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Wilderness Trail Bourbon Binny’s Store Pick

What gets you excited about whiskey nowadays?

Like Frank Sinatra, the things that give others their kicks seem, increasingly, to leave me cold. This is partly a function of my ongoing maturation as a whiskey drinker. Having been around the block a few times now, the stuff that once seemed shiny and appealing is now dull and tiresome… even, in cases, repugnant.

A blessing and a curse of being on social media is that I see and hear a lot of what captivates other people. This can be a fertile source of recommendations and new ideas for reviews, and I am grateful for my many virtual friends who are constantly prodding me to consider this or that.

However, I also scroll past a lot of the same old same old. Here’s a picture of your bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Good for you. I hope you open it and enjoy it, which you probably won’t. Oh, you have two bottles of Pappy? Wow, this guy over here has ten. OK, here’s a guy with 100 of them and a decade’s worth of the whole Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, in a massive custom-designed bar. Here’s a guy with a bottle of Pappy and a cigar. Here’s a guy with some Pappy and an assault rifle. Careful with that; you could put someone’s eye out! Here’s a woman in a bikini on a boat with a bottle of Pappy. [Sigh]

See what I mean? This thing that once felt so elusive and rare and unique and special is really just an accessory to a carefully curated sham.

What else? Store picks? Some are good, some are not so good, and there’s no way to tell by the clever stickers. “Limited Edition” releases from the big corporate whiskey concerns? Yawn. I’ll get around to them, I’m sure, but they’re more often a way to shift some subpar stock with a gimmicky finish. Sourced whiskey? Someone else’s hard work with your brand and marketing spiel attached? I’ll pass, thanks.

When I’m in a critical mindset, I’m frequently accused of negativity. So, before we go too far down the road of stuff I don’t like, let me tell you about what really butters my biscuits:

I like grain, and I like it even more when the people distilling the whiskey had a hand in growing the raw materials that comprise it. Failing that, sourcing grains locally is preferable to using national suppliers. I like craft distilling, especially when the folks doing it are consciously trying to depart from the procedural norms of their large-scale distilling counterparts. I like long fermentations, with yeast designed to maximize flavor rather than output. I like low barrel-entry proof, rather than a dilution of higher-proof bourbon at bottling time. I like appropriately long maturation in full-sized barrels. I love single barrels with loads of detail, and I’m also a fan of small batches with age statements. Pedantic details about warehouse and ricks? I’m a kid in a candy shop!

Most of all, I like transparency. Scratch that; I love it. If you are providing me ample details about your sourcing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation without me having to ask you personally, you’re already way ahead. With all of this in mind, if I had to design a whiskey that I’m nearly certain would tickle me pink, it might be this single barrel of Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Wilderness Trail, located in Danville, KY, was co-founded by bandmates Shane Baker and Pat Heist in 2006. Like other natives to the area, the founders’ families have a history in the bourbon industry, with Shane’s grandparents having been in the employ of Kentucky River Distillery and Stitzel-Weller.

Unlike many others, Wilderness Trail breaks with conventional production processes. I know this because their website provides an unparalleled amount of detail on nearly every step between grain and glass. You can read about their Infusion Mashing process and the clean steam boiler, as well as the sweet mash process that you’ll remember from our chat with Caleb Kilburn of Kentucky Peerless. They describe the column-still-and-doubler distillation setup. They note the barrel entry proof of 110 for bourbon, and the exclusive use of 53 gallon, #4 char barrels. Maturation is for a minimum of four years, with the standard bourbon having a target age of six to eight years.

I adore this unprompted transparency, and I am positively inclined toward many of the processes and procedures disclosed. To get more of the story behind the details, I had a chat with Master Distiller Shane Baker. Our conversation is reproduced below, condensed and edited for clarity:

MALT: How did you get your start?
Shane: It spans back about 24 years ago. My business partner, Dr. Patrick Heist, and myself, we basically met through a mutual friend who was our drummer. Pat was still going to school to get his PhD. I was in corporate America; I’m a mechanical engineer by trade. We were the science guys in the band. Discussions always led around to something entrepreneurial. Us two, we just clicked really well back in those days, and just ended up being best friends since.

