“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.” – Allen Ginsberg
Gil Spaier, founder and head distiller of Newark’s All Points West, wouldn’t consider himself to be a hero out to save the world. A man with the charming flourishes of an unapologetic history buff (imagine an infectious curiosity coupled with intoxicating monologues about malt-related minutiae), Gil simply follows his inner moonlight, a path often illuminated by his interest in and appreciation for the way things used to be done.
Take the name “All Points West,” for starters: it comes from a colloquial moniker for the old Jersey Central Railroad, the idea being that it was a hub connecting locals to the rest of the country. Next, consider the distillery’s inaugural expression, their Malt and Grain Pot Still whiskey. Gil took an interest in this style of whiskey – which traces its roots back to British tariffs in 1785 – because it was once one of the most popular styles of whiskey in the world. You see, it was because of those British tariffs that Irish distillers of the day began to adopt the use of American corn in their mash bill. Employing an Irish style of whiskey making with American corn was novel at the time, and soon grew in popularity to the point that, in 1908, the British banned the use of American corn in pot still whiskies altogether, fearing the foreign grain might negatively impact the local market.
From these examples we should be primed to understand why All Points West recently decided to produce their latest expression, the Mid-Atlantic Pot Still Rye. Not only does the debut of this expression make them the first to distill rye on the Newark Bay since 1640, but Gil specifically wanted to honor a style of rye that was authentic to the region. This means using a mixed grain bill without corn because, in his own words: “I view the 95% and 100% [rye mash bill] as a Canadian style, the 51% to 70% with the rest corn as Kentucky style, and 51% to 70% (with the rest being other small grains) as Mid-Atlantic.”
As Gil further explains, “We do not have a three chamber [pot still] but use a dephlegmator to run our hearts in three phases, and each successive phase at a higher pot temperature, causing more cooling to the dephlegmator, and higher oil extraction. This oilier profile is also Mid-Atlantic. In our stills this takes a very long time; the last of the three hearts phases is just a dribble of very rich whiskey.”
The decision to utilize these more time-consuming methods is largely based on flavor, but also stems from Gil’s appreciation for the style of rye once prominent in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the two biggest hotbeds of distilling before Kentucky became the capital of American whiskey. As you can see, seemingly every decision made at All Points West distillery is reflective of their desire to reclaim a bygone era.
Now let’s return to the present and begin the best part: the actual tasting. We’ll start with the Malt and Grain Pot Still Whiskey. The mash bill is between 65% and 70% barley, which predominantly comes from County Cork in Ireland, as well as some modified German malts, while the rest of the recipe is corn (there are slight variations between batches). This expression is 92 proof (46% ABV), with a suggested retail price of about $50 for a 750ml bottle. This bottle is from batch 14 (they are currently on batch 33) and was purchased back in 2019 at the distillery, but only recently opened then tried over several successive nights.
The batch I reviewed is 15 months old; the distillery informs me their current batch is 31 months old.
All Points West Malt and Grain Pot Still Whiskey – Review
Color: Golden honey.
On the nose: Corn pudding and sunflower seeds immediately take center stage and never cede their position. Over time, faint tropical fruit emerges, and soon Earl Grey tea with a splash of milk does, as well. At the periphery of these more pleasant aromas there is a hint of Play-Doh and young oak that undermines the experience only slightly.
In the mouth: The sunflower seeds and corn pudding from the nose are again the most prominent notes, though they’ve reversed their order of strength. Along with the lighter corn pudding sweetness there’s also a sort of corn-oil-and-caramel mélange that weaves across the palate carried by a viscous texture that clings to the tongue. A restrained anise seed at midpalate interrupts the bold sweetness of the sunflower seed, corn, and caramel explosion but doesn’t bring enough bite or spice to balance it out. As the finish begins, so does a slight smokiness that is also a welcome but subdued addition.
If the core components – sunflower seeds, corn pudding, and caramel – are up your alley, then you will find a lot to love with this pour. They’re a bit overwhelming, but also very enjoyable, and the thick mouthfeel they rest on makes the overall experience one to remember. My sole complaint would be that it leans too heavily on these core components, where some spice and additional smokiness would elevate the enjoyment of repeat sips, but it’s clear that this Malt and Grain batch excels at what it seeks to do.
Next, we have All Points West’s latest expression: their Mid-Atlantic Pot Still Rye, which was introduced in the final weeks of 2021. This is from batch 1 of the expression; it is aged for 16 months. The mash bill is 61% rye, while the remainder is wheat and barley in undisclosed percentages. It clocks in at 104 proof (52% ABV) and has a suggested retail price of $60 for a 750ml bottle.
Finally, it should be noted that this bottle was provided to me by the distillery free of charge. This review was subsequently written after I had a chance to try it at home over the course of several nights. Despite my good fortune in acquiring this bottle at no cost to myself, I will be judging it as though I personally paid 60 of my hard-earned dollars for it.
All Points West Mid-Atlantic Pot Still Rye – Review
On the nose: Far livelier than the Malt and Grain whiskey, this one smacks of spearmint gum, maple syrup, prominent clove, and subtle peach. There’s also a mineralic limestone note, plus a hint of walnut and faint black pepper. It is unmistakably a rye whiskey, and an intriguing one on first pass.
In the mouth: Right away this pour forms a warm wave in the mouth that never breaks to become too “hot” as, again, a prominent oiliness is evident in the texture. Notes of caramel-inflected spearmint start things off before a cooked peach and maple syrup sweetness bubbles to the surface. There’s also a vegetal note, like a sweet pickle minus the vinegar bitterness that takes form at midpalate. An indiscernible floral note also adds to the experience and once the finish is complete and the sip subsides, there’s a black pepper spice that cuts through the viscousness in a satisfying way.
All Points West’s Mid-Atlantic Rye is immediately impressive. It announces itself upon first whiff as a rye worth sitting up and giving your attention to, and on the inaugural sip you’re met with your reward. While I’m a big fan of its thick texture, I do wish there was a bit more spice or perhaps citric acidity to cut through the spearmint sweetness –but it’s a minor detraction from an overall attractive experience. At only 16 months this is a whiskey that can ably hold its own against high quality ryes more than two or three times its age.
Let’s revisit Newark native Allen Ginsberg’s quote at the top of this review: it’s clear that All Points West has set about reclaiming an awareness of the whiskey world as it used to be, and in this endeavor I’d venture to say they’ve been successful. Their award-winning Malt and Grain Pot Still Whiskey is an expression that knows what it is and delivers its most prominent flavors in spades. Their Mid-Atlantic Rye is a stellar example of the conventional wisdom that ryes can be exceptional at a young age compared to bourbon, and indicates that All Points West is only improving as they hone their signature techniques. All things considered, I think as people become more aware of what this attention to history can bring to a whiskey, there will be a greater appreciation for it as well.