I am an Ohio guy, born and raised in the AK-Rowdy (Akron, if you are not familiar). Although I’m based in Chicago now, I love visiting home to see what is going on in the Ohio distillery scene. In the past, I’ve highlighted some other Ohio whiskey (Cleveland, Watershed, and Put-in-Bay), but on my most recent visit I came across Towpath Distillery. I was impressed at the small yet mighty operation, and grabbed a bottle to give it the full Thirty One Whisky treatment.
Just like any good whiskey story, the Towpath distillery starts in the orbit of the Volstead Act. Prohibition may have outlawed alcohol, but many entrepreneuring individuals saw this as a business opportunity. Rocco Piscazzi is one such person.
Piscazzi and his associates began to set up a network of distillers and distribution throughout the Akron area, filling the void in the market for those people who wanted these previously legal spirits. They earned a reputation for crafting quality spirits, sold for a fair price. As the story goes, “they were the most successful and sought-after bootleggers in the area”.
One of the biggest thing that Piscazzi had going for him was the proximity to the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River, and was a major trade route through the 1800’s. By the time of prohibition, rail had taken over as the preferred method to transport goods, and the canal had fallen into disrepair… which (due to the lack of traffic) actually became a great way to transport raw materials and distilled spirits without raising much alarm. Eventually, though, prohibition was repealed and Piscazzi decided to retire as a bootlegger and opened Roxy’s Café in Akron along the canal towpath.
Fast forward to today. In Akron’s Merriman Valley (“The Valley” if you’re a local), Towpath Distillery now sits along the towpath trail. The objective is to “to bring back some family traditions using old recipes, and new world techniques to produce high quality spirits. Legally this time of course.”
Ohio is a liquor-controlled state, meaning all hard liquor is sold through a state agency. In 2016, House Bill 351 made it easier for micro-distilleries to produce more spirits and offer food for sale. In 2017, the Ohio Division of Liquor control made it possible to sell spirits directly (while still ensuring the state get their cut of taxes).
Current owner Anthony Piscazzi decided to embrace his family legacy, along with a more favorable legal standing for micro-distilleries, and his existing restaurant, The Merchant Tavern, and founded Towpath Distillery in 2019.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The Towpath Distillery is small. Just check out the picture below, where all their equipment fits into the frame of my tiny viewfinder. There is a small pot still, a short column still, some barrels, and some bottling equipment:
Like many new distilleries, Towpath started by making vodka in 2021. A neutral grain spirit with no aging requirements allows any distillery to quickly establish itself and turn a profit to sustain itself. The vodka was followed by white rum and gin — again, similar spirits that can just roll off the still and straight into a bottle.
The mashbill for their bourbon is not disclosed. However, they do let us know that it uses 21% rye. Being a bourbon means that at least 51% of the grain is corn — so between the rye and corn, we know at least 72% of what goes into the spirit. From there, in order to be a “straight” bourbon whiskey, the spirit is placed into charred new oak barrels for four years before being blended together with other strains and bottled.
The open question here is where exactly this whiskey came from. The label states that this is a “Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey”… which all but rules out this coming from the Towpath still, since a straight bourbon requires at least four years of maturation to be bottled without an accompanying age statement. That would make 2025 the earliest year Towpath could legally bottle a no age statement straight bourbon whiskey, which is still two years away at the time of review.
My bet is that this is actually a sourced bourbon that the distillery is putting out. This is a common tactic for new distilleries: sourcing whiskey from another distillery to satisfy a demand for an aged product while your own stock is in the barrel. I just prefer to see a little more clarity around the sourcing, or else people might get the wrong impression about the origins of the spirit.
We’ve seen this bottle design before from a number of different distilleries and, while it might not be original, it remains a popular choice for a reason. The flat bottomed, short-but-stout cylindrical shape of the bottle and the clean lines look great on a shelf, but won’t help it stand out from the herd very much.
That said, this is a bottle that can be greatly enhanced by a great label… but I don’t think this label counts as great. The orange hue seems to clash with the deep amber of the bourbon inside. It’s also a very large label that hides most of the bourbon.
To top it off, there is artwork of some guys in a rowing a boat down a river. I have to wonder why they wouldn’t embrace the name and history by instead illustrating a canal boat being towed down a path by a mule. Just my two cents, but this feels like a missed opportunity.
The aroma of this bourbon is very sweet. It reminds me of lightly toasted marshmallow — that perfect point where it starts to turn gooey, but not yet charred. There are also hints of tart green apple, making for an interesting dichotomy.
The aroma carries over to the flavor profile, especially with the apple. The initial flavor is reminiscent of a fresh apple tart. The apple is clearly there, with some light flakey buttery crust, and some hints of cinnamon, custard, and caramel. It’s surprisingly complex for a blended bourbon that is all wrapped in a lightly toasted oak flavor with a hint of anise.
There is a surprising abundance of sweetness in this bourbon, especially with a higher 21% rye in the mashbill. I would have to guess that much of the remaining grains would be corn – closer to 79% than 51% – given the overall sweetness.
It’s a little sweet for my preference, but this is still a good option taken neat.
I added one of my large cubes (with the custom Thirty One Whiskey logo on it) to my glass to see how the flavors change on the rocks.
The most interesting thing on the rocks is that the baked good flavors come to the front. There is a rich, buttery crust that permeates the flavor profile — I can only describe it as if a croissant were filled like a custard doughnut. (I don’t know how that would work or even if it would be structurally sound, but that’s not my problem. I’m just telling you what I pictured when I tasted this, okay?) There are some other flavors that seem to make an appearance, including first the black pepper spice from the rye followed by an interesting fig.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is just an okay old fashioned. I think the big problem is that it’s such a sweet bourbon, the added sugar in the cocktail just pushes it over the edge. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a terrible drink… it’s just on the sweeter side.
The angostura bitters do help to bring a lot of balance to the cocktail. I could see this being a bourbon that could help with some artisanal bitters. Black walnut is actually what jumps to mind, which I think would take away from the sweetness and really complement the green apple notes in the bourbon.
A review or two ago, I said: I do not think a good Kentucky Mule has to be made with great bourbon. It just has to be made with flavor profile that will stand up to the brightness of the ginger beer. This bourbon is a prime example.
There is more than enough body to this bourbon to stand up for itself against the ginger beer. I think the sweetness is a superlative in this case, as it helps to cut through the rich bitter ginger. The rye also adds some richness that adds an additional dimension, allowing this bourbon to highlight itself.
There is a lot of good stuff going on with this bourbon. I think that more time in the barrel would allow the sweetness to mellow out more and infuse more flavors from the oak. That said, there is nothing about this that stands out head and shoulders above other options at this price point (of which there are many).
Given that it is likely that this is a sourced bourbon and not something they made themselves, I’m guessing what we have here is something more aspirational than operational. In these cases, usually the distillery is combining flavors and making a bottle that they hope will taste like what they eventually produce in-house — and if that’s the case, I am excited to see what else comes from Towpath and Anthony Piscazzi. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye on this distillery and trying their new offerings when I happen to be back in Akron.
|Towpath Distillery Bourbon
Produced By: Towpath DistilleryProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
If you find yourself in Akron, it is definitely worth stopping by the Merchant Tavern for a sip or a bottle of this bourbon.