I’m a big fan of darker, richer bourbons. I like the way the flavor profile interacts with cocktails, and generally I think there’s a greater experience to be had with the richer notes than could ever come out of a lighter and sweeter spirit. All of which made me very excited to try this Arkansas produced bourbon made with chocolate malt — the same stuff they use in heavy stout beers.
Phil Brandon was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1964. Over the years, he worked a series of office jobs, developing an appreciation for whiskey and starting to learn as much as he could about the process of making the spirit. After finding himself unemployed following the Great Recession, Phil decided to give it a shot himself, getting financing from a local bank and opening the doors to his business (the first legal distillery in Arkansas since prohibition) on September 2, 2010.
The distillery got off to a bit of a rocky start, but with the release of their vodka they hit their stride and the distillery now offers a wide variety of spirits including whiskey, bourbon, gin, vodka, and bottled cocktails.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Rock Town Distillery prides itself on being a “grain to glass” local spirit, with all of the corn and rye used in their spirits grown within 125 miles of the distillery and within the state of Arkansas. For this specific bourbon, the distillery starts with 82% corn, but also throws in 9% chocolate malt (a version of malted barley typically used for stout beer) and 9% regular barley.
The grains are cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic beer which is then distilled in batches in their copper hybrid still — a pot still with a short column on top. Following distillation, the spirit is added to newly made charred oak barrels and aged to perfection.
The bottle is pretty standard for a small distillery.
Overall, the bottle is styled like any other liquor bottle, with a large body, straight walls, and a gently sloped shoulder that leads to a medium length neck. There’s a small bulge in that neck to make it easier to handle, and the whole thing is capped off with a synthetic stopper. Setting it apart is that the distillery’s name and location is embossed into the glass, which means that this is a semi-custom job and not just something they pulled out of a warehouse.
The label, again, is pretty standard. I like that it isn’t terribly huge — big enough to catch the eye, but with enough space around the edges to see the liquid inside. There’s some liberal use of metallic gold ink to make it shine and pop a bit, but there’s not a whole lot else going on with the label. You get the distillery name, the product information, and that’s about it. Quick and efficient.
This is just a hair darker in color than the regular Golden Promise bourbon that we reviewed before, and a bit richer in aroma as well. This has some of the same brown sugar and vanilla notes that we saw previously, but there’s also a rich toffee component that wasn’t present before. It’s almost like a maple syrup when everything comes together, but with a little cinnamon added for good measure.
Taking a sip, right off the bat there’s a difference between this and a normal bourbon. Usually the first thing I get is some caramel or brown sugar, but here it’s straight to some dark chocolate and baking spices. The brown sugar and vanilla follow pretty quickly and make for an interestingly delicious combination, but that dark chocolate sets the tone and ensures that the flavor profile remains rich and dark the whole time.
There’s also an interesting texture on the finish. It’s very similar to the feeling you get from a sprig of peppermint, but without the same flavor profile. Not something I’ve seen very often, and not something that detracts from the experience, but definitely something different. Almost makes this like an Andes mint chocolate by the end.
Ice has a tendency to diminish and hide the more nuanced flavors that make a whiskey unique, leaving behind only the broadest of strokes. Interestingly, though, that doesn’t seem to have happened here.
What makes this whiskey interesting is the prominent dark chocolate flavor that is present from the moment it touches your lips — even with the added ice, its still present (although not quite to the same level as before). The brown sugar and vanilla are a much larger component of the flavor profile here, but not as dominant as you’d expect.
Heck, even that bit of mint texture is still here! It bodes well for cocktails, and I’m feeling very optimistic heading into the mixed drink tests.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is an interesting one.
Taken neat, the chocolate is on the front of the flavor profile. But here, the chocolate only comes in at the end. Up front, you get the sweetness of the caramel and vanilla, the baking spices, and some of the botanicals from the bitters interacting nicely. But as the flavor progresses that chocolate aspect starts to creep back in, adding some depth and richness to the cocktail.
It’s an interesting-but-tasty flavor progression that makes the cocktail that much more fun to drink.
This is one of the more unique mule flavor profiles I’ve had in a while.
The first thing I look for in a bourbon-based mule (aka a Kentucky Mule) is a good balance between the bitter and bright ginger beer and the spirit. There’s plenty of darker, richer components in this whiskey, which nicely balance out the brightness, and there’s still enough sweetness in those caramel and brown sugar aspects to make it not quite as bitter.
What’s truly bring the uniqueness here is that chocolate-mint combination. Usually, I’d look for something like the black peppery spice of some rye content to distinguish a bourbon mule, but instead here it’s that minty tangy flavor that shines through and adds a unique twist on the cocktail. Either way, it’s something you definitely don’t get with a vodka mule, so it does pass the test.
This probably isn’t going to be something that will agree with every drinker’s palate in the world. I can see that chocolate note being a little much for some people, but I found it to be spot on. I like what they’ve done here with the flavors and, while I think it’s an okay sipping bourbon, I think this is much better used as a mixer. The depth and richness of the flavors handily stand up to most cocktail components, and the flavors it adds are quite enjoyable. Definitely something different to keep on the bar.
|Rock Town Chocolate Malt Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Rock TownProduction Location: Arkansas, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $43.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A chocolatey bourbon that is good on its own, but great in a cocktail.