The real world was coming in on us; our kids were getting older. We were needing to settle down and do more serious stuff. Pat was teaching at a medical university; I was leaving corporate America. We decided, “Hey, we’ve got to come together and do something scientific together, something around bourbon.”

My family has actually been in distilling here in Kentucky since the 40’s. My grandmother started out at Kentucky River Distillery, down in Camp Nelson. She ultimately retired – after 50-years-plus in the industry – controller over Stitzel-Weller’s warehouses. It’s an amazing story that she has. Uniquely in her tenure in the industry, she was able to get everybody a job. Most of all my family growing up worked in the distilleries. I grew up running around there, hanging out, not knowing anything I know today; I’m just a kid waiting on my parents to get off work.

That was always in the back of my mind, “This kind of ties in; this is what we do in Kentucky.” That fostered and bolstered our ideas. We got serious, put a business plan together, and quickly realized we were just two broke family guys with regular jobs, and we’d spent way too much money on band equipment.

We kind of stepped back from it. Here in Kentucky, we’re in heritage land. Around here is all the major big distilleries. You quickly get this perception in your own mind that we’ve got to invest a lot, we got to do a lot. We weren’t even thinking at a small level, if you will, because we knew what we knew.

We pulled back from that and said, “Let’s look at this more scientifically.” We found an opportunity to create Ferm-Solutions, which is our first business we created, basically as consultants. That was in 2005-2006. We were like, “We can get out there, work with these guys, be consultants, apply what we know, learn a lot more, and then hopefully one of these days we’ll have a blessing to maybe do something.”

We really didn’t know the tiger that we were grabbing a hold of at that time because we really came into the industry at a unique time. This was pre-beverage growth; this was back in the fuel alcohol days, 20 years ago. Fuel alcohol plants are distilleries on steroids. They make 200 proof alcohol; they make hundreds of millions of gallons of that per year, per facility.

We had the science know-how. We started working in the industry and seeing a lot of holes, a lot of opportunities. We were product development guys. We’re all about entrepreneurship. We really created and carved out our own niche in the industry. We fast became a top-three fermentation company in the world by the customers we had in multiple countries, and the clients. We did everything from grain all the way to putting alcohol in the tank.

We finally looked up after six or seven years in that business, which was growing leaps and bounds every year. We said, “Holy smokes, we’ve got a budget now, and we want to do what we wanted to do to start with,” which was a great diversification from what we were doing.

In 2012, that’s when we started the distillery. We really had no aspirations of being the largest distillery or nothing like that. Size would just come with demand, in our minds. We started off with a small, 200-gallon pot still making one to three barrels per day.

Very quickly, about that time was when the whole beverage side of the alcohol growth cycle started taking off. It was just starting to explode. We were well positioned again to really be serious about doubling down, believing in ourselves. We really felt we had the process in our grasp because we’re working for people that have been in business for hundreds of years, and we’re helping them. We felt like we had all the tools we needed, and we finally had some money!

That’s what really kicked it off. We went from that one to three barrels a day for about a year, year and a half, to – boom! – we put in our first 18-inch column still. That shot us up to about 36 barrels per day. A year and a half later we put in our 36-inch column and now we crank out 180 to 210 barrels per day.

We started off on, literally, a 0.8-acre site, which we still have. Now we’re on 163 acres. We have grown quite a bit over the past seven years with the distillery. Actually, about a year and a half, two years ago – because the Ferm-Solutions has been in business for 15, 16 years – the distillery finally passed it up in revenue and size. We employ about 55 people.

MALT: How did you decide to do things so differently?
Shane: All those years that we were clowning around other people’s facilities, understanding their issues, helping them optimize or solve problems, 99% of the time we were there because they were having a problem. They wouldn’t call us to say, “Hey, we’re tapping the barrel, come enjoy it!” We were a support company, so we were always there during the bad times. But always we would be making notes of “When we do this, we’re not going to make this mistake.” Or, “When we do this, here’s something that could be a little different, or here’s something that we want to focus on that we think really is making a difference, in terms of results.”

