2019 – New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon ‘Diamond In The Riff’
As you know, if you didn’t miss my sort of but not really cryptic posting two weeks ago, myself and the tasting panel made our way to New Riff to taste and select the 2019 r/Bourbon single barrel. The trip was informative, exciting and successful.
Like any college educated person, and any non-college educated person, knows: you need a good breakfast before drinking. We picked the best. We then drove right by it and went to Frisch’s Big Boy. There was no regret. After greasing up, we meandered 390 yards over to New Riff. Most of us drove. One of us understood that cardio is imperative before drinking. Smart dude. He walked. Seven minutes later, we met up. Once there, we swapped some stuff in the parking lot. We definitely didn’t drink some warmup rye in the parking lot. I won’t tell if you all won’t.
We got a tour beforehand while the facilities are empty, and our guides Alina and Odetta were both equal parts great personalities, and knowledgable guides. The cats were great, too. They didn’t offer much in the way of information, though.
New Riff is built in The Party Source parking lot for no other reason alone than convenience. After the owner decided he needed a new challenge, he elected to sell TPS to its employees (law dictates you can’t control production and retail in KY) and start New Riff. He didn’t claim to be some master distiller, he was going to be riffing on something that had been done for hundreds of years. Cool dude, I guess. I’d probably drink with him. (Definitely)
This worked well for the distillery when they realized after breaking ground that a local aquefer was less than a hundred feet away. You can see that Magnificient Bastard from the roof of New Riff.
They offered to let us do all manner of weird shit in the photo department, but we all said pass.
From there we visited fermentation, which is done in open air. Pretty interesting. They let the local KY yeasts float on in to join their house yeasts. The doors have locks to keep the Cincinatti yeast out.
Bourbon and Rye are both fermented here. They were only fermenting their bourbon at that time. We all got to stick our fingers in. Kinda cool. The panel had 11 members, but we threw one in. The panel now had 10 members. Still plenty.
From there we checked out their rickhouses. They have several. Some are new, some are old. The area is swampy, and they didn’t like how things worked out for castles in Monty Python, so for their largest racking house, they built a monolithic concrete pad to build atop of. Truly gigantic. Maturing was bourbon, rye, some experimental stuff. Balboa rye, 100% malted rye, some new mash bills, all sorts of stuff. Barrels everywhere. The building creaked a bit while we were in it, which was uniquely authentic. We moved along after that.
From here, we moved on to tasting. We were given a list of 21 barrels to choose from. Based on what they sounded like (some notes were laid out ahead of time based on recent tastes from staff) we picked 5 barrels that sounded interesting. There were a number of short barrels, like really short barrels, but we elected to pass on those. Demand based on signup is almost 500% of a full barrel yield, so we wanted as few people to miss out as possible. Each of us was allowed to thieve from the barrel using the giant metal
schlong valinch which was great fun and encouraged no off color humor at all.
Once enough spirit was taken from each cask, things got fun. Alina and Odetta took all 5 samples, blinded them and led us to the tasting lair. I say lair because it had everything a lair needs. White board, good lighting, snacks, seating, and a sound system. Our resident DJ ought to have been impeached given his selected soundtrack falling mostly in the 80’s, but bad music beats no music. We soldiered on. We took roughly an hour and a half to two hours to deliberate, sample, and finally work out a blind winner. Given some tasters being more vocal than others, blind selection of the winner was imperative. In fact, a sample we considered passing on won in the end due to love from the quieter majority.
So, a little about the samples. We thieved from 5 samples, and were pleased that of the 5 samples, 3 were excellent. We picked barrels to start with based on the sheet given to us by the staff, and picked some with notes that looked interesting. Here are their staff notes synopsis. We picked a couple for the sheer interesting qualities they supposedly exhibited, as well as some more standard profiles.
|Barrel #||Barreling Date||Staff Notes|
|15-4878||9/4/15||Scents of fresh tobacco, red fruits, citrus and mint lead to a palate of a dark red wine with a rich, spicy finish|
|15-5308||10/6/15||Full of baking spices, brown sugar, plum and the subtlest touch of smoke leading into flavors of oak, cinnamon stick and dark berries|
|15-5250||10/5/15||Scents of of extra ripe red fruits and custard lead into a fruity mouthful with hints of tobacco and a leathery finish|
|15-5397||10/12/15||Decadent caramel nose with a whiff of mint and citrus zest. Creamy caramel chew, bright oak and a pleasant rounded rye spice fill out the palate|
|15-5817||10/30/15||Fresh cut wood and rye spice on the nose. Flavors of clove and pipe tobacco, with subtle fruit sweetness.|
Initially, 1 was disqualified. After just a few mintues of sniffing and tasting, everyone was unanimously in favor of removing it. It was hot, astringent, weirdly oaky, with a muted nose and palate. Not a winner. This brought us down to 4 samples remaining. Quite a bit of time passed as everyone dug in. I took a couple minutes now and then to sort of bring the group to a check point, get some initial thoughts about the remaining samples, talk about profile, etc.
Sample Two was interesting overall – it was an incredible nose, but with a more traditional palate. A bit of heat. Astringent. Also not a favorite among the majority. Removing it left us with three samples, one of which would be our winner.
Sample Three was a fruity, bright, effervescent bourbon. Sample Four was very traditional: oak, vanilla, brown sugar, all spice. Great oak structure for the youth. Sample Five was viscous, loaded with pipe tobacco, oak and baking spice. With these three blinded, the group voted 2, 4 and 4 votes with a tie between 4 and 5. With 3 removed, and just blinded between 4 and 5, 5 was a hefty winner. I loved this sample and can’t wait for it to be bottled.
From the pool of notes, some of the most predominant details everyone took down were that Sample 5 was rich on the nose, a bit hot, but filled with vanilla, rye spice and tobacco. Fresh cut wood, sweet caramel and light spice were present. I got a nice pipe tobacco note that was surprising given the overall youth of New Riff’s distillate. Well worth the trade off in the ethanol department.
The palate was pretty viscous, some heat, but well restrained. Leather, tobacco and caramel played well with baking spice, some oak and a good deal of creme brulee.
A long warm finish left things in good shape – heavy again on a creamy oak, baking spice and tobacco profile. Some likened it to a younger BP rye. All good things with the tradeoff of some heat.
Overall, I’m happy we picked this sample. It’s a blend of a very traditional bourbon and something a little more interesting. At the cost of a little heat, we gain things I wasn’t expecting to find like pipe tobacco and subtle oak. It’s worth noting that there was a huge variety in profile, and I’ll bet there’s even more out there since this was just from 5 barrels.
At the end of the day, our greatest criteria for removing something from final 3 contention was “would you buy this” and if individuals said no then off it went. I would have been happy with all 3 finalists, and we all were in agreement that we’d buy it if given the opportunity. That’s a good yardstick for success to me. This isn’t the profile of 1970’s Stitzel Weller. To borrow the words of a friend, we didn’t Indiana Jones our way through the rickhouse trying 500 barrels and finding the best hidden honey barrel. Of our available pool, we narrowed down to several barrels we’d be more than happy to pay for and then found the best of those three. I’m confident that this will be reflected in the opinions of most, if not all, who are able to pick one of these up as well.
After tasting our samples and picking the barrel, we tried some other goodies thanks to New Riff’s generosity. Their Balboa rye was really powerful and interesting, although I thought there was a bit too much going on in there. Alternatively, we tried their malted rye and that was incredible. Hopefully that comes to be available at some point.
FIll Date: 10.30.2015
Entry Proof: 110pf
Cooperage: RC, 53gal
Lot Number: 15J30