“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” –William Shakespeare
Paul Coughlin deserves patience. He describes himself as an avid outdoorsman and walks the walk by swimming, cycling, and running; that is to say, he’s been in numerous Ironman triathlons. Born the same year the U.S. Congress decided to recognize bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit,” it wasn’t until a failed venture into the world of vodka (after spending over 25 years working in finance) that he went on to found the brand whose whiskey I’ll be reviewing today: Taconic Distillery.
Beginning their operations in 2013, the company started out by going door to door in the local community, initially selling about 45 cases a month. Three years later, that number ballooned to over 400 cases, and in the beginning of 2022 that number is now at over 1,500 cases per month.
With the help of his wife Carol Ann, along with their three daughters Grace, Kathryn, and Christina, the Taconic brand is in 22 states plus Canada and growing steadily. It also helps that they employ former Buffalo Trace Distillery Supervisor, Brandon T. Collins, a secret weapon of sorts who brings his extensive expertise to the craft brand. In noting all of this it becomes clear that given a little time, Paul Coughlin and co. can swim, cycle, and run the walk, so to speak.
But, you see, Paul talks the talk too. I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with him as I was completing research for this review and in the midst of these exchanges Paul said something that stuck with me: “I’ll put up our 5-year-old product against anyone.” It sounded like a challenge; a gauntlet was thrown down and Paul left it up to me whether I would take it or leave it. As it happens, I decided to leave it for the time being. However, what gnawed at me – even as I swung the steering wheel and avoided a collision with this well-heeled Ironman insistent on engaging in a survey of nerve – was his self-assuredness.
I had every belief that Paul’s confidence was well founded, and so even as I continued reviewing my way through New Jersey, I knew that Dutchess County New York would be my next stop. When at last I had the opportunity to sit down and try Taconic’s Dutchess Private Reserve, Paul’s confidence had already washed over me, immersed me in a belief in something I had yet to even whiff.
What I was met with was not an adrenaline-inducing awakening but instead… a whimper? The aromas were alluring but demure, the flavors were just fine but rather muted, the texture was quotidian, and my initial impression was one of palpable disappointment. Had I been “had?” Seemingly, every brand’s founder exudes a belief in their brand, and it isn’t uncommon that their belief could become infectious. I had been infected, but despite testing positive for Paul Coughlin’s confidence, I displayed no symptoms of my own and so I sought refuge in the cure that heals all wounds. Time.
I returned to my bottle of Taconic’s Dutchess Private Reserve a few days later for what was a markedly improved experience. Where before the flavors seemed to be encased in an impenetrable bubble on the palate, that bubble had burst, and I was left with a grin that spread across my chin as I began to display the tell-tale signs of enthusiasm.
I bring this up because many whiskey nerds have heard about and debated the merits of the “neck pour.” The idea being that most, if not all, bottles of whiskey benefit from a little bit of time spent open and oxidizing. It’s a phenomenon that persists in the enthusiast’s imagination either as a genuine experience to be reckoned with or a myth to be dispelled at every turn.
Did I experience the shortcomings associated with neck pours or was my palate simply “off” when I first tried it? Could it have been a combination of both? I can’t say with conviction one way or the other (though, for transparency’s sake I do believe there is a veritable difference between, say, a neck pour and the final pour from a bottle) but what I can say with certainty is that it is difficult to summarily dismiss a whiskey based on a single pour.
There are so many factors that play into whether the circumstances are optimal or even at their median when experiencing a whiskey for the first time that I think one should things a second try whenever possible. In this case, I’m more than glad I did. Taconic Distillery deserves patience; now let’s find out what fruit said patience will bear.
Things to note about this bottle: it is a 90 proof (45% ABV), small batch offering from upstate New York’s Taconic Distillery that carries a suggested retail price of $45 (though it was provided to me by the distillery at no cost). The mash bill is 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% barley. It is non-age stated, but as aforementioned, I was informed that it is at least 5 years old. Finally, this release, like all of Taconic’s whiskey, is non-chill filtered.
Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve – Review
Color: Honey gold with glints of orange.
On the nose: It begins with a whiff of matchbox, fresh almonds, and Cheerios before cinnamon sticks and cherry juice swirl to greet the olfactory system. While on my initial nosing all of these aromas were present but dilute, on a second pass they’re all considerably richer and harmonious to boot. Rounded out by a bit of rose petal, butter, and Madagascar vanilla beans the nose on this pour sets the table for what I anticipate will be a satisfying sip.
In the mouth: A tale of two tastings, Act I: On my initial trial I wrote that this one “frustratingly teases greatness” in that the flavors begin boldly but are almost immediately washed out. Brown sugar and cherry emerge first before fading all-too-quickly, and those aromas are followed by a bit of oak, buttery biscuits, and a faint indication of chocolate. I went on to say it “tastes closed, austere, tight-lipped” this all accompanied by a medium bodied texture I enjoyed, but closes with a short finish that dries the palate.
A tale of two tastings, Act II: While I ultimately didn’t dislike my first experience with this whiskey, it’s on my second tasting that things dramatically improved. Bubbling brown sugar and butter lead the way while the cherry juice has tamed and becomes more of a bit player, though it performs admirably in this role. Cinnamon-flecked vanilla ice cream appears midpalate and caused me to remark “dare I say it’s seductive?” The sweetness isn’t sticky and it doesn’t linger, it just satisfyingly seeps into the tongue, leaving a splash of hot cocoa with a slight bit of espresso in its wake.
If this were a play, one would be keen to remark on the humdrum opening act, but being that this is a whiskey I’m willing to accept my share of the blame. Outsized expectations, what was likely an “off night” for my palate, and potentially the perils of the “neck pour” phenomena plagued my initial efforts.
Once given a second and third tasting I found that the flavors described above were incredibly capable performers that kept me rapt, at the edge of my seat. The finish does remain dry but despite that, all of the things I enjoyed yet thought were too restrained in my first tasting are now on full display and finally ready to take a bow before enthusiastic applause.
I pause here to say: for a 90 proof bottle, I think this one delivers flavor in spades and at what I consider a fair price point I think this expression leaves little to be desired. I would be keen now to take Paul Coughlin up on his offer to try this one side by side with a few other bourbons of similar specs. Apparently good things do indeed come to those who wait.