The American Midwest has more than its fair share of startup craft distillers, with a robust overview of current trends provided here by Alexandra. I’ve previously reviewed offerings from Chicago Distilling, FEW, J. Henry & Sons, and Journeyman, with mixed results. Today, I submit for your consideration the Quincy Street Distillery.
Quincy Street is located in Riverside, IL, which is between 30 minutes and two hours west-by-southwest of Chicago, depending on traffic. As with so many others, they distil a distractingly wide range of spirits, including (alphabetically) absinthe, genever, gin, rye, vodka, whiskey, white whiskey [shudder] and some exotic concoctions of distilled persimmons, wild honey, and mead.
This is where the similarity with other startup craft distilleries ends. Quincy Street is the brainchild of Derrick Mancini, a physics professor who has devoted the powers of his substantial intellect to the creation of whiskies with intense historicity.
I use the term historicity instead of history because history is cheap. History is urban legends, tales told at grandpa’s knee, Apocrypha, and a big steaming side dish of bullshit. Craft distilling is full of it, and it makes no difference to the quality of the liquid in the bottle. Mr. Mancini, by way of contrast, has diligently studied traditional production methods. Quincy Street endeavors – as much as possible – to re-create a spirit like those made in the early part of the 19thcentury, when Illinois was one of the larger producers of Bourbon.
In practice, this starts with Yellow Hard Dent corn (83% of the mash bill), the majority of which comes from Illinois. Briess of Wisconsin provides malted barley and malted rye. These are sweet mashed, with a secondary sour mashing. Fermentation takes place over four days, and all the distillation is done in a comparatively tiny 60-gallon copper pot still. Heart cuts are narrow, with an emphasis towards the head, to capture more of the floral and ester qualities that Derrick prizes in a Bourbon (he describes himself as a Maker’s Mark enthusiast). Maturation takes place in 53-gallon #3 char barrels from Missouri’s Independent Stave, stored on-site at the distillery.
Talking to Derrick Mancini is a convincing refutation of the hypothesis that modern craft distilling is a rogue’s game full of incompetent opportunists capitalizing on the mixology boom. He has educated himself in the finer points of whiskey production and is committed to producing something different (and better) than that offered by the large Bourbon distilleries. In the pursuit of this goal, his team has produced the singularly delightful subject of today’s review.
For my introduction to Quincy Street, I picked up a bottle of their barrel strength Laughton Bros. Illinois Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This is named after David and Barnabas Laughton, two fur traders who established a tavern on the Des Plaines River near the current town of Riverside. Though the standard 45.5% bottling is available for $45, I was enticed by this barrel strength half bottle at a bit more than twice that price, scaled up to full size.
This is an Illinois Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged two years, bottled at 57.5%. I paid $50 for a 375 ml, though I am informed that this will be selling for closer to $40 going forward.
Quincy Street Distillery Laughton Bros. Barrel Strength Bourbon – review
Color: Candlelight Orange – Pantone 137.
On the nose: An enticing topnote of sugary buttercream. Baking spice, ester, freshly-trimmed hedge, some fruity tones of kumquat and mandarin oranges. Cinnamon stick and a salutary peppery spiciness, despite the relatively low rye content in the mash bill.
In the mouth: Starts with a little sweet vanilla oakiness. The midpalate has another touch of cinnamon, a pretty floral flavor of roses, and more tart citric fruitiness showing through the alcoholic heat. Some lovely lingering flavors of candied cherries and additional floral notes persist through the exceedingly long finish, re-blooming against an emergent saline note that grips the back of the tongue and won’t let go.
This is excellent; it marries purity and depth, intensity and balance. Whereas some of the cult Bourbons (pick your favorite Dutch-named, Buffalo Trace-owned distiller) are mired in their weighty density, this trips the light fantastic at the higher end of the register. It’s the “An der schönen blauen Donau” to others’ Fifth Symphony. Any misgivings I had about spending the equivalent of $100 for a 750 ml of two-year-old Bourbon disappeared as soon as I opened it. A benchmark for craft Bourbon distillers all over this land.