We put that into what we call “a collective pot of optimization.” We’ve had just a tremendous amount of experience being in and out of thousands of distilleries. We had a great idea of how we wanted to do things, like a super-sterile facility, how to design it to be able to clean it and only use water and steam, those type of things. We’re a chemical-free distillery by design. We started looking at all the things we train on. For example, when we train someone on how to cook, we are training them on the scientific approach to making the best resulting mash. That’s the optimal temperatures, “don’t go over this, don’t go over that.”

That’s just our own recipe book of when we went to do it, we’re not going to boil our grains like 90% of the other people in the industry. They were trained that way because that was the way everybody used to do it. Everybody just kept on with the bad habits. They work, but there are better ways to do that.

A great example of that is in cook; a lot of distilleries feel the need to boil those grains, whether it’s bacterial concerns, whether it’s they think it’s really what’s breaking down the starches, all these type of things. A lot of people take their grains up to boil. In reality, you don’t have to. Corn gelatinizes around 178, 180 degrees. There’s only a certain amount of time that you need to apply that to free up all the starches. In reality, from a bacterial pasteurization standpoint, 178 or 180 degrees is no different than 200. When we do our cook process, we don’t boil those. We cook in an entirely different method. We save energy; we don’t have to get all that mass up to a temperature we don’t need. Throughout those processes we are able to make a better product using less energy, optimizing the process.

We use an infusion mashing technique, which is like how beer guys make their product. If a brewer scalds their grains, do you think that beer is going to be drinkable? It’s not. That is their finished product. So, when you look at scalding grains in a distillation process, distillers often overlook that, because they’re like, “Whatever, we’re going to distill it off at the end. We’re not going to worry about that.” Or, “Yeah, the fermenter’s contaminated, but no problem, because we’re going to distill that off in the end.”

In reality, all those flavors are coming through with the distillate. So, we approach it more mindfully in terms of each part of the process being the end of that process. Cooking, we want to cook properly, slowly.

Infusion mashing, which is adding our grains with the heat going down. We don’t apply any heat to our grains after we bring it up to a certain set temperature, just like a brewery, just like a strike temperature. We’ll bring that water up to 190 [degrees Fahrenheit], then we’ll start adding our corn at that point. Once we get all our corn in, we’re setting around 180, 179. That perfectly gelatinizes from there. From there, we add cold water to cool it down to the next set temperature for our next grain. We’re not using a tremendous amount of energy in our cook process; we’re using the natural thermodynamic flow of cold water, hot water.

MALT: Is there a different temperature for corn versus rye or barley?
Shane: Absolutely. The best description I can say is that it’s kind of like popping popcorn underwater. At 178, 180, we’re going to pop that kernel of corn. Rye and wheat, they’re more around the 155, 160 range. If you pop your popcorn at high temperature, what happens to that kernel? It blows apart, or you have a chance at degrading it, burning it, that type of thing. So, you want to keep your ryes and your wheats down in that 155, 160 range. Same thing for your malted barley. It goes in around 140, 145 Fahrenheit temperature range. The main reason for that, again, is you don’t want to blow apart the amino acids, make unbranched chain amino acids.

Everything has a right point of release, a point of pressure. If you overdo that, that’s when you start creating off flavors. Unbranched chains of amino acids create higher alcohols. The yeast will take those components and make fusels. Fusel is German for “bad liquor.” That’s why we strip the heads out of the process, to get that higher alcohol out of there. If you’re not creating the things that create that, you’re going to end up having to worry about removing less in the process.

That’s why we focus so much on fermentation. Distillation is not really where we’re creating our bourbon. We’re creating that in fermentation. All we’re doing in distillation is just removing it out of that. We focus a lot on how we cook, how we ferment, how we treat our yeast, and what does the yeast do for us, which is make it that soft, sweet mash alcohol.

MALT: Does the infusion process change fermentation times?
Shane: No, that falls into the same range of a 3-day beer, 72 hour, typical fermentation. We have another process we do on our larger side, where we’ll actually propagate yeast into those fermenters. We can get that down to 48-to-50-hour fermentation times, that would take a non-propagated fermenter 68 to 72 hours to finish. It’s all about: how are you managing the yeast, how are you working with the lag time for yeast to grow up and populate, and ultimately finish that fermenter. Are there ways to time, which is lag cycles, and you can shorten fermentation without any organoleptic changes at all?

