Although they’ve been featured many times here on Malt, the fine folks over at Single Cask Nation were generous enough to give us their time as part of a review of their most recent release: a blend of Indiana bourbon and rye (yes, that Indiana bourbon and rye) under the label “Single Batch Nation.” For any readers that may be unfamiliar with the brand or the story behind it, the following conversation with Joshua Hatton, President and CEO of J&J Spirits, may help beyond what’s listed in their website’s FAQs.
Before getting to the interview, full disclosure: I asked my questions to SCN in a way that referred to them as a non-distilling producer (NDP). As an aside, Joshua was kind enough to educate me on the difference between an NDP and an “independent bottler,” the latter of which being how SCN refer to themselves. Mr. Hatton says it best:
“We here at J&J Spirits (which own the Single Cask Nation brand) refer to ourselves as Independent Bottlers rather than as an NDP. Our business approach follows in the footsteps of Scottish companies like Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenhead’s, Berry Brothers & Rudd, etc. Like them, while our brand name is always the largest on the label, there’s always a reference to the distillery where the liquid originated from.
Our understanding is that NDPs, by contrast to Indie bottlers, do not typically reveal the source of their liquid, but build a brand from that liquid. I think a good example would be High West (before they started distilling their own whisky). They would purchase rye from various suppliers and produce great products under the High West label without reference to the distilleries they purchase from. We as independent bottlers always do our best to highlight the source of the liquid.”
I really appreciated both the explanation and the way Joshua approached that topic. Now, on to the interview!
Malt: What made you take the leap from picking barrels for yourselves to doing so as an independent bottler? And what was that time like for you?
Joshua: We were never “barrel pickers,” per se. Jason and I had whisky blogs in the later part of the first decade of the 2000s. At that time there were just a handful of whisky bloggers. We discovered that both of us had 1,200 to 1,500 visitors per day to our respective whisky blogs. I had this thought, “If people came to our blogs to make a purchasing decision on Diageo’s new GlenWhisky 10 Year Old, perhaps they would be interested in purchasing the whisky that we bottle.” That was the start.
In 2010 I reached out to Jason Johnstone-Yellin to see if he wanted to partner with me on a startup independent bottling company and he said “yes.” From there we spent around 18 months of due diligence to ensure that what we were doing fit within the US three-tiered system of importing, distributing, and selling whisky.
In 2012 we bottled our first three casks (a 4 year old from Kilchoman, a 12 year old from Arran, and a 17 year old from BenRiach). It’s funny looking back, we went from three casks of whisky being sold in the US in 2012 to us bottling and selling whisky (and rum) not just for the American market but for the UK, Sweden, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Israel, and soon more now in 2023. It’s been quite a journey!
Malt: What’s been the biggest learning experience for you all in this venture?
Joshua: That it’s far less glamorous than it looks. It’s great; tons of fun, bottling the whiskies and rum we fall in love with and sharing that all around the world… all great stuff! But that’s only a small part of it. Much of our business is working with dry goods producers (bottle producers, cartons, labels, shipping cartons, corks, capsules, etc.), domestic and global logistics, spreadsheets, etc.
Malt: What are you looking for when you select a barrel to release under your label? Is it something unique, or just an exemplary sample of what that spirit has to offer?
Joshua: For us it can be either scenario. Part of the reason we bottle whisky from distilleries that few people have heard about is that we know about the distilleries and want to help share the word on how great this or that distillery’s liquid it is. In cases like this, it’s nice to bottle and share a cask of whisky that really shows the distillery’s house style.
Another job of the independent bottler is to show sides of well-known distilleries that few people get to see. All the big single malt producers have their 10 year old, 15 year old, 25 year old, etc. that need to taste the same all the time. Our job would be to show flavors outside of the distilleries own consistent releases. As an example: everyone knows Laphroaig to be the super dirty, ashtray, band-aids, etc. flavored whisky (some like that, some don’t). So, when we bottled our last Laphroaig – a 10 year old single cask – we made sure to bottle one that wasn’t dirty, but was really quite fruity and floral.
Malt: In your eyes, what sets you aside from other NDPs?
