I love a recommendation, directly or indirectly.
Sometimes (far too seldom for my liking) a reader will reach out and offer one, at which point I feel duty-bound to procure and taste a bottle. Other times someone will mention a favorite or distinguished distillery in passing (or, contrariwise, one to avoid). Occasionally I write these down and remember to investigate later; mostly they drift off into the mists of forgetfulness.
Thus I found myself in a store, holding a bottle of Starlight Distillery rye whiskey in complete befuddlement. I know I had heard about this before, but from whom? Was I recommended this, or warned off it? Unable to gather my bearings, I considered my recent resolution to drink more rye and the fact that this whiskey was marked down, and I took the plunge.
Some remedial research reminded me that Alexandra had mentioned Starlight as “distilling a bourbon that Hoosiers can truly be proud of.” Exhaling a sigh of relief, I started researching the distillery and the Huber family in earnest.
The Starlight Distillery is located in Starlight, Indiana, a short 30-minute drive from Louisville, Kentucky. Simon Huber emigrated from Germany in 1843, starting an 80-acre farm that now encompasses 750 acres. The Hubers are the largest producer of grapes in Indiana, with more than 400,000 pounds annually, and have long been making wine with an eye cast backwards towards their forebears in the Mosel.
Christian Huber, a seventh-generation winemaker and distiller, kindly spared some time to discuss more details about this whiskey and the distillery.
Harkening back to the historical production of brandy by their forebears, the Hubers opened a distillery in 2001. With the goal of becoming a true grain-to-glass distillery, the family taught themselves to farm corn and rye, with malted barley sourced from Briess of Wisconsin. A sweet mash and a 5-6 day fermentation are undertaken before the wort hits the stills.
The family installed two stills: an 80-gallon copper pot still from Kothe, and a 500-gallon copper pot still from Vendome. Both stills have a large onion and a very long neck, and the cuts are comparatively narrow. The team now produces bourbon and rye whiskies, along with gin, rum, vodka, brandy, and a number of fruity liqueurs.
The family’s income streams from winemaking and other distillation cross-subsidize the distillery, meaning that the Hubers have been able to sit back and wait for full-sized 53-gallon barrels to mature for three years or more. They’re free of the financial constraints that force other craft distillers to source whiskey from elsewhere in order to establish a brand name.
The bottle being reviewed today is a Binny’s store pick, a format that has gotten a decent amount of coverage here on MALT. Alexandra’s comprehensive piece is always worth a read, and I have traipsed around Chicago reviewing picks from Fountainhead (for better and worse) and GNS Market.
This is an Indiana straight rye whiskey, aged three years. This barrel (#1351) came off the 80 gallon Kothe still in 2013, with a mash bill of 85% straight rye and 15% malted rye. It was matured in a “Cooper’s Select” barrel from Independent Stave. The staves were air dried for 2-3 years, and it has a “craft artisan distiller’s char.”
It was bottled at cask strength of 114.4 proof (57.2% ABV) in 2016. Retail price is $55; I got it on sale for $40.
Starlight Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey Binny’s Store Pick – Review
Color: Dark auburn
On the nose: Densely aromatic. Hot links, muddled mint, burnished brass, leather armchair. A pouch of Virginia tobacco and some smoked cheddar cheese. Some green stalks emerge with a bit of aeration.
In the mouth: Starts with macerated cherries. A tart burst of red fruit emerges at midpalate, underpinned by a subtle meaty and smoky flavor of beef brisket. This lingers long with a stony note, vacillating into the periodic re-emergence of the macerated cherry flavor. Throughout, this has a gentle burn of alcohol that tips over into a piquantly floral flavor, and then into a reprise of the nose’s stalky, tannic green note. A shapeshifter, both texturally and in terms of the flavors, which metamorphose into and out of one another.
Fulsome, yet hard-edged. I loved the rich fruitiness of this, especially as it was punctuated by some more savory notes. However, time in the glass and a few drops of water brought out the more bitter vegetative notes that knocked this slightly out of balance for me. I might be slightly less forgiving at the undiscounted retail price but, for the price I paid, this is a solid craft rye (on par with the better examples of this genre) that makes me want to try other expressions from this distillery, especially as the age creeps upwards.