MALT: Tell me a bit about your yeast philosophy, and the FermPro-1 strain used in the bottle I have?
Shane: We actually use a couple of different yeasts throughout our whiskeys. They are based on the ester profile they create, their attenuation, if you will. We wouldn’t want to use a low-attenuating beer yeast, because we’d leave behind half our sugars in our fermenters. We’re looking at finishing capabilities, attenuation, is it a top-fermenting yeast, is it a bottom-fermenting yeast? Those usually apply to the ester profile that we’re looking for.

Through our repository of yeast – which is literally almost 10,000 different bugs in there, and we still haven’t made it through our entire collection – we run DNA marker tests on yeast weekly. They’ll grab a couple out because the machine’s running, and they’ll throw them on there. We just keep amassing this database. What we’re looking for are things like an EPH-1 gene, or different things that can create different compounds in the fermentation process at higher levels than another yeast.

Over the years we’ve narrowed that down to 10 or 12 different yeasts, that we market through Ferm-Solutions, that have an affinity for rum, or agave, or maybe are better in a rye whiskey than it would be in a wheated whiskey.

We’re really looking for the best flavor, the best yield, the best performance, the best tolerance. We can have a yeast that is super, super flavorful, but yet it will die out at 60% alcohol. You want to make sure you have a well-balanced yeast that will finish the job without creating off flavors, give you the flavors that you want, and work in an environment that you’re putting it in.

MALT: How did you decide on the mash bills?
Shane: It’s kind of a funny story, when you’re sitting down with any of the old legends, Jimmy Russell or anybody, and you’re like “How did you guys [choose a mash bill]?” and they’re kind of like “Well, we had a dart board…” There’s a little bit of truth to that. There’s a lot of trial and error. What we were looking for was something of the past.

Again, I grew up with Stitzel-Weller juice, Old Fitzgerald juice, that type of stuff. We were looking for old-style whiskeys with high percentages of small grains. In our opinion, if you have a high percentage of corn, you’ve got pretty much a corn whiskey. If you’ve got high percentage of small grains – which is where we believe the flavor is at – then you can have more opportunities to shape a whiskey.

We immediately knew we wanted high small grains. We started looking at older whiskey profiles. You didn’t find a lot of bourbons in the “70’s club,” – is what we call it – of having 75% corn, 78% corn. If you go on a tour, you’ll hear “70 70 70” a lot. What we’ve learned is that it wasn’t that way in the old days. It was more like 68% or 64% or 60%. They were really trying to put a lot of weight on those small grains.

We started experimenting with that from a new make standpoint early on. We really liked what we were getting out of the new make. It definitely was different. We had plenty of new makes in the 70’s club to compare it to. What we were looking for was something different. We wanted to make high quality whiskey, a Kentucky whiskey, but yet be different than the other Kentucky whiskeys, if that makes sense? On a long shelf of Kentucky whiskeys, in order to be on that shelf, we’ve got to stand on our own.

For us, as we evaluated the mainstream whiskeys, what we found that was missing was that old whiskey profile. That’s where we focused, we fine-tuned, and we settled in on those mash bills. Believe it or not, we were very close to the 64%, 24%, 12% in our experimentation. But what it really came down to, when we were starting to do larger pilots, it was easy to round those numbers up to bags of grain. “Three bags of those, two bags of this, and one bag of this,” and what it came down to be was that unique little formula. It got fined-tuned by simplicity of math.

We started off with a wheated bourbon because right here in Boyle County that’s one of the major grains that we grow here. The farmer we’ve partnered with is a feed farm. It’s unique in that all of our grains that we’re using today are genetically the same grain varietals that we were using seven years ago. We actually went to them, opened up the catalogue, said “boom, boom, boom, let’s try these.” We narrowed them down and said, “If you grow this, we’ll buy all that you can make.”

