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Ragged Branch Double Oaked Toasted Barrel

Nestled in the foothills of Virginia, just west of the historic city of Charlottesville, rests Ragged Branch Distillery.

The distillery, founded in 2010, is located down a long winding road of tree-lined hills, luscious green fields, and picturesque Virginia country estates. There is no question you have arrived as you drive up to this sprawling property. Pulling into the gravel drive, you are met by rolling hills, chickens, and most likely the resident Ragged Branch horses – Hambone and Jenny – or even the adorable black lab, Bootlegger.

At the bottom of the hill, you will be surrounded by barns, a pasture, and the rustic Hunt Cabin. This part of the grounds houses the heart and soul of the distillery: a custom-made 500-gallon still from Vendome Copper and Brass. Located just a short distance from the Hunt Cabin is Ragged Branch’s Barrel Barn. Finally, at the top of the property rests a charming home that serves as the distillery’s tasting room and gift shop.

Breathtaking panoramic views, a large covered porch with rocking chairs, and a patio with a fire pit all await guests as they sip on homemade cocktails or flight trays. Ragged Branch has created the perfect ambiance to sit, relax, and lose yourself in a pour of whiskey and unparalleled Virginia views.

Ragged Branch was founded by Alex Toomy and business partners Chris Sarpy and Russell Nance after the 2008 housing crisis disrupted their livelihoods. The friends joked about quitting their day jobs and becoming moonshiners while sitting around a fire sipping on some bourbon. This lighthearted banter planted an idea that Alex would eventually turn into reality.

One evening while watching the History Channel, Alex saw a story about Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. Toomy decided that it was time to take a chance, so he reached out to Mr. Pickerell. Much to Alex’s surprise, Dave picked up the phone and agreed to meet Alex and his son Josh to discuss their plans and vision.

Not long after their meeting, Alex began to get the ball rolling and began building the distillery. Pickerell would come to Charlottesville and spend four days with the Toomy men, teaching them how to run the still, mash in, and distill Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Ragged Branch credits Pickerell and the vital role he played in their early days and helping them launch the operation. Because of his importance to their building process, they have credited Dave Pickerell as their late Master Distiller. Without Dave Pickerell’s integral role at Ragged Branch, it’s likely that the Toomys would not be where they are today.

In today’s bourbon world, you will often hear some key phrases in relation to craft distilling. You might hear “locally sourced,” “farm-to-bottle,” or “grain-to-glass” to signify higher quality raw materials. Ragged Branch Distillery is located on the Ragged Mountain Farm, operated by Alex Toomy and his team. Every morsel of corn, rye, wheat, and barley are grown on-site at the farm, harvested by the team, then used to distill the various whiskey and bourbon offerings made on grounds.

At Ragged Branch, they take sustainability and farm-to-bottle to a whole new level. After distilling, the spent mash is then fed to the farm’s cattle. Some of the freshest steaks and ground beef you can get your hands on, all harvested directly from the farm, are available in the tasting room.

Ragged Branch Distillery currently offers a diversified product line including its Signature Bourbon, Wheated Bourbon, Double Oaked Wheated Bourbon, Straight Rye Whiskey, Double Oaked Signature Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond, Louisiana Reserve, and various special releases including their most recent – Dave Pickerell Reserve – made from their first barrel ever distilled.

Ragged Branch Double Oaked Toasted Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled using Ragged Branch’s signature bourbon mash bill of 68% corn, 16% rye, and 16% malted barley. This bourbon entered its first new American oak charred barrel from Kelvin Cooperage on March 5, 2016. After resting for approximately four years and nine months, the bourbon was then moved to a brand new toasted barrel on December 8, 2020.

Ragged Branch typically double oaks in a #4 char barrel. However, for this release they chose to go with the lighter toasted char. This offering was released in the middle of 2021 from barrel number 1976. and is bottled at a barrel proof of 126.24 (63.12% ABV). Special releases typically run around $65 at the distillery’s Tasting Room.

Ragged Branch Double Oaked Toasted Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Color: In the bottle, this Double Oak Toasted Barrel is an absolutely gorgeous deep rich mahogany color. In my Glencairn glass, the colors are a bit muted, but they still possess a nice shade of auburn, with perhaps a tint of orange.

On the nose: Soon after the first pop of the cork, I notice an abundance of fresh leaf tobacco and toasted brown sugar emanating from the bottle. Once the liquid is in my glass, the aromas change dramatically. Sweet notes of honey, caramel sauce, and just a touch of freshly baked pastry are all present in this pour. I am also picking up on a slight floral note. As I allow this one to sit and open, a tinge of pipe tobacco begins to develop.

In the mouth: This pour has a pleasant full-bodied feel on my tongue. A soft coating remains on the roof of my mouth and tongue. A sweet flavor punch follows with raw honey, roasted pecans, loads of cinnamon, and a dash of vanilla bean. A second pass at this double oaked toasted barrel brings additional flavors of salted caramel syrup and pie crust, adding a subtle smokiness to my mouth. The floral component that carried over from the nose is still present on the palate; however, I cannot quite identify what it resembles. The finish is bold and pronounced, as is expected with a proof of 126.24. A generous warming sensation begins on the tongue and travels all the way down the throat and into the chest, leaving my lips and tongue tingling. The finish really showcases the higher barley mash bill, with a resounding splash of maple brown sugar oatmeal standing out strong. This slowly transitions to a hint of stone fruit, fresh pipe tobacco, and just a smidge of bitterness in the form of an oak toasted barrel. The residual sweetness (think homemade simple syrup) left on the tongue is fantastic.

Conclusions:

This Double Oaked Toasted Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey is another solid offering from Ragged Branch Distillery. I am a longtime fan of this distillery and their core line of products, as well as many of the single barrel double oak special releases. One major difference I notice about this Toasted Barrel versus some of the single-barrel barrel-proof double oaks I have tried before is that the boldness and richness of the flavors is a little more subdued. This is created by the lighter char versus the #4 char used in standard double oak bottlings at the distillery. I am really pleased with this Toasted Oak bottle, but I still would love to experience this same pour but with the traditional Double Oak in the #4 char barrel at barrel proof. 

Score: 7/10

Ragged Branch Distillery deserves huge props for everything they have accomplished since their inception. In my mind, one of the most important things Alex and Josh Toomy have done is to achieve a level of openness and honesty that eclipses most other distilleries we’ve reviewed. Alex is willing to share his story and the details of the hard work and effort he and his team put into making each batch of whiskey. It is a breath of fresh air in an industry that sometimes likes to hide behind smoke and mirrors. Alex was lucky enough to meet an industry giant early on in Dave Pickerell, who was willing to talk and share with him. In return, it is cool to see Alex having that same spirit and willingness with others.

Ragged Branch’s line of products has a robust flavor profile that is unique amongst its peers, yet extremely consistent amongst its own family of products. Each batch has a Ragged Branch signature flavor that is hard to explain, but it is one that my palate appreciates and always recognizes. Some see this as a reason to discount Ragged Branch’s line of spirits but, for me, that is what makes Ragged Branch a whiskey that truly stands apart from its competitors. I also appreciate that all of their whiskies are aged for a minimum of four years before bottling, a positive attribute that not many craft distillers can claim.

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Christian

Native of Richmond, Virginia. Resident of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Unapologetic Jack Daniel’s fanatic. In 2020, Christian co-founded Rickhouse Ramblings, a whiskey blog devoted to the exploration of craft distilling in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and beyond.

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