Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I was dreading this review.

While some of you may savor the thrill of anticipation, it makes me feel like vomiting. “He gives twice who gives quickly” is a maxim that gets my most heartfelt endorsement. I simply can’t stand to wait. Yet wait I had to, and doubly so! The first waiting period was for the release of this inaugural bourbon from Peerless, which finally emerged in June of this year. Predictably it flew off the shelves, resulting in another waiting period before I was able to actually find a bottle at retail. Nearly four months on (it felt like much longer) I finally spied my quarry at one of Chicago’s finer whiskey purveyors. I gladly parted with eight sawbucks and prepared to embark on an appraisal of this desired dram.

This is where the dread once again creeps in. I so badly want this to be good… nay, better, given the time and energy I have invested in apprehending it. Furthermore, I have the preconception that Peerless is doing things properly – ensuring integrity of ingredients and production processes and taking their time with maturation – which are partly the cause of the relatively high price tag on this bottle. It would be a shame, in my eyes, if all this effort were for naught.

However, I’m duty bound to preserve my independence and objectivity, lest I shovel more coal into the hype locomotive that drives so much of bourbon nowadays. I’ll do my best to be on guard for sentimental or emotional swaying of my perceptions. Wish me luck.

Before I take the plunge, though, I’ll “treat” you to the obligatory history lesson that marks the entrant of a new distillery or expression into the MALT corpus. The first whiskey called “Peerless” was produced in Henderson, Kentucky in 1881, by E.W. Worsham & Co. The distillery was purchased by plucky upstart (a reliable cliché in whiskey) Henry Kraver in 1889, who counted saloon-keeper and tobacconist among his other professional appellations.

A series of expansions continued until 1907, when the enterprise was reincorporated as the “Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company.” You’ll realize by now that this company is walking face-first into a chainsaw named “Prohibition.” The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 caused the shutdown of the Kentucky Peerless distillery. Astoundingly, in 1925 the original stills were dismantled and re-assembled in Vancouver BC, of all places. Thus, “Peerless” as an economic concern began a nearly 90-year slumber. Kraver himself passed in 1938.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Corky and Carson Taylor (Kraver’s grandson and great-grandson, respectively) began the restoration of a 115-year-old building in Louisville. Using the same Distilled Spirits Plant Number (DSP-KY-50) as the original Peerless distillery, the Taylors and Master Distiller Caleb Kilburn filled their first barrel in March of 2015. The initial batch of rye whiskey was released in April 2017, in a distinctively-designed flanged cylindrical bottle.

The Taylors thence met with all type of fanfare, with that rye whiskey named to those annual lists of “top whisky in the world” and “top rye whiskey” that, while indubitably good for business, set eyebrows arching here on MALT. Doing their own due diligence, Mark and Adam tag teamed for a review of the rye which seemed very much to their liking, albeit a bit expensive.

On the strength of the rye, anticipation rose steadily ahead of the release of the company’s first bourbon, as noted above. The June 22nd release date saw the distillery’s entire stock sell out by closing time. From a limited retail release in the state of Kentucky, bottles slowly began making their way across the country. After five long months, I laid hands on the bottle which I will now review for you.

First, though, I had the special treat of chatting with the man who distilled this. Caleb Kilburn generously spared some time for a phone conversation with me, reproduced here (condensed and edited for clarity):

MALT: How did you get your start?
Caleb: I grew up on a small family-owned dairy farm in eastern Kentucky. I grew up around a lot of mechanical systems. When I went to school, I was fascinated by the sciences – physics, biology, chemistry, even math. When I went to college, I was setting the groundwork to where I could major in either one of them. That’s why I became interested in the topic of distilling, because it utilizes each of these sciences to such an interesting depth.

When you talk about the processes of cooking from grain to sugar, and then fermenting from sugar to alcohol, and all the physical and chemical properties that you can exploit during the distillation process to make sure you take out the flavors that you don’t want and collect the flavors that you do want, it’s fascinating.

I started reading every internet article, every book, watching every video I could watch on YouTube. Any way that I could research it, I would. I started going out and taking distillery tours. I’d be asking questions that were too deep for tour groups, but luckily I had patient tour guides that were willing to find someone to answer questions. It came to the point of obsession.

