I’m a sucker for small batch locally produced whiskey. Doing things in-house gives distilleries the ability to oversee every aspect of production and create something that exactly matches their vision, and usually that means some interesting flavors or novel production methods. Woodinville is one such distillery, where they truly create a “grain to glass” whiskey — and their flagship bourbon seems to be a great place to start checking out their offerings.
Founded in 2010 by best friends Orlin Sorensen & Brett Carlile, the Woodinville Distillery (named for its location in Woodinville, Washington) has grown to become the largest distillery in the state of Washington. Focusing on locally sourced grains with 100% of the raw grains coming from the Omlin family farm in Quincy, Washington (a third generation farming family), the distillery prides themselves on their small batch and boutique production.
In July 2017, the premium brands company Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE (LVMH) purchased the distillery, but allowed the distillery to continue its normal operations as it had before with the same management team and sourcing their materials in the same way they had been before.
In case we haven’t said this multiple times already, the Woodinville distillery prides themselves on locally sourced grains and small batch production. And sure enough, their flagship bourbon sets the standard.
The story of this whiskey starts over a year and a half before any spirit is actually produced. The barrels for aging the whiskey are produced by the Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, MO, and are first left out in the elements, braving the sun, rain, and snow for a full 18 months before being assembled into barrels. The insides of the barrels are then slowly toasted before getting a heavy char treatment, and finally shipped to Washington to be filled.
The whiskey itself starts as a mixture of 72% corn, 22% rye, and 6% malted barley. All of the grains are sourced from the Omlin family farm in Quincy, and are trucked to the facility still in their raw format. The grains are milled on-site, allowing for greater control over the size and consistency of the milled product, and then cooked to extract the sugars. From there, the mash is fermented and distilled.
Once the distilled spirit is added to the barrels, they are trucked deep into central Washington state where the extreme weather patterns produce significant hot and cold swings which better force the whiskey in and out of the wood of the barrels. This expansion and contraction produces the flavors within the whiskey and the color of the spirit.
According to some sources, the whiskey waits about five years in these conditions before being bottled, although there’s no age statement on the bottle beyond the “straight” designation that indicates it’s been in the barrel for a minimum of two years. Once aged to perfection, the whiskey is bottled and shipped out.
I really like this design. The bottle itself is rectangular, with a flat face and square sides. There’s a good chunk of clear glass on the bottom which should help it stand out on shelves lit from below, and also adds a bit of heft to the item. The shoulder on the top of the bottle is squared off, and up top there’s a short and stocky neck that’s topped with a wood and cork stopper.
As for the labeling, the paper is colored to look like antique parchment. The branding is written on the front in a faded gray color along with a picture of what I assume is the distillery, and some elements like the alcohol content and bottling information are designed to appear stamped onto the label. It’s a good design that evokes an older age, but that doesn’t necessarily track with the fact that this distillery has only been around for about 10 years and doesn’t have a rich history to evoke.
Faux history aside, though, I like it. The bottle itself, especially, feels like a premium product — which is probably what LVMH is aiming for here.
It smells sweet and delicious from the start, heavy on the aroma of brown sugar with a bit of fruit added into the mix. Sometimes that fruit comes across as more of an apple, but the longer it sits in the glass the closer it gets to a banana.
The whiskey itself has a good weight to it — surprisingly so for a 45% ABV spirit. It’s here where there’s no mistaking this style of spirit for any other — it has the quintessential caramel and vanilla components front and center, which is supplemented by some of those wood-y oak tones as the flavor develops. At the end there might be just the slightest hint of a bite that sometimes reads to me as green pepper, and then the spice from the rye content kicks in to add a finish that lasts long after the spirit is gone.
Normally, with the addition of a few ice cubes, the spirit starts to fall apart. Flavors start disappearing, and some of the bolder notes are all that’s left. In this case, though, that didn’t happen.
It seems to me that everything is still present and contributing, from the caramel and vanilla flavor to the strange almost green pepper note that disappears almost as soon as it appeared. The only thing that might have changed is that there’s less of the rye spice on the finish.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is one of those instances where everything seems to come together in harmony. The sweet flavors from the bourbon pair nicely with the bitters, and the richer darker tones are offset nicely by the orange peel and cherry. It’s a solid cocktail.
The one thing I do recommend is that you make sure to add the sugar to this version. I usually try to get away with “forgetting” to muddle the sugar cube in these cocktails (just to cut down on sugar intake that little bit extra), but in this case it really does help to blend everything together.
Honestly, I feel like this is an improper use of this whiskey due to all the care and attention that went into its production. But there’s no doubt that the result is damn fine tasting.
Things I’m looking for in a Kentucky Mule are flavors in the spirit that balance out the bitterness and harshness of the ginger beer, and then something unique or distinctive that it adds to the conversation. In this case, the sweet caramel and vanilla notes do a great job with the balancing act, and the peppery finish from the rye content adds a bit of a kick that makes this an all around better experience and a more delicious cocktail.
The flavor profile is simple and doesn’t have any real surprises, but sometimes that’s what you’re looking for in a bourbon. There’s no fancy finishing process and no strange blending at work here — it’s a true small batch locally sourced bourbon that’s true to the process and true to its roots.
Slightly unfortunately, though, there really isn’t a distinctive flavor or style that this brings to the whiskey conversation, it’s just a particularly well executed and competent bourbon. Despite all of that effort to produce the spirit locally using locally sourced materials, I don’t really get much of any terroir or unique aspects in the end result.
All that said, the craft aspects of its production are certainly worth the extra money. It’s good to see a small distillery making a solid product, and it seems like LVMH agrees and is putting its money where its Glancairn glass is.
|Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: WoodinvilleOwned By: LVMH Moet Hennessy - Louis Vuitton SE
Production Location: Washington, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $38.49 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Worth the time they put into it and the cash I paid for it.