While I may have been born and raised in New York, my mother’s side of the family is all in Minnesota. I’ve probably spent more time visiting in that state then any other place in the United States. I remember the great walleye scandal of 2004, I have fond memories of riding the Ripsaw at Camp Snoopy, and I even (sometimes) understand the jokes on Prairie Home Companion. I haven’t been back for a few years now, but this bottle of Minnesota-based RockFilter Rail Splitter seems like the perfect way to have a taste of the state without ever leaving home.
Producing whiskey has traditionally been a way for farmers to take their excess crops that they can’t sell, something that would quickly rot and become useless, and turn that potential loss into a shelf-stable product that is nearly always in demand. Christian Myrah seems to be following in those same footsteps.
Like many others in Minnesota, Christian is a descendant of the Norwegian farmers who immigrated to the state and set up shop. His family has been in the area for generations, working and owning a farm near Spring Grove, Minnesota. After spending time as an aviator in the U.S. Navy, he returned back to his family farm but missed the comradery that he found in the military and wanted to start a new business that brings people together while enjoying the unique produce from his family farm. He found that in RockFilter Distillery, which opened its doors in June of 2017.
RockFilter Distillery focuses on using organic grains from their 350 acre farm, milled on-site in their 1870’s era grain mill, to produce aged whiskey and bourbon.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
This expression of bourbon starts as a combination of corn and triticale. As this is a bourbon, we know corn has to make up at least 51% of the grain bill, but the exact proportion is not disclosed. As for the other ingredient, you may not have heard of it before — triticale is a lab bred combination of wheat and rye that first appeared in Scotland in the 1870’s.
Those grains are milled on-site in the aforementioned 1870’s era grain mill before being cooked, fermented, and distilled. For this specific bottle, that final distillate is aged for 3 years and 5 months in new charred oak barrels before being packaged and shipped.
The name “Rail Splitter” comes from founder Christian’s Great-Great-Grandfather who split 10,000 pine logs into fence rails one winter.
I really like this bottle, even though it breaks a few of my rules.
The bottle itself is pretty standard, which isn’t a bad thing. The shape itself is appealing, with a svelte cylindrical body, broad shoulders, and a short neck. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
I appreciate that the artwork on the bottle is a combination of labels and paint. It looks like they spent some time on the branding and it’s working for me, providing just enough artwork to be appealing without going overboard.
The label has a prominent antique portrait of what looks like a Norwegian bachelor farmer, ostensibly the eponymous “rail splitter” himself. There’s a smear of gold paint that sports the brand name and category, which is a really nifty presentation that I don’t think I’ve seen before. It gives it a bit of a rustic feel, but in an artistic way.
Usually, I hate when a label is massively large and obscures the contents of the bottle. But in this case, I’ll overlook that since I think the label serves a larger purpose, and make sense. It isn’t just a label for a label’s sake — it tells a story.
Right off the bat, this smells like a rye whiskey. There are a lot of spicy pepper notes coming off the glass at first, but that is followed pretty closely by the typical sweet vanilla and caramel you’d expect from a bourbon. As the drink sits in the glass, there’s a little bit more of that smooth wheat aroma that comes through as well on the finish.
First impressions of the flavor is that it’s a deep, rich bourbon. In a world where four years for a bourbon is considered a well aged spirit, this version has gone well over five years and that extra age is apparent from the first sip. There’s a rich, chocolatey flavor that comes first, followed almost immediately by a hit of spicy rye that adds some depth and complexity to the flavor profile. From there, a bit of caramel and vanilla join the party, finishing with a bit of fruity dried apricot.
Ice can be the downfall of a lighter whiskey, but this whiskey seems impervious to the effects of the ice (much like how the frozen plains of Minnesota have hardened its’ residents over the years).
That chocolatey rich flavor is still present and delicious, but the pepper spice has been reduced. It’s still there, just not quite as brash. The sweetness of the vanilla and caramel is also present, but that fruity finish seems to have disappeared.
In this case, it’s like the flavors have been distilled to their core components. Which is still great, if not as interesting and complex as when taken neat.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I like a good, rich bourbon for my Old Fashioned cocktails because it makes for a deeper, more interesting experience — there’s more going on and it’s more interesting on the palate. In this case, the spirit delivers exactly the flavor profile I’m looking for.
If you could imagine a puree of raspberry and chocolate, that’s pretty close to what we have here. A little bit tart and fruity thanks to the bitters, some depth and sweetness from the bourbon, all of it coming together to make something remarkable. Truly, a great Old Fashioned.
This hits all the points I’m looking for in a good mule.
First, there’s a great balance here with the ginger beer. The darker, richer flavors in the bourbon nicely contrast that bright and shout-y flavor from the ginger beer making for something that is delicious, balanced, and approachable. One doesn’t overpower the other; instead, they cooperate and make something great.
But there’s more than just that. The spicy black pepper we saw previously is back, and it adds a bit of complexity and spice to the finish. It’s a nice touch that keeps the drink from getting boring and is exactly the kind of unique flavor I want to see in a whiskey-based mule.
I like this a lot. It’s like a wheated bourbon with some good rye content, which makes sense given the wheat / rye hybrid grain being used. You’ve got some smoothness when taken neat, some peppery spice that shines through in cocktails, and a great flavor combination that works well just about however you want to take it. Throw in the fact that this is an organic product, made from grains grown by the distiller themselves, it truly becomes something special.
|RockFilter Distillery Rail Splitter Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: RockFilter DistilleryProduction Location: Minnesota, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 5 Years
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $70 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
A bourbon where the flavor is strong, the label is good looking, and the results are well above average.