I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Rabbit Hole. A friend who recently went on their distillery tour in Kentucky said it was the best experience he’s ever had, and Dan (our man on the ground in Chicago) reviewed their “standard” Cavehill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and thought it showed promise. And since I occasionally like to give myself a break from tasting and reviewing bad spirits, I had high hopes this bottle of Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye would be a treat.
Pardon the pun, but in 2012 Kaveh Zamanian decided to go down the rabbit hole and founded the aptly named distillery. Striving to create a product that stood out amongst the crowd, he gave up his career as a psychologist in order to create “modern whiskeys that challenge the status quo and offer a new vision of what an authentic whiskey can be”.
Using a unique mash bill for their products, Rabbit Hole is trying to redefine the category of a premium American whiskey. They also find innovative ways to enhance their grains through the use of culinary techniques:
The distillery has also built a reputation for finding efficiencies and innovations in production. They cook grains with the care of “culinary chefs,” after putting much time in the lab into discovering optimal set points in temperature holding, and other cooking components.
“We look at the grain-cooking process as a big part of flavor,” Zamanian says. “It’s actually the only proprietary part of our entire production. We have already established our fingerprints on our products just in the way that we cook our grains.”https://beveragedynamics.com/2019/09/06/why-has-rabbit-hole-emerged-in-a-crowded-whiskey-market/
For their rye whiskey offering, Rabbit Hole starts with a mash bill of 95% rye grain and 5% malted barley. These grains are milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid that is then batch distilled through their copper pot still into new-make raw white whiskey.
As a straight rye whiskey, that newly made spirit is then placed into charred new oak barrels for a period of no less than two years — actually three years in this case, according to the back of the bottle. Once finished, multiple barrels of rye are blended together to create just the right flavor profile and the resulting spirit is proofed down with Kentucky limestone filtered water.
The distillery takes pride in the fact that they don’t “chill filter” their whiskey. Chill filtering is a process which removes excess fatty acids and other impurities prior to bottling. Some distilleries do this to make a clearer looking spirit that won’t get cloudy when some ice is added, but Rabbit Hole seems to be favoring flavor over appearance.
This bottle is definitely eye catching. The 750 ml bottle is tall and rectangular, with slight inward curves, and embossed on the lower front of the bottle is a rabbit jumping into a hole.
The label looks like a green sash draped diagonally across the bottle, with gold lettering spelling out the name of the distillery and variety. The neck of the bottle is wrapped the same green label with the location of the distillery, Louisville, Kentucky, at the same diagonal as below. The bottle is capped with a synthetic cork stopper.
Some bottles look great on the store shelf, but lack the same luster at home. In this case the bottle will be just as attractive as the day you brought it home. Until it runs dry, that is.
I’ll admit, this was a bit of a different aroma from what I was expecting. Usually, a straight rye whiskey is going to have a lot of black pepper and other spices in it, but the number one thing I get here is actually sweet honey. I think this is the result of the malted barley and the brown sugar from the charred barrels combining to make something new, and I am definitely not complaining about it. After that surprisingly sweet and floral honey, there’s some ripe apple as you might expect, followed by a bit of sourdough bread, baking spices, vanilla, and some brown sugar.
Taking a sip, that apple flavor is large and in charge. It arrives early, becomes more well saturated as the flavor develops, and lasts well into the finish. I’d call it more like a baked apple flavor than a crisp one, with softer edges and a warmer tone. Surrounding and supporting that flavor is some brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla, which almost gives the whiskey a caramel or candied apple kind of feeling.
As the flavor develops, some of the components we saw in the aroma start to make an appearance — specifically, the baking spices and then some black pepper spice on the finish (as is typical for a rye). The baked apple and black pepper are pretty much all that’s left at the end and linger for a good while on the aftertaste.
As we often see when adding ice to a whiskey, the flavors here are changed a little bit. The apple flavor is less saturated and the sweetness is toned down, but the baking spices and black pepper are just as prominent as ever. I’d even say these might be a little too pronounced, almost making this slightly bitter to the taste.
The bad news is that I don’t think I’d voluntarily ask for this on the rocks in the future. But there’s still some promise here when it comes to making cocktails.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There’s plenty good stuff going on here. The baking spices and black pepper in the spirit are doing a good job adding some complexity and novelty to the flavor profile, and the baked apple flavor is providing a delicious rich layer for the herbaceous bitters to interact with.
The problem is that this spirit continues to be a bit on the bitter side. Usually, I try to make my old fashioned cocktails without added sugar (just to see how things would balance out if left to their own devices). However, this is one instance where the sugar is sorely needed. In fact, I’d suggest that this is the perfect setup for grabbing your jar of cherries and pouring a little bit of the cherry juice in your drink. It’ll add just the right level of sweetness and a hint of dark fruit that is sorely needed.
Now this is really where this spirit shines.
The apple flavor in the spirit does a great job mixing with the ginger beer and the lime juice to make for a fruity and delicious flavor profile that is an absolute pleasure to sip. There’s just the right balance of sweetness and bitterness to make things interesting, while still making a bright, easy-drinking cocktail.
What truly takes this to the next level are all of the spices that kick in as the flavor develops. The baking spices and black pepper starts making an appearance near the middle of the experience, and they add a whole new level of complexity that a standard Kentucky mule can often be lacking in.
Let me start here: I think that this rye whiskey is 100% absolutely worth the money you pay for it. Taken neat, the flavors are delicious and well balanced and in (some) cocktails, this knocks it out of the park.
The problem for me is that this isn’t quite as versatile as some other rye whiskies. The black pepper spice can be a bit overwhelming in some preparations — and in the wrong format, this spirit can result in an unbalanced flavor profile.
When it’s good, it’s really good. But finding that right circumstance might take some time and practice.
|Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47.5% ABV
Price: $47.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A beautiful bottle of rye whiskey that tastes great on its own, but is a bit hit-or-miss in some cocktails.