In 2013, while I was still in school, I attended a course at Moonshine University for distillers. Through that course, I was able to work my way into an apprenticeship position with some people who actually taught the course and different industry leaders, equipment manufacturers. The actual consultants who were teaching the course were ex-distillery guys; a combination of knowledge, training, mechanical sense. People that were a blessing to me.

For the next year I was able to shadow under each of them; learn as they would work on different projects. In Summer 2014 they recommended that I meet with Carson and Corky Taylor of the new Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company. This is while I was still in school. I still had one semester left. In May 2014 I met with Carson and Corky and agreed to come on board. Not as a distiller; I didn’t have any perspective that it would turn into anything real. It was just an educational opportunity that my mentors had arranged.

I quickly started taking on responsibility everywhere I could as far as mechanical installation: boilers, chillers, process piping, the actual process equipment itself. I kept snatching up opportunity after opportunity, even as I went back to school for that last semester, which was two hours away from the distillery. I would go to school Monday to Thursday, “flying by wire” with the different mechanical contractors via phone, text, email, whatever. I’d be on job site on Friday; if I needed to get ahead of people I’d come in on Saturday, too.

It was a busy fall, balancing the last bit of my senior year with that. I graduated on a Saturday and was in Louisville full time on Monday. We just kept movin’ and shakin’. Once we got around to March of 2015: at that point I was the head distiller. I was the person who was going to be managing and running production. Over the course of that last semester I taught myself how to program the Siemens PLC that runs the plant. I had to practice a little bit of electrical engineering to get the plant up and running.

March 4th of 2015, we distilled our first barrel of Kentucky Peerless in 98 years. I’ll be honest: a lot of us cried. I know I was crying. It was a big moment for us. We had worked so hard to get the plant up and going. It was a special day. That’s how I came to be the head distiller at Peerless.

I believe it was three and a half years after that first barrel… that would have been the end of 2018, at the company’s Christmas party. We were getting ready to go accept the award for Global Craft Producer of the Year for 2019, based on work we had done in 2018. We had won the #15 whiskey in the world, being the top-ranked rye, in the 2017 ranking of Whisky Advocate, as a 2-year-old rye. As a 3-year-old rye we were Forbes’ #4 American whiskey, beating out some really well-respected big names. We had quickly rose to prominence within the field. Based on Peerless’ success, that was when Carson and Corky – against my humility – decided to go ahead and promote me to the title of Master Distiller.

MALT: When you first sat down to decide to make a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, what was the discussion like? What did you want to do the same or differently from others?
Caleb: One of the things I love about my route coming up within the industry was that I became a student of the industry. When I was going around touring the different distilleries, meeting with the different distillers and cookers, I was able see what went into making each product that product. Whether it be Wild Turkey; the fact that they use a very low distillation proof, a low barrel-entry proof. Or the fact that Maker’s does a low barrel-entry proof. Or the way they do their cuts at this distillery, or the way they run their control scheme at that one. I was able to pick up things that I liked and disliked about each product, as well as figuring out what went into making those.

So, for instance, if I came across one where I really liked the way that they distilled, or the way they made cuts, but I didn’t like what they did with the barrel, or I didn’t like what they did with the bottle, I would promote the practices that I thought would be beneficial, and I blackballed the ones that I thought were counterproductive. Coming into Peerless, I had a mental list of all these different practices that I thought made sense and were good, and I had ones that I disliked.

Carson and Corky really trusted me and left it up to me to set up the mash bills and production processes that I felt would make the best whiskey possible. Now, that doesn’t mean that from square one we had every bit of it figured out, but a lot of the principles that I sought to capitalize on, they’re very deeply ingrained in our product.

MALT: Speaking of mash bill, what is it?
Caleb: The specific mash bill is one thing that we aren’t willing to share. We’re pretty open about just about any other numbers within our facility, but when you get into the mash bill: those are the numbers that are the blueprint of our product. Those, we want to keep our eye on.
MALT: I have heard that it is 10-20% rye and 9-15% barley. Is that about right?
Caleb: That is very fair.

