bottling other spirits to great effect.
The best way to describe this spirit is probably by saying that it blends the best of the old world Scottish single malt traditions with the new bourbon techniques developed in America. I get a lot of those malty cereal aromas coming off the glass from the malted barley, but I also get a strong whiff of vanilla and caramel that are the hallmarks of an American bourbon born from a charred barrel.
The flavor of the spirit delivers on the promise of the aroma. The malted barley base brings in that smooth and buttery flavor, and the charred barrel adds the vanilla and caramel that you would expect in a bourbon. I almost think that I get some peppery spice on the finish as well, which would be interesting for something that doesn’t have any rye content.
Some other flavors that start coming through once the initial hit has worn off include dried apple and a hint of cherry. The flavor lingers for a few moments but the spirit finishes smoothly with no bitterness or bite.
With a little bit of ice, those secondary flavors really start to pop out. The dried apple and cherry flavors now take center stage and the whole thing reminds me very strongly of the Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon. Similar to the Baby Bourbon, a cherry flavor is present — which is something I really appreciated in that other spirit and made for some great cocktails.
What I like is that this spirit is that even though it changes slightly when some ice is added, it’s only for the better (trust me, sometimes it can be entirely for the worse). Some people might prefer it neat, some people might prefer an ice cube, but with Cloudsplitter, either experience is enjoyable and brings some nifty flavors to the party. In fact, instead of wiping out the delicate flavors, like in most whiskey, the ice seems to accentuate them.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Since this spirit is distilled solely from malted barley, there’s no corn content to add the sweetness that you typically see in a bourbon. As such, there isn’t as much sweetness to balance out the bitters — it really does need the sugar cube muddled in to work right. Or simple syrup (if you’re in a pinch).
Overall, though, it’s very good. The cherry and apple flavors in the whiskey compliment the orange and bitters added in during the cocktail mixing process and make for a rather delicious cocktail.
Honestly though I think my wife’s uncle was probably right on the money when he used this as a base for Manhattans during Thanksgiving. The vermouth balanced perfectly with the spirit to produce something that was impossible to resist.
It’s delicious, but not in the way I usually prefer.
Hear me out – normally, with a whiskey-based mule, the caramel and vanilla balances out the ginger beer and I get a bit of peppery spice on the finish. In this case, there’s no peppery spice but the caramel and vanilla don’t make as much of an entrance either. Instead the dried apple and cherry flavors steal the show, interacting with the ginger and lime juice to make something truly delicious and with some flavors that I’d associate with the winter holidays.
As I mentioned, there’s no peppery spice, but that buttery taste does seem to help round out and provide a velvety finish to the cocktail.
Usually I prefer whiskies that have a bit more peppery spice, but in this case I think it’s fine as-is. It’s a buttery version of Tuthilltown’s Hudson Baby Bourbon and every bit as delicious. Admittedly, there may be a bit of nostalgia influencing my taste buds here… but Lake George or no Lake George, it’s a fine whiskey indeed and well worth a drink.
Cloudsplitter Straight Single Malt Whiskey
Owner: High Peaks Distilling
Production: Lake George, NY
Classification: Straight single malt whiskey
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: 2 years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $XX.XX/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Living up to it’s namesake well.