Established in 1872, the same year as its namesake National Park, the Yellowstone Bourbon brand can trace its roots back to two of the most prestigious distilling families in the US – the Beams and the Dants. First produced by J. Bernard Dant at his ‘Cold Springs’ Distillery for Louisville whiskey broker Taylor and Williams, Dant eventually purchased the brokerage and merged it with his distillery, creating the Yellowstone Distillery. In 1910 Dant purchased the Minor Case Beam Distillery that was down the railroad line from his long-time friend and began making Yellowstone at both Gethsemane distilleries with Dant’s and Minor Case’s sons both working in each other’s distilleries. Like so many other distilleries, Prohibition meant both were shuttered and Beam’s son went on to produce bourbon in Canada whilst Dant’s son became President of Yellowstone and licensed the brand to Brown Forman to sell during Prohibition. After Prohibition, Mike Dant built a large plant in Louisville, which was eventually sold to Glenmore in 1944, but continued to produce Yellowstone which became the best-selling bourbon in Kentucky in the 1970’s. As demand for bourbon fell the distillery was then sold to United Distillers who became Diageo and closed the distillery and sold the brands in 1993. The brand was sold to the David Sherman Company (now Luxco) and became a mass-produced non-distiller producer brand.
The Limestone Branch Distillery was founded in 2010, by brothers Stephen and Paul Beam. Tracing their heritage directly through seven generations of Beam distillers beginning with the Jacob ‘Jim’ on their father’s side, and also through the Dants on their mother’s side, distilling was in their blood and so breaking ground just a stone’s throw away from where their ancestors had distilled generations ago was a historic moment. With their first spirits run in 2011, Limestone Branch started by selling moonshine whilst their bourbon stocks aged and in 2012 were one of the founding members of the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail. In 2015 they became partners with Luxco and under this deal the Yellowstone brand returned to the family after 70 years. At this time Limestone Branch also started using an heirloom white corn in their distillation and were even able to swab a yeast jug that was owned by Minor Case and Guy Beam to get the original yeast strain that they had used to produce Yellowstone bourbon. Today the distillery produces approximately 40 barrels a month from a mash bill of 75% corn 13% rye and 12% malt, doing 600 gallon open-top fermentations, and using a 600-gallon stripping pot still and 150-gallon alembic pot still. Currently the stocks used in their Yellowstone line of bourbons and Minor Case Rye expression are sourced through Luxco before being finished and blended at the distillery in Lebanon. Plans for their own whiskey to be released as a 6 year-old Bottled-in-Bond are set for mid- 2021, with a wheated bourbon made using old family notes set for release around 2025. The current Limestone Branch portfolio consists of Yellowstone Select bourbon, an annual release of Yellowstone Limited Edition, Minor Case rye whiskey, and Bowling & Burch gin.
Introduced in February of 2017, Minor Case Rye is flagship rye whiskey of the Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, KY. Another historic brand for the distillery, it pays tribute to the legacy of Paul and Steve Beam’s great-grandfather Minor Case Beam whose speciality whiskey out of his namesake distillery was rye whiskey. Featuring a ‘Kentucky-style’ mash bill of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley, this 2 year old straight rye whiskey is sourced from MGP in Indiana before being aged in Sherry casks from Meier’s Winery, which held their award winning #44 Cream Sherry, in the Limestone Branch warehouses for a period of approximately 8 months. To date, rye whiskies finished in sherry casks are a relatively rare thing, and even rarer when the casks aren’t from European producers but American producers. In fact, it seems Minor Case Rye is the only rye whiskey that’s solely finished in US sherry casks and this is no doubt to distinguish it from both competitors in the rye whiskey category and the smaller sherry-finished rye whiskey category. Let’s see how it has turned out as a result!
Name: Minor Case Rye
Age: No age statement (features a 2y.o. rye finished for approximately 8 months)
Proof: 90 Proof (45% ABV)
Type: Straight rye whiskey finished in American sherry casks
Mashbill: 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley
Producer: Limestone Branch Distillery (Sourced stocks from MGPI)
Nose: The nose is subtle at first, opening with buttery corn and young rye grain alongside sweet fruit and floral notes. As you nose deeper there’s more earthy rye, dark fruits, creamy sherry, and charred oak notes emerge.
Palate: The palate opens with syrupy corn sweetness and light caramel before notes of earthy peppery rye, tingling spice, sweet red fruit, and soft sherry notes emerge.
Finish: The finish opens with residual viscosity from the palate which fades to peppery rye which dries out the tongue and leaves an aftertaste of rye and sherry wine.
As far as young rye whiskies go this is absolutely delicious! Instead of being aggressive and grain forward with that signature pine sap note of young oak barrels it’s light and flavourful whilst also being robust and spicy. Each element from the grains to the sherry casks have their role to play in the overall experience, with each doing so diligently and with an overall focus on flavour. At no point does either the sherry or the rye overwhelm the palate, instead they compliment each other beautifully with the result being a complex and flavourful rye whiskey that drinks like silk.
This is a great everyday rye whiskey that lovers of Kentucky-style rye won’t want to miss out on. Personally, I think this whiskey is a great example of this style of rye with it’s minimal rye spice and viscous corn undertones which gives the drinker a rye whiskey that’s soft to the palate but still has enough rye backbone that it’s robust and packed with rye-driven flavours. What sets this apart from other Kentucky-style rye whiskies I’ve tasted is the influence that those American Sherry barrels have had on the final product also, adding notes and complexities that advances this whiskey beyond its years. The Beams and the team at Limestone Branch have created a wonderful every day drinker with this whiskey. Sure, it’s still a sourced product but that hasn’t stopped them from bending it to their target flavour profile and doing something unique with it.
Try or Buy?
Minor Case rye is currently available for in or around $/£50. At this price it is competing against some big names in the rye category, however, it certainly stands its ground in terms of flavour and complexity. In my opinion it’s definitely worth having on the shelf as an easy drinker. This would also be a great introduction rye whiskey for budding enthusiasts or those who are fans of Scotch whiskies and looking to expand their horizons.