“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo
Andrew Henderson, in this rendition of the tale above, is the quintessential High Renaissance artist transposed into modern times. It was his brother Kyle who threw down the gauntlet and challenged him to try his hand at creating something memorable on the blending and aging side of the business. You see, at the time this project was conceived, Andrew Henderson was the lead operator of the Angel’s Envy distillery. His talent was never in doubt, but this would be a first-of-its-kind project for the brand and as such one can imagine he felt the gentle tension between inspiration and intimidation that so often produces art.
In the pursuit of his masterpiece he initially contacted cideries in Cypress and Germany in search of interesting finishing casks before discovering the award-winning Eden Specialty Ciders in Newport, Vermont. After working his way through several samples, Andrew became set on an ice cider made from late-season Northern Spy apples. If ice cider is unfamiliar to you, then just know it’s akin to ice wine: a dessert-style cider that is produced by freezing harvested apples to concentrate their sugar content and then fermenting the resultant juice.
However, as he went about buying the French oak ice cider barrels needed for finishing whiskey, Andrew encountered his first hurdle. After initially requesting 10 barrels for the project, he was told that they only produced about four or five ice cider barrels per year. Undeterred, the project suddenly became a multi-year undertaking as he instructed them to simply send five barrels a year for the next three years.
After year one the first round of barrels was dumped and blended without a hitch, so let’s fast forward to the end of year two when the second set of hurdles came Andrew’s way. For one: in that span he had changed positions within the company, becoming a supply chain analyst for Bacardi, and thus was forced to take a more hands-off role in the project he initiated. The second hurdle was a smile-inducing accident.
In the words of his brother Kyle Henderson (Angel’s Envy Production Manager), “It wasn’t until we were coming up on the second round of barrels where we’re going, ‘Okay we’ve got enough whiskey, the whiskey’s ready, we’ve got a good release, we’ve got a good proof…’ so forth and so on. We go look and see (the ice cider barrels) were filled Nov 12th 2019 and the first round was dumped on November 11th 2020…oh, 364 days. That’s kind of funny!”
In a serendipitous turn for Angel’s Envy’s marketing team, the whiskey in this release ended up being finished in ice cider barrels for only 364 days. Kyle jovially concluded, “It was purely coincidental. But of course it’s a little point you can stick out there and say this is so cool. So would a day have made a difference? Yes, it would’ve been horrible with an extra day.”
Finally it was Kyle who did the final batching and blending – with Andrew’s oversight – that produced the whiskey I have before me today: the Angel’s Envy Ice Cider Finished Rye. With only 6,000 bottles produced, this marks the fourth release from the Angel’s Envy Cellar Collection, having been preceded by three bourbons: an Oloroso Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon (2019), a Tawny Port Cask Finished Bourbon (2020), and a Madeira Cask Finished Bourbon (2021). The whiskey in this ice cider finished expression is a 95% rye recipe that was aged for seven years in new charred oak barrels before spending a day-less-than-a-year resting in its secondary cask.
Before getting to the review, allow me to note the remaining pertinent details: the proof on this expression is 107 (53.5% ABV) and the suggested retail price is $250. That first detail I’ll leave to my senses of smell and taste, but it’s the second detail that I’ll briefly address using my common sense by saying: $250 is a considerable ask. It’s tough being a bourbon consumer these days, as we’re inundated with expensive experiments from brands that at times seem keen to produce something new simply for the sake of saying they’ve done so.
Having previously had Angel’s Envy’s 2021 Cellar Collection bourbon, I can say that these releases can indeed ascend to heights not reached by their mainstay offerings… but is such a significant premium actually worth it? Sure, this was an extensive project that took several years to produce, but only one thing will justify all of the effort that went into it: a pleasurable tasting experience. Let’s see if Andrew Henderson’s art project is a force or a farce.
Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey Finished in Ice Cider Casks – Review
Color: Amber with light golden glints.
On the nose: Maple syrup drizzled over crisp apples enticingly opens the affair before being joined by sweet oak, simmering caramel, vanilla bean, and candied walnuts. With a few swirls these notes rise and fall in uniform order – like the plot elements of any good story – before being joined by an increasing spice presence. I’m speaking here of a familiar allspice and nutmeg blend, but also (interestingly) there are earthy herbal notes of basil and even a touch of saffron with a bit of a sweet, Fig Newtons-like aromas as well.
In the mouth: Again, the word “crisp” comes to mind as the simmering caramel continues to bubble across the palate in conjunction with cooked apple and walnuts with a dash of nutmeg. At midpalate the fruitiness takes a brief fig bar turn before a drop of maple syrup leads the way for black pepper spice to unfurl on the finish. The texture is impressively buttery without being dense, and the medium-length finish is a delight as well. It’s on the conclusion of each sip where one can really appreciate the restraint in proofing this at 107. At a higher proof the beauty of the sweetness might’ve gotten lost, but any lower and I’m not sure the emergent spice (that reminds you this is a rye) on the finish would have been in balance with those tasty fruit flavors.
I noted twice above that there’s a “crispness” that makes the fruit notes from both the nose and palate really pop. Another appropriate word here would be “clean” as each note stands on its own and produces a whole greater than the sum of its parts with none of the flavor components becoming muddled or bleeding into one another. The aromas are a treat, the palate even more so, and there’s essentially nothing to dislike about the construction of this whiskey.
However, with respect to Malt’s price-sensitive scoring system, it also bears repeating that $250 is a significant asking price despite the effort that went into this release and the uniqueness of the finishing process. That said, I do think those efforts have produced a considerable work of art that stands as the best expression I’ve ever tried from Angel’s Envy. Were it not for such a prohibitive price I would be inclined to rate this release even more highly, but as it stands I’m comfortable calling Angel’s Envy Ice Cider Finish “Superb” on our scale.
Image courtesy of Angel’s Envy.