MALT: Where do you source your grain?
Caleb: We get our grains through Consolidate Grain and Barge in downtown Louisville. The are experienced acquires and handlers of distillery grade corn and we are proud to support our local granary.

MALT: Tell me about sweet mash fermentation?
Caleb: To understand sweet mash, first you have to understand sour mash. It’s the industry standard, it’s the basis for how it all goes. The reason that it’s that basis is that coming out of Prohibition, that was the technology that everything was standardized on. Considering that most of these distilleries have had the primary objective of maintaining their status, their profile, their flavors, since they’ve been in continuous production since then, it only makes sense that they wouldn’t just up and change. The reason some of the them have stuck with it is just that: they’ve stuck with it.

If you look back pre-Prohibition, when sour mash was established as the industry standard, you’re talking about an era before the modern understanding of microorganisms. That’s before we had the complex understanding of yeast, and the fact that it actually was an ingredient, and how it interacted and how it worked in this process.

When you look back then, pretty much everything was based on trial and error. It was based on strictly empirical results; what worked and what didn’t work within the facility. They knew that if they were to take fresh corn, fresh rye, fresh barley and cook it in a certain way they could get a sweet, sugary mash. But left to its own devices, without a pinch of yeast or anything to serve as a starter, it would spoil relatively quickly. Native bacteria, native things that would still be within the container, within the atmosphere, within the crevices of the vessel, it wouldn’t be a clean, contamination-free start.

What would wind up happening: it would spoil, it would go horribly awry, it would taste terrible. It was no way to make good spirits back then. So the way they were able to compensate and overcome that is they would take a piece of a prior active fermenter, and they would use it as starter for the next one. So now you are pitching yeast, and in addition to pitching the yeast, it’s going to provide acidity to the next batch. That acidic environment is going to help favor yeast and downplay the bacteria, the different contaminants that are going to be creating these off notes. Even though contamination is still going to be present, you’re helping favor the yeast over the bacteria. That acidity makes it harder for the bacteria to make a significant contribution. 150 years ago, using a sour mash produced a more consistent product with consistent flavors. Sure, there was a little contamination, but it was nothing major because the sour nature of it helps contain that.

The workaround there is you distill at a slightly higher proof. The higher the proof you distill at, the more neutral, the less flavor you’re going to have in the distillate. That leaves behind a lot of the flavoring components. In this case, since we’re talking about a negative flavor component, stripping it out makes sense. Instead of distilling around 130 proof, they’ll push it up around 140-145; it holds that note in check, but there is some collateral damage. It does strip out a little bit more grain character, a little bit more fruitiness, and it strips out a little bit more of that floral nature.

But again, it makes really good whiskey. It’s a way that has been consistent. They used it before Prohibition, coming out of Prohibition they started to use it, and that has been what the industry has standardized on because they know it works, it’s consistent, and it’s going to be that industry flavor profile that they’ve been trying to maintain since way back when.

Now, as a new distillery – one that’s not maintaining the status quo but one which is looking to make its own identity, its own footprint – we can step back and look at all the technology we have available to us. I can look at our distillery, our setup built of stainless steel vessels that aren’t going to have the crevices, the cracks, that are going to be capable of being steam cleaned in-between every use, effectively omitting any contaminant sources for the next batch. We have state-of-the-art facilities that are able to provide really good, stable yeast strains to us that are all going to be first generation: clean, free of contamination, that are going to provide a fresh start every single time without having to worry about that spoilage from an excessively long startup.

We can pull off a sweet mash today. Sure, it’s going to cost us a little bit more because we’re not having that benefit from the stillage. Yes, we have to spend some more man-hours on cleaning. But we can pull off the same degree of fermentation with an even higher level of sanitation, and we can pull off that sweet mash.

All that’s fine and dandy, but here’s where it gets good: when you go to distill a sweet mash, you don’t have that one note that you’re having to distill out. Because I don’t have to distill that out, I can lower my distillation proof, and pull it down to a lower proof point, which means that I’m able to capitalize on those notes that would have been cut out otherwise. That’s why – when you taste our bourbon or our rye – it has a lot of floral characteristics. It has a lot of fruit, it has a lot of sweetness, and it has an excellent mouthfeel.