We selected our grains from a flavor profile and all of those things. At that time, because rye and wheat cross-pollinate in the field, they only mainly grew wheat and corn and soybeans. We started off as a mini-Maker’s Mark; we were just a wheated bourbon.

It took us about a year later to find a rye supplier because what we wanted was all Kentucky grains. Rye doesn’t really grow very well in Kentucky. It had to be a certain varietal that was indigenous to this area. We found a Kentucky heritage rye and a Ryman rye. They were actually rye grains very well suited for our climate here. Because of the cross-pollination we ended up partnering with another farm, Walnut Grove farm, now they supply basically all of our rye.

When we ended up with those mash bills, because we have basically a bottled-in-bond, we’re kind of high proof guys. One of the other myths in the industry is a lot of people enjoy drinking a bourbon, but they don’t really know what they’re drinking. Is this a rye bourbon or is this a wheated bourbon? What we thought would be cool would be to line up a bourbon made with wheat and a bourbon made with rye, everything being as identical as they can be, with the exception of those two middle grains, and offer them both as bottled-in-bond, both utilizing the same yeast, same mash bill, but different middle grain and then you can see the nuance, the difference between those two.

MALT: What’s the philosophy behind the barrel entry proof of 110 for the bourbon and 100 for the rye?
Shane: Same thing: paralysis by analysis, here, on just about everything we do. We’re very tied into UK [The University of Kentucky], we have a lot of research going on around wood and barrels and just what happens in the decomposition process of a barrel maturing; when does it break down, when does it give up certain things, what creates those certain things?

What we learned from that was that a lot of the things that we were going after – sweetness and some other compounds – were more solubilized by water than they were by alcohol. When you’re extracting things out of a barrel, there are certain things that are highly solubilized by alcohol, and other things that water can’t touch, and vice-versa.

When you start to look at the bell curve of things that you want to extract that are in the flavor wheels you’re looking for, the peak in those bell curves were about the 110-115 proof range. That’s why we applied that to the bourbon, around that 110.

When we looked at the rye whiskey, we actually go in half a year at 100 proof and half a year at 105. Our goal for that was to add some balance to what’s typically a very spicy product. We wanted to throw as much sweetness as we could get out of that barrel. Through our research we had learned that at about four to five years, at a lower proof, you can get about two pounds of sugar just being released from that barrel. That’s again one unique design characteristic to why our rye whiskey has this little bit of a sweet component to it.

MALT: Tell me about maturation and your rickhouses? Looks like this bottle I have is from Rickhouse A.
Shane: We’ve got five different rickhouses. We have three of what we call the large ones. They store 20,500 barrels each. The little sister to that one is a 10,500 barrel warehouse. That‘s warehouse B. The little baby of the family is a 2,500 barrel single-story warehouse; that is Warehouse A.

That warehouse was really designed around our singe barrel program. We wanted to be able to have an offering of not just selecting single barrels; every barrel we put back is intended to be a single barrel. What we wanted to accomplish there was a very common aging environment. Top barrel to the bottom barrel in that warehouse, it only varies about seven to eight degrees of temperature, whereas our six story warehouses, they’ll vary 30 to 40 degrees from top to bottom.

MALT: Tying this all together into the profile and the flavors, what do you typically experience and how much variation is there?
Shane: We’re still learning. We’ve now been pulling whiskey out of the warehouses for, now, this will be our third year. We haven’t gotten to the upper tiers in terms of age yet, in terms of how we filled the warehouses. Where we’ve been pulling barrels has pretty much been out of A. Anywhere across A is what we consider aging the same. We’ve been pulling out of the middle of our larger warehouses. We just haven’t got that far into those.

We evaluate them all the time and what we do see is not necessarily a stratosphere of differences, but the whiskeys on the upper floors seem like they’re aging a lot faster. The whiskeys on the bottom floors are aging a little slower. I would say the range between those two extremes could be six months. The same age barrel, one sitting on floor one, one sitting on floor six, they can almost be eight months to 12 months apart in taste.

We do rotate barrels from the top of our floors to the bottom of our floors for that reason. We do have one time a year during our annual shutdowns when the maintenance got everything tore apart, the rest of our employees go to our warehouses and we rotate the top and bottom floors.

