The words Sonoma County probably mean more to wine drinkers like my wife, than whiskey enthusiasts like me, but luckily this seems to be changing. In this era of craft distilleries setting up here, there, and everywhere, it would seem that nothing is sacred and soon we’ll probably be drinking a sourced bourbon from a craft distillery situated on Abraham Lincoln’s head on Mount Rushmore. However, some craft distilleries pre-date this very modern-day distillery gold rush and the Sonoma County Distilling Co. is one of them. Set up in 2010, founder Adam Spiegel took inspiration from local Sonoma wine producers, combined it with the knowledge of veteran industry people and set up the Sonoma County Distilling Company. Using traditional methods and double distilling in direct-fired alembic pot-stills these guys have taken the term craft whiskey to heart and produce some very interesting whiskeys. This review will take a look at one of these whiskeys, their Cherrywood Rye Whiskey.
The inspiration behind this rye whiskey were the flavours of a classic Manhattan cocktail and really shows how adventurous these guys are when it comes to trying something new and possibly risky. Unlike traditional rye whiskeys, this whiskey features an unorthodox mashbill of primarily unmalted Canadian rye, malted barley smoked over cherrywood, and unmalted Canadian wheat as the flavouring grain. This whiskey is double-distilled in an alembic post still, then aged for a minimum of 1 year (so we can assume it is only 1 year old) in charred American oak casks, and bottled unfiltered at 47.8% abv.
the back label for SCDC Cherrywood Rye
Name: Cherrywood Rye Whiskey
Age: NAS (At least 1 year old)
Proof: 95.6 Proof (47.8% ABV)
Type: Rye Whiskey (Batch #4)
Mashbill: 80% unmalted Canadian rye, 10% unmlted Canadian Wheat, 10% Wyoming malted barley smoked with California Cherrywood
Distillery: Sonoma County Distilling Company, CA
Appearance: Deep gold with a hints of red
Nose: On the nose the first thing you notice is that beautiful cherrywood smoke, sweet syrupy caramel, earthy oak, baking spices and rye flour.
Palate: The mouthfeel is complex, thick and bursting with flavours of Cherrywood smoke, intense caramel, earthy spicy rye, baking spices, a touch of sweet wheat, and a nice kick of spice that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the flavours.
Finish: The finish is long, very flavourful, and complex. A light touch of smoked wood, intense caramel, sweet floral vanilla, and spicy earthy rye all mingle nicely and give a dry and smokey aftertaste.
This is a very unique, delicious, and interesting rye whiskey. For me a craft whiskey is a success when it tastes great neat and is unlike anything else I already have a bottle of – in a good way. This pour has great flavour, a velvet mouthfeel and an aftertaste that is hard to compare it to anything else I’ve ever had before. The Cherrywood smoke is present throughout but never dominates or overpowers any of the other flavours and the same with the rye. This one is a slow burner with more spice and flavours emerging long after the dram has been finished. Once I’ve taken a sip, ‘chewed’ it, and swallowed I could easily spend the next 5 minutes pulling apart all the flavours that are left behind from a single sip. To answer another question, yes, this whiskey definitely has that classic Manhattan profile of spice, sweetness, and a hint of oak – delicious.
This whiskey also brings a lot to the table when you consider how many experimental things are going on in there. Typically wheat needs a lot of time to mature and give a whiskey those beautiful wheated notes that are so popular, so adding wheat to a rye whiskey is not only unheard of but would also seem a big risk. However, it would seem that SCDC has hit upon the right mix of wheat, rye, and smokey malt to give this whiskey an interesting and delicious flavour for a whiskey that’s quite young by industry standards. SCDC are doing some crazy things in general with their grains, mashbills and production methods that are working very well for them and bodes well for their future. Another thing I like about these guys is that every aspect of production at SCDC is handled in-house using traditional methods and distilling techniques where possible. This traditional old-age approach combined with a willingness experiment and to produce whiskeys with wacky and interesting mashbills makes these guys a stand out craft distillery keep an eye on to me.
Apart from the Cherrywood Rye I’ve only ever tried SCDC’s whiskeys at a recent whiskey show and ever since their remaining expressions have been added to the wishlist. Based on my impressions from this adventurous but delicious rye I’m definitely going to be keeping a close eye on future releases from these guys.
Try or buy?
This bottle is truly something I think everyone should try at least once be it buy or try. I’d definitely buy a second bottle so I’d push this for a definite buy. If exciting new and great tasting craft pours are something that takes your fancy – you’ll not be disappointed*! Not to mention their website has a comprehensive list of where you can buy or try their whiskeys just to make it that bit easier.
*If you find yourself disappointed by this I will happily take any opened bottles from your hands and ensure that they are disposed of in a respectable manner – dram by dram.