If I distill at a high proof, I have to add more water to it to get it down and get it into the barrel. You’re stripping more flavor on the way up, but you have to add more water on the way down. By using a sweet mash I can distill at a lower proof, get a lot more mash bill, get a lot more flavor, get a lot more character, add much less water to get it down and into the barrel.

MALT: How long are fermentation times?
Caleb: Generally, from 3-6 days.

MALT: Tell me about the distillation setup.
Caleb: We have a 26-foot Vendome Copper and Brass Works column that handles stripping the distillate away from the beer. From there we take it around to the doubler – which is a small pot still – where we do our final distillation. That’s where we’re able to make the most crucial cut: between the good flavors that we want to make it into the product, and the flavors that are less than ideal, that we want to send to the recycling tank to start the process over again.

Everyone hears heads, hearts, and tails, and they assume that heads is all methanol, and it’s absolutely terrible, and they assume that tails is all propanol and butanol and harsh oils and organic acids, and it’s actually not the case. The vast majority of components is going to be – on the front end – ethanol and water. At the end it swaps places where water is the primary and ethanol is the secondary.

A few bad apples ruin the bushel; you’ll have just trace amounts of acetone and methanol and things that very harsh and are very off-putting, that can effectively take that portion of the distillation out of consideration for human consideration. Not from an “I’m going to go blind” perspective, but from the perspective of “it’s not pleasing to the palate.” We can collect those discarded products, pump them back to the beer well, and that gives us an opportunity to re-distill it and get the good away from the bad.

MALT: Are your cuts broader or narrower, or more tilted toward heads or tails?
Caleb: Because a column works continuously, I am getting the full spectrum of beer at any given moment. Because of that, I can’t separate based on time; I have to separate based on temperature. Heads are going to be removed; they’re not going to be collected, they’re not going to be condensed.

On the tails side, when it enters the doubler, I’m only going to hit it hot enough to where the hearts boil off and leave the tails behind. This is where that sweet mash vs. sour mash comes into play. That note that I dislike in a final product that comes from sour mashing, that would be within the tails portion. That makes it a narrower band as far as what you can collect, and as a result you have a less complex, less diverse set of flavors coming from it.

By omitting that, I am able to expand that tails cut, dip a little bit lower to get a little bit more grain character, a little bit more floral, and sweetness and mouthfeel as well. So, that’s where the tails cut pushes down from distilling at 145 on the final product all the way down to 130. When you have that big of a decrease in proof, it expands that cut pretty substantially.

MALT: I read that the entry proof for the barrels is 107?
Caleb: That’s correct. We add water prior. When you put alcohol into a barrel, you have to go below 125 proof. That’s the max proof that you can store at, and a lot of people choose to store it at 125 for a simple reason: if I water to proof it any further I’m going to be adding water to the volume, and when I expand the volume, that means I have to buy more barrels. So, storing it as concisely as possible is the efficient way to handle it. It’s almost like you’re working from a concentrate that later you can dilute, and typically that’s what happens. If you make a 125-proof barrel and you dilute it to 80 proof – which is the way the vast majority of distilled product is sold – over a third of that final product is water. It’s easier on handling, it’s easier on storage, it’s a great economic decision.

Our mentality is: when it comes out of that barrel, it’s going to have every bit of flavor, every bit of color, it’s going to be as good as it can possibly be coming out of that barrel. We don’t want to dilute it. We take it to the proof that we feel is going to be right and good before it ever goes into the barrel. Instead of 125, we take it into the barrel at 107. It expands the volume by about 17%, which means we need to buy about 17% more barrels. A pretty substantial cost! But that whiskey is going to mature, that lower proof is going to more effectively pull the sugars and the vanillas – those sweeter notes – out of the wood, while being a less effective solvent for some of the harsher tannins. It helps select the flavors that we want to pull from the oak by using lower barrel-entry proof.

