“I have everything, yet have nothing; and although I possess nothing, still of nothing am I in want.” – Jean Racine
Middle West Spirits, founded by Ryan Lang in 2008, doesn’t just feature the region they call home in their name; they keep it at the very core of their company. While they aren’t unique in utilizing local grains or working hand-in-glove with a nearby cooperage (Speyside, which opened their U.S. headquarters in 2017 in Jackson, OH) they do place an uncanny emphasis on the Midwest as a means to both differentiate themselves and celebrate where they’re from. Having recently expanded their distribution footprint to 15 states, it’s clear that the gospel is spreading.
Because of that limited distribution, you may not already be familiar with Middle West Spirits, and I’ll admit I didn’t know much about them myself. The brand was kind enough to send me a bottle of their Dark Pumpernickel Rye, which recently won a few industry awards, but it didn’t stand out much to me when I first tried it.
At the time I was happy to take a chance on a new brand, but found that offering to be middle-of-the-road. Not bad at all, but not worth drawing any additional attention to. From there my interest waned and – to be frank – I didn’t have so much as a second thought about it.
However, they also sent me the expression I’ll be reviewing today: Middle West Spirits’ Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon aged in Spanish Solera Sherry Casks. While plumbing the depths of my bunker I noticed the long forgotten but admittedly snazzy bottle cylinder peeking back at me… imploring me, really, to grant it further consideration.
With enough time elapsed between my first foray into their portfolio I found myself ready to grant the brand a second chance. My curiosity was undoubtedly furthered by the fact that Jack Daniel’s recently released a Sherry cask finished whiskey which I quite enjoyed. Thinking to myself, “Why not?” I grabbed the bottle and rolled the dice.
This is not a sourced bourbon; Middle West Spirits has been producing their own juice since 2010, and a big fat age statement appears on the label: 6 years old! Furthermore we’re told this is distilled from yellow dent #2 sweet corn, Ohio soft red winter wheat, dark pumpernickel rye, and barley in undisclosed percentages.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is all housed in a beautifully crafted bottle. In short: despite being a bit under the radar, it’s evident that Ryan Lang and co. put quite a bit of effort and thought into this product. It features a unique four-grain recipe, an exotic (and surely expensive) finishing cask, and a considerable age statement from a craft distillery. To wit, I’m finally curious to see if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Middle West Spirits’ oldest age-stated product comes in at an atypical 97.25 proof (48.63% ABV) and carries an MSRP of $100. I would love a bit more transparency; they proudly boast about locally sourcing three of the grains in this blend, which we can infer to mean that they source their barley. Furthermore, it’s unclear just how much time the base spirit spent finishing in Spanish Sherry casks. However, these are ultimately small quibbles and the only thing left to consider is how does it taste?
Middle West Spirits Double Cask Collection Sherry Cask-Finished Bourbon – Review
Color: A deep ruddy brown with ruby glints.
On the nose: Upon pouring I’m greeted by a lovely Sherry influence as the aroma of red berries fills the room with oak char, toasted bread, and cinnamon soon following. After a few swirls I’m picking up plum skin and brown sugar bubbling in a pan before those sweet notes become grounded by a swatch of leather and fresh almonds. All in all, it has a welcome – if a tad unbalanced – nose. The aromas are all enjoyable, but they do compete a bit for one’s attention.
In the mouth: White sugar and fresh orange gently kiss the tip of the tongue before rolling over it for what is an initially muted midpalate. On the second sip things become quite different as the Sherry influence springs to life with plum and coffee beans planting themselves on the middle of the tongue. Now, on a third pass cinnamon and clove become more pronounced, while a mineral-like red wine note lingers on the finish along with a bit of brown sugar. To speak of the finish: it is drying and medium-length, skewing earthy and eschewing the sweet, fruit-forward notes that were evident early on.
While I enjoy the influence of the secondary cask, it feels a tad overdone and I’d like to have seen the base spirit punch through more effectively. The 6 year bourbon is curiously absent in aspects of the flavor and presents itself most prominently in the robust mouthfeel. It isn’t that the base whiskey is hiding so much as it’s outdone and obscured by a finishing cask which should have been dumped sooner, in my opinion. With that said, there is still a lot to unpack in this complex pour, but it unfortunately follows the nose’s lead in presenting a lot of flavor that doesn’t gel as harmoniously as I’d like.
At $100 it commands a price commensurate with many craft whiskeys finished in a secondary cask, but it also suffers the same drawbacks of the category in that there are many more worthwhile options in that price range. Ultimately, while I enjoyed this expression, I felt it was held back by enough factors (primarily price) to deduct a point. Price aside, this is a good whiskey and I look forward to giving Middle West Spirits further consideration in the future.
First, I must say that I’ve had a cask strength dark pumpernickel rye store pick and it tasted freaking delicious! I’m hoping that the “40 degree day” dark pumpernickel rye that you tried was just their standard offering at a lower proof.
Back to this review, I can see how a four grain (with that dark pumpernickel rye) finished in sherry casks can be a mosh pit of competing flavors. Some may see that as complexity, others may see it as distractions.
Another great review, Frank!