Time to check back in with Chattanooga!
I periodically taste young craft whiskey and think, “I’ll revisit this once they have something more mature.” Though grateful for the opportunity to taste a new distillery’s initial forays into whiskey making, it’s nigh impossible to put out a two-to-three-year-old bourbon that is competitive with the mid-to-high-single-digits offerings from other established distilleries. Considering the diseconomies of scale that come with craft distilling, the prices demanded for these nascent whiskies usually push them to the bottom half of our price-sensitive scoring framework.
Some craft distilleries never make the jump; they are successful (or unsuccessful) enough with their maiden offerings that we never get to experience full-sized barrels, additional age, higher bottling proof, and all the other hallmarks of whiskey that excite enthusiasts. Others continue to grow, mature, and experiment, and those of us lucky enough to lay our hands on their later bottlings can be rewarded with whiskey that has come into its own. Those initial acorns can grow into mighty oaks, fulfilling the seeds of promise they contained.
That’s what I’ll be hoping for today as I revisit Chattanooga Whiskey. I first encountered a pair of the Tennessee distillery’s whiskeys back in 2020. Please consult that review for a history of the distillery and its founders. While I thought those whiskies had some attractive attributes, I left the experience with the sense that the approach to production – which contains plenty to like – had yet to translate fully in terms of flavor development.
Since then, Chattanooga has joined the craft distillers embracing the Bottled in Bond format (among those reviewed here: Cedar Ridge, Dad’s Hat, Holladay, Leopold Bros, McKenzie, and Old 55). This is a logical step in a young distillery’s evolution. In a whiskey ecosystem infested by startup distilleries releasing underaged and underpowered whiskey meeting the barest technical requirements to be called bourbon, putting out a Bottled-in-Bond represents a coming of age. This rite of passage indicates a seriousness about whiskey making that commands a more thoughtful appraisal.
Thus, I am happy to revisit Chattanooga today to try the Spring 2018 Vintage release of their Bottled in Bond bourbon. The Bottled in Bond series started with the Spring and Fall 2017 releases; this is the third in the series (and has been followed by a fourth bottling, Fall 2018). Announced in May 2022, Chattanooga’s press release for the expression provided these helpful details:
“Barreled January through June 2018, Chattanooga Whiskey’s Spring 2018 Vintage is crafted from a selection of four unique high malt bourbon mash bills – all made within the same distilling season – and each composed of at least 25% specialty malted grains… includes a small percentage of a new recipe to the series: R18016. Made with approximately 20% minimally dried ‘green’ malt in its mash bill, this delicate recipe added a lovely, light complexity to the blend.”
Chattanooga’s own site for the expression provides yet more disclosure (which I love) about the specifics of the production process. An attemperated seven day fermentation was followed by four-plus years of maturation in toasted and charred 53 gallon barrels. This 10-12 barrel batch (comprised of 36.5% mash bill SB091, 36.5% SB055, 18% B005, and 9% of the aforementioned R18016) is non-chill filtered and bottled at the legally stipulated 100 proof (50% ABV).
I’ll be looking for this to show an evolution of the elements evident in the 91 and Cask 111 expressions, particularly in the mouth. Looking back on my notes from those whiskies, an area of needed improvement is in the mouth. I’m hoping that this will have benefitted from the extra time in the barrel by developing a more hefty body, filling out in the middle and low parts of the register.
Final specifics before I get to tasting: SRP for this was $52.99. This was a sample provided by Ryan, who once again has my sincere thanks.
Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled in Bond Spring 2018 Vintage – Review
Color: Medium orange-brown.
On the nose: This starts with a round and rich note of ripe pears, accented by a whiff of butterscotch. There’s a hint of funkiness in here that is very welcome, as a nose-tickling note of ginger ale that feels almost effervescent. There’s some kola nut, nutmeg, and cinnamon-sugar nuances as well. In total, this feels like a “tween,” with one foot in childhood and the other in adolescence. Plenty of interesting notes here, though; let’s see if they carry through in the mouth?
In the mouth: Starts with a slightly bitter, nutty kiss of almonds that that pivots directly toward a remarkable note of tart green Granny Smith apples. That turns back toward the butterscotch-y richness and a very fulsome wood note that is restrained from bitterness by some fulsome malt flavors. The finish picks up more mineral notes, and a reprise of the nose’s sweet cinnamon note is evident in the form of a lingering aftertaste. The bottling strength is expressed in a moderate tingle radiating around the inside of the mouth long after the last swallow.
Did this whiskey deliver in the ways I hoped for/expected, as laid out above? I’d say yes, unambiguously. The richness of the nose was a positive initial indicator, yet it wasn’t until the whiskey met my tongue that I was fully convinced. Whereas the 91 and 111 Cask shared the unfortunate habit of falling mute at points, this Bottled in Bond never lacked for something to say. More importantly, the power of the flavors was delivered with great poise; this never felt unbalanced. Finally, the contribution of the high malt mash bills provided a point of differentiation, even at what is still a comparatively young age. I’m once again left wanting more, though without any sense of disappointment. Based on the strength of this whiskey and the positive trajectory, it feels to me like Chattanooga will be capable of producing some astounding whiskey in a few more years’ time.
How to score this, then? It’s comparably expensive to other craft bottled-in-bond offerings (think Wilderness Trail at $50 near me, or Holladay at $60), though in all these cases the differentiation in terms of raw materials and production processes argues convincingly for the premium. In total, I am inclined to give this a mark above the midpoint of the range, with the expectation that future releases from Chattanooga will march more steadily in the direction of perfection.
Image courtesy of Chattanooga Whiskey.
I just had their Islay cask this past weekend. Was immensely surprised by how good it is, especially considering the price ($65-ish). Peated bourbon matured in Islay casks…unique, and really well executed.
Thanks PB, I’ll keep my eye out for that one!