Whiskey Review: Molly Brown Spirits High Rye Bourbon

We recently took a look at the standard bourbon from Molly Brown, but they aren’t some one-trick pony from a one horse town. This Denver, Colorado based distillery wanted to pull out all the stops for their high rye bourbon and, naturally, we needed to check it out. The verdict? Well, the results speak for themselves.


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History

Justin Lee is the kind of guy that likes to do things himself. So when he started drinking bourbon, he decided to put his chemical engineering education (he’s got a doctorate in that, by the way) to work and make his own version. After a while, he realized that some of the stuff he was tinkering with in his basement still were already more advanced than processes that commercial distilleries were using and figured that it was time to strike out on his own, mixing his engineering background and love of bourbon to create something unique.

This isn’t Lee’s first rodeo when it comes to commercial distilling, either. He originally quit his job in 2011 to start J&L Distilling, another distillery with a different partner that didn’t quite work out. He parted ways with that brand and in 2015 launched Molly Brown Spirits together with partner Stephen DeGruccuo.

The pair chose the name of the famous survivor of the Titanic disaster because they wanted their spirit to have the same bold and unsinkable character as that famous Denver resident.

Construction on the new facility started in 2017, with the first barrels of whiskey rolling into the rickhouse in April of 2019. They had been targeting an April 2020 date to start selling bottles, specifically focusing on restaurants and bars as prime customers who would buy their spirits — but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed those plans as their facility and their intended customer base was forced to close to the public. Thankfully, they have been able to survive the pandemic so far, pivoting to attending whiskey festivals and getting their name out in the public to drive individual sales of bottles of their whiskey.

Product

This whiskey is marketed as a true “grain to glass” bourbon, with all of the raw materials sourced from Root Shoot Malting in Loveland, Colorado. For their high rye bourbon, Molly Brown uses a mixture of 51% corn (the legal minimum for a bourbon), 35% rye, and 14% malted barley. Those grains are milled on-site in their Denver, Colorado facility before being cooked and fermented.

The folks at Molly Brown make a point to highlight that they choose to distill their spirits “on the grain”. This is unlike the Scottish tradition, in which distillers will typically separate the solid plant matter from the liquid once the fermentation process is complete. This means they are only distilling the liquid components, leading to a lighter and cleaner raw whiskey. Leaving cooked grain plant matter in the mixture during distillation can cause it to cook. Done right, this makes for Maillard reactions that can create some amazing flavors. But done wrong, it can scorch and burn leading to an unpleasant taste.

Distilling “on the grain” is actually a pretty common practice in the United States, especially for the bold and beautiful bourbons.

For Molly Brown’s spirits, they use a two step distillation process. First, they start with a 6,000 gallon steam heated hybrid pot still where they batch distill their fermented mash into a low proof whiskey. From there, they run that product through a pair of twenty foot column stills to produce their new make whiskey. All of the equipment at the facility, including these stills, are handmade from their own designs.

As a bourbon, the whiskey comes off the still at no more than 160 proof (80% ABV). Unlike some other bourbons where there really aren’t any “cuts” being made (discarding the solvent-y “heads” and the sometimes unpleasant plastic-y “tails”), Molly Brown takes the “hearts” cut of their distillation run and then stores it in new 53 gallon charred oak barrels, adding some water to reduce the strength to 125 proof before entering the barrel.

Those barrels then sit on-site at their Denver based distillery for a full 12 months before the spirit is proofed down to bottling strength with Rocky Mountain water.

Packaging

This is legitimately great.

I love the square construction of the bottles here. It’s a simple design, but I think with the style and the branding they’re striving for (that 1920’s prohibition era art deco feel), it really hits the mark well, without feeling too forced or over-engineered. I think I’ve seen this bottle design before, so it’s probably a mass produced design that they slapped a unique label on, but it’s still a smart choice that fits with their brand.

Speaking of fitting with their brand, the simple yet classy cummerbund of a label is exactly what this bottle needed. It conveys just the right level of information without overloading the reader, it’s just large enough to be noticeable without obscuring the deliciously dark spirit inside, and overall it makes this bottle look like all it is missing is the top hat for a night out in a tux. I especially like that there’s just a little bit of texture on the label, making it visually and tactilely appealing.

There are other companies that have done a prohibition-era style bottle before, but this is a great, well-executed example of it.

Neat

You’ve got a very dark liquid in this glass. Just like their regular bourbon, this is reminiscent of coffee or a black tea.

That’s about where the similarities to their standard bourdon end, though. I get a lot more of an apple aroma or lemon zest coming off the glass here than I did previously, thanks to that added rye content. That’s not to say that the rest of the aspects are missing, though. Accompanying (and sometimes overpowering) the apple is some mellow dark chocolate, toffee, caramel, and some bitter coffee notes in there along with some tobacco and raw corn.

One sip and I can already tell I like this better than the standard bourbon. The apple and lemon flavors from the rye content do an amazing job mellowing out the dark chocolate and coffee notes, resulting in a nicely balanced flavor profile that is an absolute pleasure to sip. There’s a little bit of development with some toffee, caramel, and vanilla in the middle there, all finishing with a good healthy kick of black pepper spice at the end.

On Ice

Usually, a bit of ice is helpful to bring balance to a flavor profile that previously was off-kilter. But in this case, since we already had a nicely balanced profile, I was a little afraid that the ice would throw things completely off. Thankfully, though, what we get in the end is actually a little richer and darker than we had at first.

What’s going on here is that the ice is tempering that rye spice note and allowing the rest of the spirit to really come out. The dark chocolate, coffee, and tobacco flavors are much more prominent, which leads to a richer overall flavor profile (something that should help it in the cocktail portion of the review). And it isn’t unbalanced — there’s no real bitterness or bite here, just a flavor profile that is now a little more canted towards the chocolate side of the equation.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

When we added some ice to the spirit, we did lose a lot of the bite and the lighter components of the flavor profile — primarily those parts that are associated with the rye content. In this case, I think adding those bitters brings those components back to the fore and re-balances the cocktail back to where it originally started.

This doesn’t quite have the same level of fruity notes that I saw in the standard version of their bourbon, but it’s still pretty good. There’s some nice apple and lemon in here once again, and the chocolate adds a nice balance to all the components. It’s a richer and darker take on an old fashioned — just like I like it.

Fizz (Mule)

I think this does a much better job at being a mule than the standard edition of their bourbon. In the other case, the chocolate and coffee notes drowned out pretty much everything else in the glass and really made for an unfortunate flavor profile. But in this case, I think it works.

What’s really starting to come through here is the apple and other fruity notes from the rye content. It’s mixing nicely with the ginger beer to make something very close to a dark n’ stormy — something usually mixed with dark rum. It has some of those darker aspects, but there’s just enough bright and light components to balance it out. Pretty well done, actually.


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Overall Rating

My biggest issue with their standard bourbon was that the flavors were just too dark and brooding to be generally delicious. Not that it was a bad bourbon… it just required that you were in the mood for dark and brooding. What we get here in their rye bouron, though, is exactly what I was wanting to see in their standard: a bit of an aromatic lift, some lighter flavors, and added complexity that just takes this spirit to the next level.

Molly Brown Spirits High Rye Bourbon
Produced By: Molly Brown Spirits
Production Location: Colorado, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 1.8 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $49.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Proof that sometimes all you need is to kick up the rye content just a little bit and everything instantly gets better.


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