The process of barrel finishing a whiskey has become a fairly common and well-regarded method of elevating an already solid spirit into something exceptional. As we’ve discovered in previous reviews, Rabbit Hole is one of those whiskies that is pretty good all by itself — so it makes logical sense that barrel finishing in a delicious Pedro Ximenez sherry cask should take this to a whole new level.
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/
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Rather than just using their typical bourbon, the folks at Rabbit Hole chose to go with a wheated bourbon for this experiment. A combination of 68% corn, 18% wheat, and 14% malted barley grains are all milled and cooked into a sugary liquid which is then fermented and distilled before being placed into new charred American oak barrels for a period of no less than two years.
What makes this bourbon different is that, following that first round of maturation in American oak, the whiskey is then placed into previously-used Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. These casks are used by the PX producer for about four years to mature their sherry before being handed back to Rabbit Hole to be used once again, retaining some of those sherry flavors that is then imparted into the bourbon.
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 use chill filtering 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 750ml 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 burgundy 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 with a label the same shade of deep red / burgundy and containing the location of the distillery, Louisville, Kentucky, at the same diagonal angle 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.)
The very first thing I notice is the beautiful dark amber color of this spirit, which I have to say… looks amazing. It’s the shade of a brass lamp with some heavy patina on it.
Taking a sniff, you can immediately tell that something different is going on here. I’m almost having trouble finding the traditional American bourbon notes (vanilla, caramel, cedar wood) among all the rich dried fruit that’s accompanying it. I’m picking up things like dried figs, raisins, apricots, and blackberry jam all mixing together for this delicious charcuterie plate in a glass.
While the sherry aromas might be on par with the whiskey aromas, the sherry flavors don’t hold up as well in the glass. It tastes like a good wheated bourbon — brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, and some drizzled honey sweetness — with just a touch of cherry and dried fruit backing it up and rounding out the flavor profile. You probably won’t get much beyond the blackberry jam flavor unless you give it a good look, but the sherry flavors definitely add a new layer of complexity that wasn’t there before.
Ice is usually where the barrel finishing process gets kicked out the door in terms of the flavor profile. The flavors just aren’t quite as well saturated as the other components and drop out of the running… usually. In this case, though, I think the added ice might actually have improved things.
Most of the flavors we saw initially were all darker, richer, more complex notes — things that have some true staying power. And it seems like that staying power was enough to keep the ice from ruining the spirit. I’m getting the same general mélange of flavors (brown sugar, dried dark fruit, cherry, and vanilla) as we saw before, but without as strong of an alcohol bite. It’s a smoother experience without really sacrificing any of the flavor.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
When I go for an old fashioned, I always appreciate one that’s a bit darker and richer than usual. I feel like those kinds of flavors just create a much more interesting combination with the herbaceous notes from the bitters and generally make for a better cocktail. And, thankfully, that’s exactly what I’m getting here.
I think a large part of that richness can be attributed to the sherry cask finishing. It might not pop out and be immediately noticeable as dark fruit in this context, but the flavors nevertheless are adding to that impression of richness and depth, like a warm and cozy blanket for the brown sugar and vanilla. It isn’t the best version I’ve ever had, but it is pretty darn good.
There’s something going on here for sure… but I’m not entirely positive that I like it.
What I’m looking for in a good Kentucky Mule is a balance between the ginger beer and the whiskey. There’s a bitterness and a brightness to the ginger beer that really needs to be toned down and contrasted. That’s usually where the brown sugar and the vanilla flavors from the whiskey come into play. And, in defense of this whiskey, that balance does happen to some extent here… but then I think the fruit flavors ruin it.
That richness and depth was a good thing with the old fashioned, but here it just seems to turn into something a little more on the bitter side. It’s throwing the whole balance off, like someone removed a rug that previously tied the room together.
Having waded through most of their product line at this point, I feel like Rabbit Hole’s whole “thing” is that they put out a whiskey that is worth exactly what they put on the price tag — which isn’t a bad thing at all. The spirits they send forth into the world are reliably well-performing and always priced appropriately.
Even though this is nearly a 50% price hike over their other bottles, you are definitely getting a commensurate experience from the spirit. The PX sherry finishing adds a rich, dark fruit blanket that supports the rest of the flavors, and the result is something that works great on its own, on the rocks, or even in some good classic cocktails. It does unfortunately seem to fall apart with the mule, but nobody’s perfect.
What would get me to dole out a couple more stars would be if those sherry flavors were just slightly better saturated, standing out more and being distinctly noticeable. As it is, they lurk more in the background, providing moral support, when they could / should be as rich and delicious as the bourbon notes.
|Rabbit Hole Dareringer PX Sherry Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $75.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Adding the dark rich fruits of a sherry to a good wheated bourbon, and asking exactly the right price.