Located in the famous Scott’s Addition neighbourhood of Richmond Virginia (VinePair’s World’s top beer destination for 2018), Reservoir Distillery has been producing some very interesting and award-winning craft whiskies since being set up in 2009 by co-founders Jay Carpenter and David Cuttino. Reservoir produce three distinct whiskies all featuring 100% mashbills of their respective locally-sourced grains. Not wanting to source whiskey that they had not made themselves, Reservoir age their distillate in custom-made small barrels that range in size from 2-10 gallons capacity (with the occasional traditional 53 gallon barrel used for good measure). Reservoir state that due to the increased ratio of wood surface area to distillate that these small barrels provide they have a much more comprehensive ageing schedule that allows them to age their whiskey to maturity in as little as two years. Although their whiskies are bottled as soon as they taste ready, Reservoir have calculated that for those that age the full 2 years this would be equivalent to 15 years in traditional 53-gallon barrels.
What sets Reservoir apart from other craft producers is their core range of whiskies. Reservoir has three whiskies in this range which are each 100 proof and made using a 100% mashbill of their respective grain. The range is made up of a 100% corn bourbon whiskey, a 100% rye whiskey, and a 100% wheat whiskey. What is unique about these whiskies is that they have been specifically created to allow whiskey drinkers the opportunity to experiment and create their own custom whiskies by blending these whiskies together and adjusting the proof to your own personal taste. This is quite unique in the craft whiskey scene and opens up a whole new avenue for the craft whiskey scene to pursue – giving drinkers the power to create whatever flavour and proof profile they like most. A quick (and hopefully accurate) calculation of how many possible combinations there are possible with these three whiskies as building blocks yielded a result of: 415,825,146,325,856,474,478,338,352,632,640,558,028,046,600,574,364,8708,663,033,657,304,756,328,324,008,620 possible combinations – which is absolutely mind blowing.
Today I’ll be taking a look at these core whiskies from Reservoir as well as trying my hand at making one blend from those possible – yes that is a lot of possibilities!
Reservoir Wheat Whiskey
Non Age-Stated – 100 proof (50% ABV) – 100% Virginian wheat
Nose: On this the nose opens with strong herbaceous notes of pine sap, followed by wheat grain, and slight sweet caramel.
Palate: The palate has sweet herbaceous pine notes again, wheat, a touch of liquorice bitterness, and a dash of spicy white pepper and dry oak.
Finish: The finish gives slight hints of tropical fruits, mint, and a touch of bitter oak tannins in the aftertaste.
Overall: Reservoir recommend that when tasting all three these whiskies side by side that you start with the wheat whiskey as it is the lighter of the three flavour wise. This being said I didn’t find it overly light flavoured so I’m curious to see how heavy the other two are in comparison. This is a very interesting wheat whiskey in that it is dominated by herbaceous liquorice notes on the nose and palate only for lighter tropical notes to emerge in the finish and aftertaste. This whiskey is also very reminiscent of young craft whiskies aged in small barrels with the influence of the oak being present throughout adding spice and mouth-drying tannins. This whiskey is sweet and spicy with a balancing complex herbaceous liquorice-like bitterness that makes it very interesting to roll around the palate to see what flavours emerge. I wouldn’t necessarily drink this straight but I would either mix it with something from the rest of the range or throw it into a mint julep or a similar cocktail that does well with a strong herbaceous element.
One thing that surprised me is the overall level of spice in this. Although there was definitely some spice there from the oak barrels there wasn’t as much as I have previously experienced from other young wheat craft whiskies that had instead been aged in standard sized barrels. This definitely adds a bit of weight to Reservoir’s assertion that ageing in their smaller barrels results in quicker maturity than whiskies aged in traditional 53 gal barrels.
Reservoir Bourbon whiskey
Non Age-Stated – 100 proof (50% ABV) – 100% corn
Nose: On the nose there’s corn, faint brown sugar, hints of citrus, and a dash of smoky barrel char.
Palate: The palate is viscous with citrus again, barrel char, caramel, dark chocolate, and a touch of oak spice that gives bit of bite.
Finish: The finish is medium length and features spicy oak again, a touch of smoke, and a lingering dark chocolate aftertaste.