MALT: How does the flavor change with aging beyond four years? What’s the optimal age for Wilderness Trail?
Shane: Our goal from the beginning was to get our whiskey six to eight years. When we’re inside of that window we felt that we’d be at the optimal point for them. What we’ve learned is that we’ve got some exceptional whiskeys coming out at four, four and a half years old. Our goal has been: feed the market with those and continue holding stock and, as we get older, keep releasing more and eventually we‘ll get into that six-to-eight year category.

The whiskey is different in terms of being a six year compared to a four year, however we’ve had tremendous feedback of keeping that profile going. It’s really challenged our thinking, which was phasing out a four, four-and-a-half. Now, for example, the majority of our whiskeys are going out at a five year old, and we’re hearing from some people, “Hey, I’m getting more of this now, but some of this sweetness, or this, what’s going on?” and we’re like, “Well, this is a five year old.”

Listening to those things, we’re really challenging ourselves: shouldn’t we be keeping the profile that we’ve been working on very close to being the same, which is really a four-and-a-half to five year old, and then working on a different profile, a five to six, and then six to eight? We’re learning.

MALT: Do you think about expanding the portfolio of expressions going forward?
Shane: We are purists by heart. The last thing on our mind is finishing a whiskey. Our argument is always, “Why mess up a good whiskey?” I guess if you’ve got something that needs to be messed with, then I guess that’s a good thing.

We like highlighting more of what, organically, mother nature can create. We’ve got a really good spread across those; we’ve got a wheated bourbon, we’ve got a rye bourbon, we’ve got a rye whiskey. We’re dancing in the categories.

At the same time, we’re looking down the road of seeing how we can extend these lines. There is opportunity with our rye whiskey, because currently it’s a cask-strength whiskey. We know that not everybody out there are cask-strength drinkers. We are working on one that’s a little lower proof, maybe a little bit more reachable, in our rye whiskey line.

In our bourbons, we’re pretty focused on those. We do play around with some weird mash bills: some four grain, and all-malt and different things. Those will always be one-off specialty stuff we’re playing with. The main inventory we’re laying down are those three whiskeys.

MALT: What’s the philosophy behind transparency and the high level of detail you provide?
Shane: I think it just came back to more personal preference from experience. Through Ferm-Solutions we’ve worked with a lot of brands. Over that time we have seen things that were real, seen things that were not real. In other words: we know a lot more than we should, in certain cases.

I want to be really careful how I articulate that because, obviously these guys, a lot of them are our customers. What they do is what they do. Sometimes, we would walk away from something as a consumer – I’m a consumer – we would learn things that we understood to be different.

Over time, that molded us into saying, “We want to be as transparent as possible. We want people to not only believe what we’re saying, but to know what we’re saying.” That was one piece of it.

Another was really around our own terroir. We really believe the way we do things here, using our water, our soil, our grains, our process, our yeast, really helps define more of our flavor profile than “Hey, here’s your mash bill.” We’ve shared that with others and encouraged them, “You could go to your place, here’s our mash bill, here’s the yeast that we use, you make our whiskey.” They can’t. They can’t emulate it because of all those components that do make a difference in how you make your whiskey.

Hearty thanks to Shane for the superb level of insight he was able to provide. Having heard all this, I was champing at the bit to taste the end result of this meticulous attention to detail.

To reiterate some of the specifics covered above: This is a single barrel (#15J0919B) store pick from Binny’s, which does quite a bit of store picking. This is made from “locally sourced grains” in an “old, traditional mash bill” comprised of 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley. Fermentation was undertaken with yeast strain FermPro-1. This entered the Canton Cooperage barrel (with a #4 char) at 110 proof. Matured for four years and four months in rickhouse A-S02A7, this was bottled at 114 proof (57% ABV), I paid $60 for 750 ml.

Wilderness Trail Bourbon Binny’s Store Pick – review

Color: Cheery golden brown

On the nose: At first, some manufactured wood products, like particle board. A savory umami note of Worcestershire sauce and the faintest hint of smoked paprika. Some raw egg yolk. This was initially fairly restrained, but after a week or two of the bottle being opened it expanded significantly. The biggest improvement came in the form of a sticky-sweet note of maple syrup, though time also revealed a whiff of pine needles and an appealing scents of candied lemon peel.

