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Founded in 2013 by Dr. Pat Heist and Mr. Shane Baker, the Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville, KY, has quickly evolved from a quiet craft distillery to one that operates on the cutting edge of innovation within the industry. Combining over 20 years of industry experience in providing yeast and distillery optimisation services to distilleries as consultants, Pat and Shane have a wealth of experience solving distillation issues such as starting up from scratch, limiting bacterial contamination, developing mashbills, analysing grain quality, managing yeast strains, and consulting on the fermentation process. Armed with this technical knowledge and a vast collection of over 400 yeast strains, Shane and Pat had all the key ingredients needed to approach things differently and create a state-of-the-art distillery at Wilderness Trail that would be leading the charge when it came to combining traditional techniques with modern scientific distillation techniques. For starters, they were the first distillery in KY to make their whiskey exclusively using the Sweet Mash technique instead of the Sour Mash technique. They also implemented an infusion mashing process, use clean steam instead of chemicals to sterilize their equipment and prevent bacterial contamination of fermentation, source local grains from within a mile-and-a-half radius for all their products, and have some of the lowest barrel entry proofs in the business. The distillery itself features an original 250-gallon Vendome Pot Hybrid Still, a 40 ft, 18-inch column still and 250 gallon copper doubler added in 2016, and a new 40 ft, 36-inch continuous still with a 500 gallon doubler to increase production output to around 216 barrels a day. The whiskey is double distilled and proofed down with KY limestone water before being entered into standard 53 gallon char #4 toasted barrels at their respective barrel-entry proofs. Both bourbon recipes are entered at 110 proof (55% ABV), whilst their rye is entered at the lowest proof in Kentucky, 100 proof. Barrels are then stored in various rickhouses for a minimum of 4 years.In February of 2020 it was announced that the distillery was the first to grow sufficiently in size since its operations started to migrate from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with the other big name distilleries such as Wild Turkey and Heaven Hill. The current Wilderness Trail portfolio consists of their single barrel Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky straight wheated bourbon whiskey, a small batch Bottled-in-Bond high rye Bourbon, and a Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, as well as Harvest Rum and Blue Heron Vodka.
Released in 2019, Wilderness Trail small batch bourbon was the third whiskey released by the craft distillery. A Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky bourbon just like their single barrel release, the small batch features Wilderness Trail’s second bourbon mashbill. This mashbill substitutes the 24% wheat found in their Bottled-in-Bond Single Barrel offering for 24% Kentucky-grown Heritage rye from a local farm as a flavouring grain instead whilst the percentage of corn (64%) and malted barley (12%) remained consistent. This whiskey was fermented using Wilderness Trail’s sweet mash technique before being distilled using their 250-gallon Vendome Pot Hybrid Still which was replaced by a 40 ft, 18-inch column still and 250 gallon copper doubler in 2016. It was barreled at 110 proof, aged the legally required 4 years, and dumped and mingled into small batches using between 10 to 12 barrels before being proofed down to 100 proof and bottled without chill filtration. Let’s get to tasting!
Name: Wilderness Trail Bottled-in-Bond small batch bourbon (Batch# 15G01)
Age: NAS (at least 4 y.o.)
Proof: 100 Proof (50% ABV)
Type: Straight bonded bourbon
Mashbill: 64% corn, 24% KY Heritage rye, 12% malted barley
Producer: Wilderness Trail Distillery
Nose: The nose opens with heavy floral vanilla, soft caramel, a touch of dark stone fruit, grains like young rye and sweet corn, earthy baking spices, and faint charred oak in the back with some very light alcohol.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with caramelized peanuts fading to deep brown sugar and peppery earthy rye spice mixed with dried cherries, a touch of zesty citrus, and some charred oak spice on the back of the tongue.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering peppery spice on the palate before fading to the zing of malted barley, burnt caramel, and charred oak. These fade into a long herbaceous and malty aftertaste.
This is a delicious craft bourbon. In fact, I can’t help feeling that if more young craft whiskies carried their flavours this well the craft industry would become an even bigger force to be reckoned with. Although just 4 years old, this whiskey has already started to transition from being young, aggressive, and grain-forward, to being balanced, with elements of maturity, and the influence of the barrel becoming apparent. Wilderness Trail have also managed to catch this whiskey at this cusp of this transition. The result is a bourbon whiskey that has the characteristics of both a young and a middle-aged bourbon without many of the downfalls of either. The young earthy rye, sweet buttery corn, and zesty malted barley notes shine bright throughout adding bold flavours whilst the more mature notes of charred oak, baking spices, and soft caramel add balance. The effects of Wilderness Trail’s innovative production techniques are also apparent throughout with the lack of aggressively spicy or ‘green’ oak no doubt being a result of their low barrel entry proof, the soft delicious flavours being down to their sweet mash process, and their decision not to chill filter giving this whiskey a fantastic mouthfeel that compliments the flavours really well.
Like I said in my introduction, Wilderness Trail are leading the charge in modern distillation science and production methods. By combining their knowledge gained from decades of experience they are taking traditional distillation techniques and marrying them with the latest breakthroughs in distillation. These guys have a deep understanding of what works and what does not and so they are taking these skills and applying them in a way that has resulted in Wilderness Trail quickly moving up the ranks of reputation. In fact, based on the rate at which word of their distilling and production prowess is spreading I know their brand will soon be a household name on both sides of the pond. Their methods are innovative, their whiskey tastes great, and their future looks very bright as their stocks continue to mature.
Try or Buy?
With pricing for this release in the UK starting at around £65 for your money I’d say that you are getting a very decent craft bourbon. Personally, if I were to spend £65 on a bottle from Wilderness Trail the next time I would probably go for the single barrel to see how it compares, or even better I’d go for the barrel proof wheated bourbon pick that was done by the British Bourbon Society for £65 – absolute bargain!