At the end of maturation, we don’t do any adulteration, we don’t do any carbon filtration, we don’t add water. We mingle it in a small batch with a few other barrels; if it’s a single barrel, we take it through just a paper filter to catch the char and send it straight to bottling. There is never any water added after maturation.

MALT: Tell me about barrel sourcing?
Caleb: Because we are a craft and artisan distillery we work with a craft and artisan cooperage. That would be Kelvin Cooperage, about 15 minutes south of us. They source the best wood they can. They actually char the inside of their barrels utilizing a live oak fire rather than infrared or natural gas burners, as a means of making sure that if you char oak with oak, you’re not going to be introducing any foreign materials or flavoring agents that are not native to the wood. They’re local, they’re good people, it’s another family-owned operation. That ensures that we have the best barrels possible to make the best whiskey possible.
MALT: What’s the char level?
Caleb: We use a medium toast underneath with a topical #3 char above that.

MALT: How has the age of the bourbon changed over time?
Caleb: When we first started, we were working with barrels that were in excess of two years. That would have been 2017. The following year we were able to re-assess and move that up to three years. Now, everything is four years and older.

MALT: Where do you mature your barrels?
Caleb: Everything that we’ve released so far has been done with the barrels that have been stored on site. We do have barrels that are stored outside of our facility here, and that’s based solely on the fact that we have finite space. Carson and Corky had enough barrel slots for us to work through for a year and a half, and I think we had that jam packed within about 12 months. We accelerated how fast they wanted to have everything full. We do have a rickhouse where we can store 5,000 barrels; we’re not too far away from starting another one. The only thing that happens outside this building is that. Everything that you get from Peerless or ever will get from Peerless is made in-house.

When we sat down and figured out the product that we wanted to make, first off: no one was making the quality of product that we wanted to sell. It was never an option to go out and buy from anyone else. When people try Peerless products, we want them to know that it was made in house by our people.

MALT: How many barrels typically go into a batch?
Caleb: When we first started out, we were working off of six-barrel batches. The way I would construct those, a lot of people think you want to grab a bunch of barrels that all taste the same. In my opinion, I actually prefer to find ones that are different, and complex, and complementary. If I pick barrels that all taste the same, I’m going to have one portion of the flavor wheel very well developed, but it’s not going to have a whole lot of depth.

Instead, I like to have very diverse notes, very diverse barrels. I try to build a diverse base of barrels to make a diverse product that’s going to have representation from all around the flavor wheel; ones that are fruity, ones that are sweet and spicy and oaky. Just keep working my way around and find ones that I think are going to make a good batch.

Currently, we have had to move that [batch size] up. I think the biggest one we’ve ever had on the books to date was a 20-barrel batch. That was when we were really under the gun to get a lot processed in a relatively short period of time. Using the larger mingle actually helped me to round off the flavor profile a little bit better.

MALT:: How has age trended over time?
Caleb: We started out with two [years], we worked to three, and now everything we do from here on out is already four and up. The beauty of four and up, at that point the age statement comes off of the bottle and it gives me a lot more flexibility with barrels that are not restricted to such a narrow time band. I can find barrels that are five that are going to add a little bit more depth, a little more complexity. When I have barrels that are six, those will go into the batch. Seven, those will go into the batch. What I’ll be able to do is pick barrels from different years rather than having to abide by such a narrow time frame. The more flexibility I have in selecting barrels, the better the product is going to get.

MALT: I’ve got this bottle with a code that says 150617107. Can you help me decode that?
Caleb: Whenever you look at the front label, that serial number that’s on the far right, that is going to tell you the day the eldest barrel in the batch was distilled. The serial number tells you when the barrel was distilled and which number barrel it was within that filling. 150617107 tells me from the first two digits that this was distilled in 2015, next two digits tell me that it was distilled in June. Next two, it was June 17th. It was the first round of barrels from that day, and it was the seventh barrel filled. And that was the eldest barrel in that batch.
MALT: From that I should read this this is roughly four years old?
Caleb: Yep.

MALT: Where does Peerless go from here?
Caleb: The biggest place I have to go is into more states and to actually be able to take care of the states that we have. We have been blessed with a phenomenal demand. We’ve had a lot more than I was prepared for.