Joshua: Again, as independent bottlers, I don’t feel we fit the NDP model but – whether a company is an IB or NDP – we all need to set ourselves apart. From the IB perspective, it’s all about reputation. Jason and I, thank God, have earned a reputation of bottling great whiskies and rums (and mezcal) but all we’re doing is bottling liquid that A) we fall in love with and B) would be willing to open up our wallets if we were the consumer.
On top of this, something you can always rely on is each SCN bottling has liquid that presents a great mouthfeel/texture. Both Jason and I are 100% texture guys. If the whisky is thin and hot, then it’s not for us. It’s got to be rich and unctuous liquid.
We also consider ourselves very lucky in that we’re the only independent bottler that Wild Turkey sells to, which allows us to bottle and release these casks in our bottle, under our label, and bottled at full cask strength, non-chill filtered. We’re also the only independent bottler that Glenfarclas sells to, besides Cadenhead’s. These are relationships that we cherish and nurture. We release a few casks of Wild Turkey each year and our hope is to release another Glenfarlcas in 2023 or 2024. Lastly, we’re the only American independent bottler that’s run by two Keepers of the Quaich.
Malt: Is there anything in the near future you’re excited about?
Joshua: If the global logistics gods favor us, we’ll be launching a new brand in 2023 called “Squirrelly” but we must remain… squirrelly about the details for now! Also, season 7 of our podcast – One Nation Under Whisky – kicks off in February. There are 225 or so past episodes for people to catch up on while they wait for season 7. One Nation Under Whisky is likely the most fun Jason and I have.
Malt: Alright, let’s talk about this bottle. What prompted the decision to release this as a blend versus a single barrel?
Joshua: Your question is a good one. While we released a few single rye casks as store exclusives in 2022, for this one, we wanted to get outside the flavor-box a bit. The fact of the matter is there seems to be no shortage of 4-to-6-year-old Indiana bourbon and rye. There are single casks a’plenty! A way to get around that, in our minds, was to create a blend of bourbon and rye in an effort to present flavors to the drinker that you couldn’t find in a single barrel.
Last year we bought a rake of MGP rye & bourbon casks, all of them excellent, but decided to marry three bourbon casks with one rye cask. Sure, this has been done before by others (High West comes to mind again) but it’s something you just don’t see much of. These four casks worked together in such great harmony. We’re really happy with it. It’s a solid drinker, doing things a single barrel couldn’t really do. It’s exactly what we had hoped to accomplish. I hope you enjoy it.
That said, time for the review. To summarize, here’s what we know about this blended whiskey: this is a blend of three MGP bourbon barrels and one MGP rye barrel, with the youngest barrel being at least four years old. This comes in at 107 proof (53.5% ABV), and I was able to get it from their website for $75, plus shipping.
Single Batch Nation Indiana Bourbon Rye Blend – Review
Color: Apple juice
On the nose: The classic MGP dill note is immediate. Clean, bright, and floral, with a slight candied citrus element. Sitting with it longer, honeysuckle and brown sugar join the fray. Just a delightful nose, honestly.
In the mouth: As expected, the dill is quite noticeable here as well, followed by vanilla and oak. However, the floral notes from the nose come with more fruit influence, perhaps blackberry. A brief grassy rye note reminds me that I’m drinking a blend, but it seems intentional. The texture is on the lighter side, but not watery by any means. I would consider this a shorter finish with a slightly drying effect, but there’s something here that seems to stick around for a while, so I have nothing to complain about here.
I, like many of you, have had a lot of MGP bourbon and rye over the years. This expression, however, is perhaps the most delicate version of anything MGP I can recall. Not that MGP “juice” is harsh or heavy in any way – it really isn’t – but after checking my tasting notes against what Joshua said above, this whiskey seems to be exactly what they’re looking for.
This is my first experience with Single Cask Nation, and I get why so many people are fans of their releases. The guys behind the brand seem genuinely great, and the whisky they sell is a different and exciting version of products that we may already know a great deal about already. Using Malt’s price-sensitive scoring approach, this is an easy choice.