Overall: This is a young spicy bourbon with a mix of strong flavours that again are very reminiscent of craft whiskies that have been aged in smaller barrels. The increased wood surface to distillate ratio means more of those charred oak notes are present in this whiskey, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing as it adds another layer of complexity to a pour that already has some really nice classic bourbon flavours going on. There’s also nice viscosity in the mouthfeel and I can again see how this would fit quite nicely into a blend that featured whiskies from the rest of the range or in a cocktail. For anyone blending this into something I’d definitely take a baseline taster first just so you know what flavours you are dealing with.
Reservoir Rye Whiskey
Non Age-Stated – 100 proof (50% ABV) – 100% rye
Nose: The nose opens with notes of fresh cut green grass, followed by spiced green apples, and an earthy herbaceous touch.
Palate: The palate has rye grain, herbaceous notes again, a hint of dark chocolate, and balanced but dry white pepper and smoky charred oak.
Finish: The finish showcases the rye grain with notes of cut grass, a helping of herbaceous liquorice and drying oak tannins followed by an aftertaste of smoke, mint and green apples – lovely!
Overall: For me the rye whiskey really is the pick of the three. This again has that complex herbaceous vegetal edge and white pepper spice that I found in the wheat whiskey but unlike the wheat it has less bitter liquorice and more of a balanced approach with green apples and traditional grassy notes also there. This is almost exactly what you would expect from a young 100% rye whiskey and I have to say for me this is the star of the core lineup. I’d say given a chance to open up this rye could be just as good as several other rye whiskies. It drinks a bit hotter than its proof and has the kind of spice you would expect from a good rye whiskey.
Non Age-Stated – 100 proof (50% ABV) – 1:2 100% Wheat whiskey to 100% Rye whiskey, left for 5 minutes before tasted
Nose: On the nose there are notes of Christmas fruit cake, marzipan, charred oak, burnt caramel and light vanilla.
Palate: the palate follows with deep caramel, floral vanilla, cherrywood-like smokiness, a touch of oak spice, baking spices, white pepper, and herbaceous notes.
Finish: The finish gave deep caramel, sweet vanilla, and a smoky but drying aftertaste of oak.
Overall: What exactly inspired this strange blend you might be wondering? Well, after an hour long phone call last summer with Dave Cuttino where I got increasingly thirsty whilst we discussed everything Reservoir are doing, Dave recommended that I try his favourite blend. Not being the kind of guy to keep myself from a distiller’s favourite blend I mixed a batch of this odd blend as soon as I had locked in the tasting noted for all three core whiskies. This blend was a caramel and flavour bomb and made a fantastic whiskey that really amplified all the positive characteristics of both the rye and the wheat whiskies. It was both sweet but intensely flavoured with a nose that smelled like fruit cake. I have to say I was very surprised by how good this blend tasted and if Reservoir’s aim was to create whiskies that you could blend at home to produce great results then that’s a mission accomplished in my eyes.
These are three really solid whiskies and a great example of what can be accomplished when a producer wants to produce great craft whiskies and uses creative thinking to make it happen. What I got from these whiskies is a taste of what a true craft whiskey should taste like. They taste good, they blend well, and at no point did I think they tasted overly young or immature. Another interesting point is that because of the small barrels used in ageing those spicy charred oak flavours are very present in all three these pours but what surprised me most is that when you combine these whiskies, like I did in Dave’s blend, so many other flavours emerge that the oak just becomes another piece in a complex and very well balanced whiskey blend.
Between 2012 and 2016 these three whiskies received 16 awards collectively and a Double Gold award each from the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Top this off with individual ratings of no lower than 87.5 from Jim Murray and it’s easy to see why I also was so impressed by these whiskies. Reservoir can stand proud knowing they have been personally responsible for the creation of three whiskies that can easily stand their ground within their respective categories and deserve credit for opening the door to almost infinite combinations thus giving their drinkers a true craft whiskey experience unlike anything else I’ve tried, or heard of, to date.
Try or Buy?
Why would you not want to spend hours creating your own perfect blend of whiskies?! These whiskies can be bought in the UK from Master of Malt, and Amazon.co.uk and if the only thing stopping you from picking up a bottle of each is their price then I’d highly recommend you try find a bar that has all three on the back bar so you can try them for yourself before committing. Personally I think they’re worth every cent and one of each has been added to the to-buy list! More good news is that the Reservoir range recently expanded in the UK with the addition of their Hunter & Scott bourbon but I’ll save that for another day.