In the mouth: Again: reserved to start, which improved immensely after some time and air. Like the Peerless bourbon, this has a cleanliness and a purity to both the flavors and the texture that I really value in a bourbon. There’s a woodiness (though not in the sense of vanilla-saturated new oak) about this that sits between the front and middle of the tongue, before more of the smoked spice flavors bloom to fill the mouth. There’s also subtle earthiness in this, which switches abruptly to some tart citrus notes as it crosses the tongue. The finish fades gradually, leaving a very neat spirit flavor with a dried floral nuance as an aftertaste.

Conclusions

My heart sank at the first sip of this, though that turned out to be just a bit of bottle awkwardness that dissipated in time. I liked this very much overall. It sits perhaps a shade below the Peerless bourbon for my personal tastes, but it still beats the pants off the vast majority of craft bourbon on the shelf. I’ve tried to reflect both in my score. I will doubtlessly be a repeat customer of Wilderness Trail and – based on this example – can encourage you to seek out expressions for your own enjoyment.

More generally, I’d like to hold up both Wilderness Trail and Kentucky Peerless as paradigms for doing craft whiskey “the right way.” There are no corners cut; every aspect of the sourcing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation is a deliberate choice based on experience and designed to produce the best flavors in the final product. Whiskey is better for having folks like them around. To the extent that every buck spent on sourced bourbon or a trophy bottle on the secondary market is a buck diverted away from the likes of Wilderness Trail, we’d all do well to be more deliberate about how we vote with our wallets.

Score: 7/10

Non-Binny’s photographs kindly provided by Wilderness Trail.

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. John
    John says:

    “A savory umami note of Worcestershire sauce and the faintest hint of smoked paprika. Some raw egg yolk. ”

    This has grabbed my attention. I hope this is a consistent note from them.

  2. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    John, it’s a set of interesting aromas, ones I haven’t found in other bourbons. Hard to say if this is the “house style” or unique to this single barrel. Regardless, I’ll be a repeat customer. Cheers!

  3. Avatar
    Greg B. says:

    For a moment I thought I was experiencing deja vu all over again as this seemed familiar except for the most excellent preamble about Pappy. Then I realized I was mentally mashing up the two recent WT posts by Alexandra and Tony, and your interview article about Few. I’m not sure a raw egg note is something I would want, but some might I suppose. Hope I get a chance to try this, although it might take a visit to the US.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Greg, this conversation definitely has some things in common with the one I had with Paul from FEW. In both cases, I was able to sit down for a long and frank discussion with someone who is making their own whiskey independently. Both Shane and Paul were very open and honest with their opinions, which is a breath of fresh air in an industry that can be very “politic.”

      More generally, it’s worth noting that (in both cases) I reproduced exactly what was said, in the manner it was phrased, with limited editorial interference. It’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t flow as neatly as an interview condensed into a series of quotes. However, I hope that as we’re able to do more of these, we start to compile an oral history of bourbon that may be of interest long into the future. Maybe it’s the influence of my fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel, but I really believe that people’s own voices are essential to the telling of their stories.

      In any case, I’m lucky to have Malt as a platform for this, as well as editors who see the value in this work and don’t balk at publishing interviews running close to 6,000 words. Cheers!

      1. Avatar
        Greg B. says:

        Some years ago before he sold the company to Campari, I was lucky enough to attend an hour-long session with John Hall, the former winemaker who founded Forty Creek Distillery in Canada back in the ’90s. As part of that session he had brought along samples of aged single-grain whisky they had made – a corn, a barley, and a rye – for those in attendance to try. I was expecting more from the corn but it was by far the least flavorful of the three. The barley I thought was good, perhaps due to my scotch whisky preference, and the rye was what I expected, spicy and almost too assertive. He was making those and then blending them to produce some of his special editions. I forget whether he said their mainstream brands use a more traditional mixed-grain mashbill but I suspect they do. So many ways to get to the end result!

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