Craft spirits and local distilleries are quite “the thing” right now, and upstate New York is no exception. It’s hard to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd in a market like this one, so the Catskill Distilling Co. decided to try and trade on their proximity to the famous Woodstock festival grounds to make a name for themselves. The only question: is it any good?
Founded in 2011 along with the Dancing Cat Saloon, the Catskill Distilling Company is located spitting distance from the original location of the Woodstock music concert (which the founder attended in 1969).
Monte Sachs, the owner and founder of the distillery, had attended veterinary school in Pisa, Italy during his formative years. After attending class every day, he would spend time with a local farmer who taught him how to distill grappa, a traditional Italian liquor. That craftsmanship and love of the distilling process is what prompted him to start the Catskill Distilling Company back home in New York.
Honestly, there’s not much detail available about the process that went into the production of this spirit. The website is very sparse and I had to cobble together most of my information from third parties.
The bourbon starts with with a fermented mash composed of 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley. The grains are sourced from Cochecton Mills (a local farm in upstate New York) and are ground into the required consistency within the Catskill Distilling Co’s own distillery using a hammer mill.
Once fermented, the mash is distilled and aged in new 25 gallon charred oak barrels for a period of two years before being bottled. The use of 25 gallon barrels is interesting, as the normal barrel size for a full production whiskey is closer to 50 gallons. The smaller barrels provide a higher barrel to whiskey ratio allowing for greater interaction and usually a quicker maturation cycle.
The design is pretty standard for a spirits bottle. There’s a round base that tapers into a rounded shoulder and ends in a long neck with a bulge (to make it more comfortable to pour). The bottle is topped with a wood and cork stopper.
It feels to me like the bottle design is a little bit older than some of the other craft distilleries. The newer bottles these days have a thicker base which better protects the bottle from accidental damage from being dropped and also makes it “pop” a little more on lighted bar shelves (the extra glass makes the whole thing light up brilliantly). None of that is here, instead opting for something closer to the thickness of a wine bottle.
As for the label, it’s a little hard to read for my old man eyes. The gold lettering on a black background is just too hard to make out for me. I appreciate that they were trying to go for something a little different, but the shiny reflective lettering just gets lost and muddled in my opinion when combined with the glossy black label. Maybe if they had done a more matte black it would have been better?
It smells delicious in the glass. The primary smell I detect is green apples, with some caramel sweetness in the background. It seems crisp and sweet.
On first sip, I get an unfortunate association: cough syrup. The flavors combine at first in a bit of a confusing mess, but with repeated sipping things begin to clear up.
I do get some distinctly floral notes, tasting very similar to the Nikka Red Label Japanese blend. But where that was a whiskey in the Scottish tradition, this is a bourbon in the American tradition and used a charred oak barrel for aging. That charred barrel imparted some rich caramel and vanilla notes.
Each of these things on their own is delicious. But, for me, the combination isn’t something that turns my crank.
The spirit has a good weight, heavier than normal for a 42.5% ABV spirit, and a smooth flavor throughout. There’s a distinct peppery finish thanks to the higher rye content, which I appreciate.
With a little bit of ice, the floral flavors drop out of the equation and what we’re left with are the traditional bourbon flavors. There’s a deep caramel and vanilla flavor that is pleasant to sip, and the spice from the rye still comes through brilliantly. Compared to neat, it’s a bit less ‘noisy’ in terms of flavor profile.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I enjoy a good high rye content bourbon, and this delivers in spades.
With an Old Fashioned, the deep and rich flavors provide a fantastic balance for the orange bitters. The corn content in the bourbon is just enough to provide the necessary sweetness to counteract the bitterness without being overpowering.
This is going to depend on your preference.
The flavors of the bourbon are deep and earthy to start, and the ginger beer doesn’t do a lot to lift that deep flavor. The mule is similarly rich and deep, not the light and refreshing mule that is typical.
If you like deeper and richer flavors, this will definitely work for you. If you are looking for something lighter and crisper, though, you might want a different spirit.
This is going to very much depend on your taste and your palate. I think it’s absolutely worth the price of admission to try this bourbon, but whether you like it or not is going to depend on whether you like those floral flavors. For me, this was just a hair over the line when sipping it neat, but when you add some ice or turn it into a cocktail it’s a damn fine offering.
The Most Righteous Bourbon
Owner: Catskill Distilling Co.
Production: Bethel, NY
Grain bill: 70% corn, 20% rye, 10% malted barley.
Aging: 2 years
Proof: 42.5% ABV
Price: $29.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s less expensive than something mass-produced (like a Bulleit Bourbon), but has a distinctive taste all its own.