To give you an example: when we first released our bourbon, we had some 2,000 bottles on site. We were expecting that to last us two or three weeks. We thought it was going to be ample supply. That Saturday, we sold out. What was supposed to be a multi-week supply was gone in a day. We had people standing in the rain under umbrellas, probably 120 yards worth. 400 people in a single-file line waiting to get into the door. The person that was in the front of the line, he got there at 2:45 A.M., in the rain. God bless him for sticking it out.
MALT: The only surprise to me was that it was a surprise to you!
Caleb: When you start to expect things, to think that what you’ve done entitles you to that reception, or maybe your clout should buy you this: you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you look at people lined up out your front door as something you’re entitled to, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. We were blessed to have every single person in line waiting on us, many of them friends. I had people from back home, about two hours away from here, who came in just to support us on that day. I feel like we’ve earned some respect within the industry, but we don’t take anything for granted.

MALT: I have to ask about pricing, because it was a sticking point for some people on the rye, with a three-figure price tag. What is MSRP, and how will that change over time?
Caleb: When we started out, you would find [the rye] regularly for three digits. But now, as we’ve been able to diversify our portfolio by adding bourbon, by virtue of selling more cases overall you should actually see that price back off some. We’ve done everything on our end, it just takes time for it to flush through the market. Obviously, people who bought it at that higher price, they have to have an opportunity to sell through that. But you should see the price coming down.

You have to make the decision early on as a craft producer if your goal is to put together a “get rich quick” business plan where you’re going to be a 6-month-old distillery selling 6-year-old product, whether you want to go that route, in which case all you really own is a brand name and you’re trading commodities. Buying here, flipping it, selling it, and you’re able to reinvest your sales into more product and move relatively quickly.

Well, there is no “get rich quick” when you actually want to go through: do things the right way, build a distillery, hire people, put barrels away, wait for it to mature, and have your own identity. By virtue of us going to the expense of building a facility, hiring people, putting barrels away. This wasn’t something where there were a hundred-and-some investors. It was 100% family owned. With all that in mind, we did have a significant overhead.

We weren’t setting out to make $100/bottle product. We set out to make the best product we could, as honest as we could, and that’s where the price fell. Like I said, as we’ve grown, as we’ve added more points of distribution, as we’ve added bourbon to our portfolio, you should actually see the price lower. Instead of taking that to the bank, we decided to pass those savings, put less pressure on the consumer.

If you look at the rye, MSRP is $10 higher than the bourbon. It’s coming at that $80-$90 price point, a lot of the time. So you’re talking about a $35 difference compared to what people were selling it for two years ago. So it is substantially cheaper now. This is where the beauty of competition is helping to regulate. As people are becoming aware of the brand, you’re being able to find it in a lot more locations, people are beginning to look and see what other people are pricing it for. Inevitably, what happens is people push down to the correct price.

MALT: Is there anything else that you want our readership to know about Peerless?
Caleb: More than anything, the biggest thing is the sheer amount of passion within Peerless. It’s not something that’s just from myself, the Master Distiller, or from Carson and Corky, the ownership, or a marketing guy. It’s something that really is – from top to bottom – a product of Peerless. It’s why Peerless is what it is as far as the product.

Peerless itself, even though it is a family-owned business, it really is a family, as far as the people who work here. When you come through and you meet the person at the front desk and they greet you: they’re going to be passionate about making sure you have an excellent experience. When you come through and you’re talking to the guy who’s cooking, he lays in bed thinking about how he can do his job better, to make a better product. When you talk to the distillers, everyone here has fully bought in to making things as good as we can.

Sincere thanks to Caleb for the abundant detail he was able to provide. I hope this gives you, dear reader, a sense of the intense commitment of the folks who produced this whiskey. It goes a long way toward explaining why people were so excited about it. As always, though, the proof will be in the bottle. Was it all worth it? Let’s pull the cork and find out, shall we?

This is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled at 109.5 proof (54.75% ABV). MSRP is $70, though I paid $82 at a smaller local retailer.

Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Color: Auburn-orange color.

