There’s not much that’s revolutionary in the world of whiskey these days. The methods have been tested and proven over centuries of production, and they have even been codified into legislation in some parts of the world. Oak & Eden is a company that looked at the current market and, instead of trying to beat everyone else on marketing or branding, legitimately tried doing something new and novel. And it works.
Founded by two brothers, James and Joseph Gildenzopf, Sanctified Spirits has been operating and bottling whiskey under the trade name Oak & Eden since 2018. A pair of whiskey lovers, the brothers wanted to find a way to add new and interesting flavors to their whiskey but in a consistent and novel way.
The breakthrough came with their patented in-bottle finishing process. Rather than putting the whiskey in a cask for finishing, they put the cask in the whiskey bottle and ship the whole package. This process allows them to achieve the level of consistency they were looking for, making sure every bottle tastes the same, and opening the flood gates for experimentation with all kinds of interesting woods and previously used barrels.
This is a whole new ball game in terms of whiskey production, and I’m fascinated.
First, they make no bones about the source of their whiskey. It’s produced by the usual suspects, mass production facilities that make delicious and consistent spirits. I’m not opposed to drinking things that are mass produced — Bulleit and Tito’s both have permanent spots in my own liquor cabinet. What I take issue with is when companies try to hide the provenance of their spirit and claim it as locally produced and “small batch.” Oak & Eden don’t play that game, and I appreciate it.
The real star of the show is this little stick of wood. In this case, it’s a charred piece of oak that has been sliced in a spiral design, but other versions include wine barrels and other assorted flavors. The spiral design allows the maximum surface area for the whiskey and the wood to interact, and the circular design means that it slips neatly into the bottle where it remains until the bottle is emptied by the end user.
The concept of “finishing” isn’t new, and in fact scotch whisky producers have been doing it for quite a long time. Using things like sherry casks and American bourbon barrels for their production (such as Glenmorengie’s use of Jack Daniels barrels) is fairly common. The twist here – pun intended – is that instead of finishing in a cask, the finishing is done completely within the bottle.
Once in the bottle, the wood and the whiskey age for six weeks in the warehouse. According to the folks at Oak & Eden, this is the point of diminishing returns for the spirit — all the flavor that the wood is going to impart is already in the whiskey, and the flavor isn’t going to change in a meaningful way in the future. It’s basically done.
Once the aging process is complete the bottle is shipped, with the wood spire still inside. As I said, the wood doesn’t really continue to add any flavors, at this point it’s basically “dead” and simply a conversation piece and a part of the packaging.
Speaking of packaging, the Oak & Eden folks do a great job with the bottle.
Overall the shape isn’t anything to write home about — it’s a fairly typical rounded whiskey bottle with an oval cross-section that tapers to a long skinny neck. The brand name is also embossed in the base of the bottle, which has a good chunk of glass to make sure it illuminates well on lighted bars.
What I do appreciate is that the actual branding has either been kept to a minimum or has a transparent background. This lets you see the whiskey inside — and more importantly, shows off the wood spire that provides the real shelf appeal. It’s an incredibly smart design — people are more likely to buy a bottle that they touch, and you definitely want to touch this to see what’s inside.
The only note I’d have is that the label could be a little better affixed to the bottle. Or maybe slightly redesigned. In the bottles I’ve purchased, the top left corner of the label always seems to be coming off the bottle. That might be fixed by either a stronger glue or maybe some rounding of the edge (but I’m not sure how much that would damage the slick visuals they’ve achieved here).
The immediate smell that dominates the aroma is vanilla. It’s strong and present, but not overpowering. There’s a touch of sweet caramel and some pepper mixed in that makes for a very enticing scent.
The liquid itself has a good weight, which makes sense for a 90 proof (45% ABV) spirit.
The flavor blends the best aspects of a rye and a bourbon. At the start, there’s a sweetness that provides the characteristic caramel toffee and vanilla flavors that you’d expect from any standard bourbon, but then things change. On the finish, the black pepper in the rye and the spicy notes from that spirit take the wheel and remind you exactly what you’ve been drinking.
Honestly I don’t think that this is something I’d like to sip all on its lonesome. Which is fine, I don’t think that’s why this exists. That said, even if I had only a bottle and a glass it would still be deliciously enjoyable to the same extent that I enjoy Bulleit Bourbon. Perhaps even a bit more.
With the added ice the biggest difference is that the spicy finish has nearly disappeared. There’s still some pepper in the flavor, but there’s much less bite at the end.
At this point it almost feels like this is just a standard bourbon. Those more delicate flavors still come through, specifically the caramel and vanilla notes. Which isn’t a bad thing by far. At this point it’s something I would definitely drink on a regular basis, but I think it gets better.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Yep, that’s a good darn Old Fashioned.
There are some days when I prefer the vanilla caramel flavors of a bourbon in this drink, and other times I prefer the spicy peppery flavor of a rye. Usually I split the difference with a standard bourbon, and this spirit does the same thing but with more of a rye forward twist. The pepper and spice are delightful when combined with the orange bitters.
Oh it’s good. It’s real good.
In this drink, I actually prefer it as the base spirit over something more standard like Bulleit Bourbon. All of the flavors blend well to produce a delicious drink. The bitter ginger beer is balanced well by the sweetness of the bourbon tones of the spirit, and the spice and pepper from the rye comes through and provides a delicious warmth.
I really like the Mother Pepper Whiskey from Still Austin for my mules (clearly, I like some pepper in these drinks), but this might be a good runner up.
Our reference spirit here is Bulleit Bourbon, which is a high rye bourbon whiskey. That’s a bourbon that incorporates some of the spicy awesomeness that a rye whiskey can provide. This flips the script — a rye whiskey that incorporates all the great things about bourbon. And it’s absolutely delicious.
No, it’s not a small batch locally produced craft distilled spirit. But they’re not claiming that it is, either. And in this case they’ve taken a mass produced spirit and added a uniqueness of their own that transforms it into something amazing.
Oak & Eden Rye & Spire
Owner: Sanctified Spirits
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Grain bill: Unknown
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $39.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
I love the concept, I love the presentation, and I love the end result. It’s the complete package.