When it comes to whiskey, I really enjoy has a solid history and a good back story. That is not the case in today’s whiskey, though. Paddleford is a brand that has no history to speak of, no story, and tries to hide what little could be pieced together. Can it overcome an opaque history and production on its merits alone?
In 1912, Ed Philips and his son started a candy and newspaper stand in Wisconsin. It grew in popularity and eventually expanded to multiple locations throughout the state and, following the end of prohibition in 1933, became the sole distributor for Hiram Walker’s spirits (such as Canadian Club). These spirits had been popular among bootleggers, and by 1945 they were the largest distributor of wines and spirits in the United States.
Over the years, the Phillips Distilling Co. (as it would come to be named) would produce and distribute a growing number of spirits under various brands, all from their Princeton, Minnesota headquarters. However, while they claim to be a distilling company, there’s no evidence that they do any of the distilling themselves. Instead, likely just simply bottling and labeling spirits trucked in from other distilleries.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
I’ve got nearly nothing to go on, here. We’re at least three layers of abstraction from the actual company that did the distilling, and any detail about the contents has been long lost in the shuffle.
As a bourbon, the expectation is that the majority of the grain bill for this spirit comes from corn, but exactly how much and what other grains may have been used is not disclosed. Those grains would be mashed, fermented, and distilled (probably in a column still for speed and quantity) before being placed in charred new oak barrels for aging. Exactly how long that whiskey sits in the barrel is also not disclosed.
The label states that this is a “small batch” bourbon — but, as there’s no accepted definition for what makes a small batch, we can’t really glean any information from that statement.
According to the label, this whiskey is then filtered through charcoal similar to the Lincoln Country Process. However, since this isn’t labeled as Tennessee whiskey, I’m guessing that it wasn’t made originally in Tennessee.
Overall, the bottle is a pretty standard whiskey bottle shape. There’s a round base with straight walls, a rounded shoulder, and a medium length neck with a bulge in the middle perfect for helping control pouring. The bottle is capped off with a rounded wood and cork stopper that nicely fits the bottle itself.
The label uses white text on a black background, and I think it works really well with the amber color of the whiskey. I also like that the label is nice and small, allowing that beautiful color to be seen instead of trying to cover it up.
There’s not much to the label, though. A hint of a white river, the legally required level of information, and that’s about it.
It smells like pretty much any other bourbon. There’s the old familiar brown sugar and vanilla notes coming off the glass, but I think I also get a touch of honey thrown in for good measure.
The flavor reminds me of an unrefined Elijah Craig whiskey, which might make sense given that there’s a rumor that the source of this spirit is the Heaven Hill distillery, where Elijah Craig is also produced. There’s some vanilla and brown sugar in the beginning, but it’s immediately replaced by an overwhelming flavor of oak. It’s not the pleasant aspects either, it’s more like licking an oak plank.
Once you get over that oak hitting you in the mouth, there are some other aspects that start to come through. A little bit of orange citrus is in the mix, and there’s a bit of peppery spice that makes me think there might be some rye content in this grain bill.
Unfortunately, there’s also a bit of bitterness that creeps in when the oak flavors take hold, and it doesn’t really go away. And that pretty much ruins the aftertaste, in my opinion.
Normally, I’d expect a spirit like this to improve with a bit of ice. The bitterness and the in-your-face oak flavors should be toned down a bit, allowing the other flavors to make an appearance. And in this case, well… that’s partially true.
The bitterness is significantly reduced, almost to the point of being unnoticeable. But I still get a solid helping of that oak wood flavor, sadly. It’s significantly delayed in appearing and decidedly toned down… but it’s still one of the more prominent flavors I can taste.
That said, I do start to see some other flavors making an appearance as well. I get some hints of the banana flavor I usually associate with a charcoal filtered whiskey and, while it isn’t super prominent, it is part of the mixture.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Let’s start with the good news: the bitterness is gone. The one-two punch of the ice and the sugar content seem to have done away with that aspect of the spirit, and what’s left are just the flavors.
The bad news: what you’re left with are the flavors.
In general, there’s not much wrong and it’s a pretty standard bourbon profile. But the overwhelming oak flavor is still very much present and it takes a significant dash of the liquid from the cherries to mellow it. If you do go heavy on the cherry liquid, then things are pretty good — not great, though… just good.
The hallmark of a solid Kentucky mule is when the spirit balances out the bitterness of the ginger beer and there’s still enough of the underlying character coming through to make it interesting. In this case, I think this hits the mark… but it’s actually a case of the mule ingredients doing more to help the whiskey than the other way around.
There’s a good balance in the flavors, with the more citrus-y aspects of the whiskey combining with the ginger beer to make something balanced and tasty. That ginger beer sweetness also does a good job eliminating the bitterness in the spirit, and the oak-plank-flavor is pretty well masked. There’s even a hint of a peppery spice at the end to add some character.
But there’s nothing standing out about this cocktail that I couldn’t get using a different spirit. There’s nothing that will keep me coming back for another bottle of this specific brand.
This whiskey has placed itself in the same category as spirits like Evan Williams Black Label and Old Forester. The problem is that Paddleford just doesn’t meet the level of consistency and basic quality you could get in a bottle of either of those. It seems to be a pretty good economical mixer, but that’s about all it’s good for. And if that’s all I’m getting in a whiskey, then I’m reaching for something less expensive to fill my glass.
|Paddleford Creek Small Batch Bourbon|
Minnesota, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 41.5% ABV
Price: $17.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
One standard unit of fairly mediocre whiskey.