Let’s consult the checklist, shall we?
Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from an undisclosed source? Check. “Aged a minimum of 2 years?” Check. “Bottled by?” Check. Backstory about bootleggers with no obvious connection to the whiskey in the bottle? Double-check.
It’s not all bad, in fairness. The website for this brand – Shady Mile – indicates that the bourbon is “Hand crafted in Owensboro, Kentucky,” which would point to Green River being the source. Additional perusal of the website indicates that these are from “the 10th oldest distillery in Kentucky,” which is definitely Green River. They can make respectable whiskey, though that expression was more than double the age of this pair.
We’ve also got disclosure on the mash bills: there’s a 21% rye mash bill and a 21% wheat mash bill (both have 70% corn and 9% barley). They are bottled above the legal minimum at 90 proof (45% ABV).
Speaking of this pair: where did they come from? Damned if I know. A box showed up on my doorstep, which I presume came from the same PR folks that have sent me prior Green River releases. To whoever sent these two full-sized bottles, free of charge (full disclosure): thanks for that. It won’t have any bearing on my notes and scores, however.
Before I get to tasting these, a short mediation on where these bourbons sit in the spectrum of American whiskey in the year 2023:
There is ample – and growing – production capacity for bourbon, despite reports to the contrary. All across Kentucky, established producers have been adding stills and rickhouses to meet growing demand. At the same time, smaller producers (such as Green River, Bardstown Bourbon Company, and Wilderness Trail, to name but a few) have been ramping up their own bourbon production.
Not all of this goes into brands coming directly from the relevant distilleries. For example, Bardstown supports the blended bourbons and ryes from Pursuit United. The recent acquisition of Wilderness Trail by Campari provided us an interesting look in to the economics of that business, courtesy of the associated presentation materials. I was personally surprised to learn that a majority of Wilderness Trail’s sales – 69%, specifically – come from the sale of bulk whiskey, with only 23% from the Wilderness Trail brand.
This is not unique to Wilderness Trail. A perusal of the publicly-available financial statements of MGP shows that – prior to the acquisition of Luxco – almost 93% of the company’s “Brown Goods” sales were not in support of MGP’s own brands like Remus.
Does this matter? Why should whiskey consumers care? As always, I’ll revert back to the bedrock of Malt’s critical philosophy, which is “value for money.” We know what kind of whiskey (in terms of technical specifications like age and proof and so forth) we can get directly from these distilleries, and at what price.
Thus, when we consider the purchase of whiskey from these same distilleries dressed up in the livery of whatever NDP has sourced it, we have a basis for comparison. To take the example at hand: Green River sells five year, 45% ABV bourbon for $35. Clicking the “Buy Now” link on the Shady Mile site redirects to Caskers, which offers the rye mash bill for $27. The wheater is sold out, but I’ll be using that same price to evaluate this on Malt’s price-sensitive scoring framework.
What I’ll be looking for here is commensurate value for money. Are these bourbons 77% as good as Green River? Are they as good as comparably priced products from other Kentucky distilleries? For $25 to $30, my local sells bottles of 1792, Bulleit, Elijah Craig, Old Forester (both 86 and 100 proof) among the rye mash bills, and Larceny and Maker’s Mark among the wheaters. Can Shady Mile measure up? Only one way to find out…
Shady Mile 21% Rye Bourbon – Review
Color: Pale rusty brown.
On the nose: Delicate and youthful, there’s a yeasty woodiness to this that is the main aromatic note. Some faint whiffs of cinnamon and brown sugar, perhaps, but overall this is very meek and mild on the nose.
In the mouth: A faint kiss of mint and stone on the front of the tongue is the main flavor note before the whiskey begins deteriorating almost immediately. The mouthfeel is faintly woody and incorporates a medical note of latex bandages; again, the immaturity of this is evident in the near total lack of flavor, and the underdevelopment of the few elements this does have. Just past the middle of the palate, this disappears completely. There’s almost nothing in the way of discernible taste as this finishes, if you can even call it that.
Even considering the low price, this is pretty poor whiskey. Age isn’t everything, but there is a reason that the big Kentucky distilleries typically release whiskey in the three-to-four-to-five year age range, even for their mainstay, economically-priced expressions. This is an obvious step down from any of the aforementioned competitors, thus I am scoring it “Flawed” on our framework.
I’m not holding out much hope for the wheater after that disappointment; I’m not even really interested in trying it. However, I feel that I have to give it a fair shake, if only in the name of education. Here goes nothing…
Shady Mile 21% Wheat Bourbon – Review
Color: Medium-pale golden maize.
On the nose: Not stronger, necessarily, but definitely more tolerable than the rye mash bill bourbon. Some faint scents of orchard fruit make this mildly pleasant, but otherwise this is totally inexpressive. Maybe some mildly yeasty notes of bread dough? Perhaps some green, grassy aromas? In any case, this lacks delineation in a way that makes it hard to pick out individual aromatic notes.
In the mouth: That orchard fruit note from the nose carries through here in the front and middle of the mouth, along with some mild peppery and spicy notes. There’s a minerality to this at midpalate that makes it stand out more than its predecessor. The finish is an improvement in the sense of having a watery, vaguely fruity aftertaste rather than nothing at all.
This cleared the very low bar erected by the rye mash bill bourbon, which isn’t saying much. At least it didn’t have any conspicuously immature notes, but that’s faint praise. Comparing this to Larceny or Maker’s Mark, it’s a 98 pound weakling of a bourbon. I might use this to introduce a complete whiskey novice to the style, so milquetoast is the overall impression. I’m scoring it to reflect that it is relatively better than its sibling, but worse than what else you can get for the price.
I can fully understand why Green River would want to sell whiskey like this: it generates cash flow while they wait for better barrels to mature. I can partially understand why someone would buy whiskey like this to resell: if they were dead set on having their own whiskey label but lacked the connections to get better, more flavorful bourbon, they’d have to settle. What I cannot fathom is why a consumer would buy this whiskey, when there is so much other bourbon out there that is – both on paper and in the experience of drinking it – so much better.
There’s nothing shady going on here; I know what this is, but that doesn’t mean I like it. The wheater is mediocre, the rye mash bill bourbon is worse, and neither represent good value for the price. Hopefully this review has warned at least one potential customer off wasting their money, as a justification for the wasting of my time in its composition.