I’ve been waiting for another walk down the “Trail…”
There’s only a handful of craft distilleries in that have piqued my interest enough to warrant repeated purchases. As I have moaned before in this space, some of the shine has gradually worn off craft distilling in the United States. The number of smaller distilleries has swelled, and yet more would-be whiskey “makers” are sourcing stocks from larger distilleries and slapping their own brand on the bottle.
Therefore, I (and consumers like me) have had to become more discerning. I like to think that, by being more judicious with our custom, we’re gradually raising the bar. Even those distilleries not making truly awful whiskey now have to find novel ways to differentiate themselves. Otherwise, we’re left paying for someone’s small-scale approximation of precisely what we’re able to get from the large Kentucky distilleries, marked-up to account for craft distilling’s inherent diseconomies of scale.
So, who makes the cut? My list is a short one: Peerless earned the purchase of a second bottle. I’d be happy to try another whiskey from Woodinville. I’m fully intending on revisiting New Riff sometime soon. In my region, Driftless Glen and J. Henry & Sons haven’t seen the last of me. Finally, and most relevant to today’s review: I have been apprehensively awaiting this next bottle of Wilderness Trail.
For those of you unfamiliar with this distillery, I’d encourage you to read the story straight from the mouth of co-founder Shane Baker. Since that conversation, Wilderness Trail has sat firmly near the top of my list. Conversations with others, in both reality and online, have revealed that I am not alone in my favorable impression. In a whiskey landscape that may seem at times to be a hotbed of discordant disagreement and calumnious chatter, Wilderness Trail is unique in that it seems to be held in nearly universal regard.
Age (or the comparative) lack thereof is another frequent criticism of craft whiskey. Whereas the established Kentucky distilleries have inventory dating back several decades, even some of the earliest movers in the craft scene would struggle to release a bottle with a high-single-digits age statement, never mind getting into the low teens.
Most craft distillers I have spoken with are not content to continue releasing whiskey meeting the bare minimum for the “straight” designation (two years). Instead, they are managing inventory to support continued production while keeping enough in reserve for higher age-statement releases in the future. The whiskey I’ll be reviewing for you today is the outcome of just this type of long-term planning, bearing an age statement of six years.
From a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley (known at Wilderness Trail as mash bill B5), this was barreled in 2014 and comes to us Bottled in Bond, at the stipulated strength of 100 proof (50% ABV). I paid $80 for this, representing a meaningful premium over the $50 Small Batch expression. This is currently available via SharedPour for $78.99.
Wilderness Trail 6 Year Old – Review
On the nose: Dusty, rusty, and musty; the nose on this is dominated by elements from the darker, earthier end of the spectrum. Picture walking through the woods in autumn, damp leaves underfoot, and coming across a fallen tree next to some disintegrating metal farm machinery. That’s exactly how this smells. With some time in the glass, I start to sense a sweet and fruity note of chocolate-covered cherry, some brown sugar, a baked sweet potato, as well as a spicy and smoky aroma of roasted poblano peppers. However, this consistently returns to the woods, with recurrent scents of pinecones.
In the mouth: Lithe on the entrance, this has but a wisp of cigarette ash in the way of initial flavors. There’s a citrus-inflected woodiness that blooms as this moves toward the center of the tongue, spreading out across the roof of the mouth and the cheeks with the thick and sweet flavor of chocolate fudge. The top of the tongue is gripped with a drying tannic astringency. This tips over into a slightly bitter note as it hits the finish, where herbal and spicy flavors of cardamom pods and ground cinnamon accent a green, nearly juvenile woodiness. That first dry and ashy note has a reprise as this lingers subtly, with a pulsating heat that sits squarely in the center of the mouth.
This has many flavor elements in common with the superlative Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond. I mean that in a positive and praiseworthy sense, as that was one of my favorite whiskeys of the year. In particular, there’s a marriage of woodland and spicy elements that will be very pleasing to those of us that enjoy that flavor profile.
Where this loses me a bit is that the middle of the flavor range – where I’d typically expect some more generous fruity notes – is mostly lacking. In addition, the spicy notes are pushed to an extreme at times and, as noted above, lapse into a mildly unpleasant bitterness in the mouth. Combining all of the above with the premium price, I am finding myself unable to rate this as highly as the prior Wilderness Trail bourbon I enjoyed.
Despite my subtly dampened enthusiasm for this compared with its predecessor, the above-average score is meant to indicate that this is, indeed, good whiskey. It extracts a bit too much wood from the barrel for my tastes, which is perhaps proof of the hypothesis that the sweet mash process’ enabling of a lower proof off the stills (and the resultant lower barrel-entry proof) produces fully-flavored whiskey with a much shorter maturation compared with the maximum permissible 125 proof. Regardless, Wilderness Trail remains on my list of distilleries to enthusiastically support.
There is a commission link within this article if you decide to make a purchase and help Malt. Such links don’t influence our opinion.