Today’s review will be a relative rarity for MALT, in that we’ll be tasting an oat whiskey.
I can find only one example on this site of oat in a mash bill: Koval’s Four Grain, where it was paired with malted barley, wheat, and rye (they also make a 100% oat whiskey, perhaps the subject of a later review). There’s a few good reasons for the comparative scarcity of oats in whiskey: a thick mash and low yields make oat challenging to work with, both operationally and commercially.
So, why would a distiller bother making an oat whiskey? In short: taste. Like rye or wheat, oat has its own distinct flavors that are a noticeable departure from the corny norm. Oat’s unique texture, especially, is much prized. The mouthfeel of oat whiskey is frequently described as “creamy,” such is the thick smoothness imparted by the grain.
This particular oat whiskey comes from Nashville’s Corsair Artisan distillery. Chrys treated us to a trio from Corsair in the distant past, comprised of the Triple Smoke, Ryemageddon, and the distillery’s Quinoa Whiskey. It’s been a while since anyone from the MALT team checked in with them, however, so I thought the time was ripe for a revisit. That, and a bottle of single barrel Oatrage caught my eye as I strolled the aisles of one of Chicago’s liquor superstores.
For those of you unfamiliar with this pioneering craft distillery: Corsair was started by friends Derek Bell and Andrew Webber in 2008. Interestingly, it was founded in Bowling Green, KY (that facility since closed), moving to the current Nashville location two years later. A second Nashville outpost opened in 2016, as the team expanded operations to include a brewery and taproom.
Corsair has an aesthetic that might be described as “aggressive.” The tag line is “booze for badasses” and the label has a high-contrast image of three men striding, evocative of Reservoir Dogs. I’ll be honest: craft distillers are way down low on the list of things that intimidate me, well behind cassowaries and working-class Scottish people.
Setting aside the ‘tude, Corsair has long been revered for its expansive approach to raw materials. From their background as home brewers (as in: inside their garage) Messrs. Bell and Webber have embraced experimentation when it comes to grain. You’ll have noticed quinoa among the previously-cited examples; they’ve also made a 12-grain whiskey, a triticale whiskey, whiskeys from barley smoked with hickory or cherrywood, and one distilled with barley and hops.
All this is supported by a 300-acre farm owned by Corsair in nearby Bells Bend, which produces barley, rye and wheat. Malting occurs in the 3,000 square foot malthouse on this property, which also boasts a 2,000 lb grain smoker. The malted and smoked grains make a short trip into downtown Nashville, where they are distilled in the nearly 3,000 gallons of still capacity in either the Marathon or Wedgewood-Houston facilities.
Another peculiarity of Corsair’s approach is a relatively short maturation, as a general rule. This began out of necessity, as the distillery was self-funded without outside capital. However, the proprietors found that the heavily-smoked nature of the barley meant that a year or two was sufficient to achieve the desired flavor profile.
With all that in mind let’s attack this bottle, labeled as “American Malt Whiskey.” Corsair’s Tech Sheet for this expression indicates that it is from a mash bill of 51% malted oats, 27% 6-row malted barley, and 22% coffee malt (“a barley malt roasted until dark in color,” per them).
The label indicates this is barrel N30-15-0398, aged 23 months in new charred American oak and bottled at 129.69 proof (64.84% ABV). I snagged bottle #110/121 for $50. A sticker says this is a single barrel hand-selected by BC Merchants, a Chicago-area importer and wholesaler.
Corsair Oatrage Single Barrel – Review
Color: Golden auburn
On the nose: The medicinal aroma of eucalyptus immediately jumps out of the glass. There’s a grainy whiff of oats as well as some semi-sweet chocolate. There’s also a rubbery scent lingering around here. With water, the nose reveals a nondescript rich woodiness, nutty aromas of chestnuts, a hint of mocha, and the curious but unmistakable smell of goldfish flakes. Some more time allows a creamy whiff of buttermilk and toasty scents of baked brioche to emerge.
In the mouth: Starts with a note of furniture polish. The midpalate commences with the promised creamy, smooth texture, before this tightens up with some astringently woody flavors. The roasted malt shows to good effect as this takes on dense flavors of chocolate and tartly fruity inflected espresso through the finish. This comes in like a lamb but goes out like a lion, with an entire mouthful of roasty, toasty, cocoa-and-coffee-type flavors persisting well after the last sip.
Like a good Stout, this has a marriage of the smooth sweetness of chocolate and the bitter bite of coffee. There are similarities to the Glenmorangie Signet in some of the espresso and raw cacao flavors, though the volume on these is turned up given this is bottled at cask strength. I understand that not everyone enjoys these particular notes, but if you’re like me (a fan of red eye coffee and Russian Imperial beers the color of pitch), you’ll find a lot to suit your fancy here.
Our friend David Jennings recently observed that the great single casks are ones that demand to be noticed. This certainly fits that bill. It’s got a forceful personality, but also layers of complexity that require time, patience, and attention. It reminds me a bit of that off-the-wall Whisky Jewbilee festival bottling from the Lawrenceburg distillery, though the flavor profiles are completely different. It’s not quite the life-changer that the light whiskey was, but it’s significantly less expensive. Net: I’d put them neck-and-neck, thus I’m happy to score this one very highly indeed.