Whenever I travel, I always try to pick up a few spirits that I can’t get locally in Chicago. On a recent trip to Ohio, for example, I was drawn to the bright orange label of Watershed Bourbon like a moth to a flame and decided to take the bottle home with me — hoping to not get burned when I finally cracked it open.
The Watershed Distillery was founded with community in mind. The name is derived directly from that concept — ‘watershed’ being an area of land where all things are linked by a common source of water. Founded in 2010 with a single still, Watershed has quickly grown to a large local brand in central Ohio.
Their portfolio of spirits is growing quickly, which is not surprising given their mission to be a place “that [you] could gather together to savor, celebrate and enjoy good spirits and company”. Besides their flagship bourbon, they also produce (award winning) gin, various finishes of bourbon, pre-mixed old-fashioned cocktails, and vodka.
The focus on community is clear throughout the operation. They offer in-depth distillery tours and a full kitchen for visitors to the distillery. They also operate a full bottle shop if you need to take some home with you.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The exact mash bill here is not disclosed — but since this is a bourbon, we know that it must contain at least 51% corn. That mash is fermented, and then distilled in one of their two copper stills.
The interesting part of this bourbon is what is detailed on their website: the product is described as a blended bourbon, with part of the blend being aged in new charred oak barrels and the other part in barrels used to age their own Apple Brandy. Exactly how long that aging took place isn’t disclosed, but they allude to this process taking “years” to get from the still to your shelf.
That last part of interesting, as one of the requirements of being a bourbon is that is must be aged in new barrels. Given this is not entirely aged in new barrels, it might be considered more of a blended whiskey than a bourbon.
The bottle is fairly basic. It’s a short round bottle with straight walls that flare out slightly from the base. There is a sharp shoulder that leads to a short neck topped with a black synthetic cork. It’s not elaborate in any way, and would be the type of bottle expected with a newer small distillery. In fact, taking a brief look at their other offerings, this same bottle is used for at least half of their product line.
The bottle is adorned with a shield-shaped label in orange, outlined with a bold white stripe. The label is basic, but has all of the crucial elements: the distillery is clear, the sprint type is clear, and the gravity is front and center (45%). The interesting touch on the label is the handwritten batch number (mine happens to be 102).
While I do not think this bottle stands out on it’s own, I do enjoy a distillery using a common bottling style and cohesive branding to tie their products together. I’ve been to a local restaurant where the back-bar had a full Watershed display that had a huge visual impact; in this case, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts.
When pouring my first drink, the first thing I notice is the gorgeous dark amber color. Coming off that liquid is a pleasant smell of maple syrup and orange peel, as well as some other hidden notes of caramel or toffee which are not nearly as prominent.
I did not expect the orange aroma to translate into such a distinct flavor when I took a sip, but there it is front and center. I imagine that’s mainly the fruit and citrus flavors from the brandy barrels translating through. There are also notes of oak and honey, with a slight burn.
The other thing to note is that this bourbon is more viscous than most. This leaves you with a more rich mouthfeel that coats all parts of your mouth, and causes the flavors to linger for a longer period of time. The pleasant flavors fade fast, though, leaving an alcohol burn lingering.
Ice tends to mellow the harsher flavors of a spirit, but I didn’t find many harsher notes in this bourbon when taken neat — which made me a little hesitant to see the results of the added rocks.
The first thing to note is that any aroma that was present has now all but disappeared. There may be a slight oaky note, but you really have to breathe deep to get it.
The other interesting thing is that the flavor profile seems to have completely changed. What was once a bright orange flavor now reminds me of my grandmother’s cherry crumble pie. The first flavor that hits me is a bold cherry, followed by a sweet brown sugar finish. I’m certainly glad this didn’t lose all flavor and become washed out with the added ice, but this is a completely different spirit now.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I was very excited to try this given the orange flavors when drinking this neat, and was not disappointed. Yes, the flavor did change when adding ice, but this bourbon still makes for a great cocktail.
Being such a fruit-forward bourbon (whether it’s the orange flavors we saw when taken neat or closer to cherry with ice),this plays nicely with the sugar and angostura bitters. The result is a wonderfully balanced cocktail where all flavors have a place and work well together.
Until this point, I’ve loved this bourbon. It’s performed really well both neat and on the rocks, and makes an amazing old-fashioned. Sadly, though, this bourbon does not hold its own against the bright ginger beer.
I like that the sweetness and toffee notes add some balance to the ginger beer, but the fruit notes are completely lost in this cocktail. This could be made with just about any bourbon, and I would not be able to tell the difference.
The random chance of me purchasing this bourbon may be a watershed moment in my discovery of a great new distillery. We’ve reviewed many spirits here at Thirty One Whiskey, and have found some wonderful craft distilleries where we want to (okay, maybe even try to) sample the entire portfolio. I think Watershed may be another one of those — if the rest of their products are as solid as this bourbon, I certainly want to try more.
The under $40 bourbon category is crowded… but if you’re shopping around that price point, put this bottle near the top of your list.
|Watershed Distillery Bourbon|
Produced By: Watershed DistilleryProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
It won’t be a watershed moment, but picking up this bottle is a good idea.
This is a really well-done review, Dan. It shows a drinker who pays a high degree of attention to what is in the glass. To me, that’s at least half the fun of drinking spirits. You’ve definitely convinced me to look for some Watershed bourbon.
Your comment about adding ice to the whiskey and it killing off the aroma. Are you using normal freezer ice? Of the many bad attributes of that stuff, one is it’s an aroma killer. I haven’t the foggiest idea why that is, but I know it happens much less when I use ice from my Wintersmiths Ice Chest. Perhaps cleaner ice doesn’t do such things? No clue. Just sharing my experience.
Clean fresh ice is mandatory in all serious drinks .
Frozen stone is an alternative that imparts a little earth flavor, but glass bubble coolers are tasteless
In a drink, and this is one time tasteless is a good thing.