On the nose: There’s a very clean purity about this. A topnote of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and maple syrup plays against freshly cut flowers, white bread dough, pink pencil eraser, and a hint of pine needles. More tenacious sniffing yields brown sugar, eucalyptus, chocolate milk, and a whiff of ground nutmeg. All throughout, the aromas are fresh and crisply delineated.

In the mouth: Similarly clean and pure. Starts out with more tart lemon flavor, with a piquantly woody accent. Transitions to the midpalate on another wave of sharp wood and lime juice, where it evolves the smoky heat of ground chili pepper. The chili-accented flavor of Mexican chocolate persists through the finish, where it is joined by a soapy texture, the tannic accent of strong black tea, some more eucalyptus leaves, and the curious residual flavor of cigarette ash. This does not pulsate vigorously but instead sits quietly, never truly disappearing up to a minute after the final sip, with a whispering flavor of chocolate-covered cherry.


This is a style of bourbon I love. Light, crisp, clean, yet driving unrelentingly to the point. It’s lean, but it doesn’t sacrifice anything by way of complexity or intensity. Like a featherweight boxer, this packs a punch in a compact frame. In terms of inaugural releases as a foundation to build upon, it’s hard to imagine a stronger start.

As far as the cost, which was a sticking point with the triple-digit price tag on Peerless’ rye: considering the bourbon alone, I’ve paid more for less. Beyond that, I’ve sometimes written in this space about paying “above market” (defined as a higher price than one might pay for comparably-aged bourbon from an industrial-scale distillery) in order to support an upstart craft distiller committed to doing things the right way. I’d say that principle applies here and I hope you’ll agree after reading Caleb’s comments above.

I can therefore recommend a purchase of Peerless bourbon (at or near MSRP, preferably from a small retailer) without hesitation.

Score: 8/10

Photographs kindly provided by Peerless.

CategoriesAmerican Features
  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Interesting read—-I always thought for some reason, that they sourced from MGP—-didn’t realize they made their own. Were they sourcing at some point, or mixing theirs with sourced?

    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks, PB. To the best of my understanding, they never sourced. This seems to be a point of pride for them, as well as a point of differentiation from other startup craft distilleries. Cheers!

  2. Frank Brown says:

    I have to say, I appreciate not just how much Caleb was able to reveal about Peerless’ practices but also how much he revealed about the entire process of whiskey distillation today. From the bit about sour vs sweet mash, and some history behind those decisions, to the choice between adding water to the distillate before it enters the barrel versus after the fact, this was an incredibly informative interview.

    If I had a pour for every time a distiller claimed they wanted to “do things the right way” I’d be a rich man, but it’s encouraging to see the attention to detail Caleb and co. have put into their product pay off in the end result. Thanks a lot, Taylor, for wringing all of that knowledge out for us to soak up. I’ll be wading in this one for a while.

    1. Taylor says:

      Frank, so happy to hear that you found the interview informative. I can’t take any credit; Caleb deserves all the thanks for being so open and honest. I share your appreciation for his insights, and hopefully this will serve as an example for other craft distillers about the “right way” to communicate with the public.

  3. Three Toes of Fury says:

    THANK YOU! I found this article while sipping my first ever sips of Peerless bourbon. Its a fascinating and informative read. I love the interview style, depth of conversation, and Calebs’ overall approach and passion. I look forward to finding alot more great content on your site!

    Peace n Bourbon

    Three Toes of Fury

    1. Taylor says:

      TToF, welcome to the site and thank you for the kind words! There’s plenty more like this; I’ll point you to the reviews of New Riff (Ryan Alves), Wilderness Trail (Shane Baker), Distileria Andina (Haresh Bhajwani), Maker’s Mark (Gene Charness and Brian Haara), Corsair (Lorna Conrad), Starward (Jake Hukee and Dave Vitale), Wild Turkey (David Jennings), Single Cask Nation MGP (Jason Johnstone-Yellin), Fugitives (Jim Massey), Cedar Ridge (Jeff Quint), Blackadder (Hannah Tucek) and Aberlour (Andy Weir) as being some of the interviews I have done, with many more from the likes of Adam and others. Cheers!

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