“I’m not from Earth; I’m from Missouri.” – Peter Quill
I am making a virtual return to Star-Lord’s home state via a bottle of bourbon from the Holladay Distillery in Weston, MO. My first experience with Holladay bourbon showed a lot of promise; please read that review if you’re interested in the distillery’s history and details of the production process.
It’s worth recapping here that Holladay is essentially creating a template for doing craft distilling right, in my estimation. Their brand is based on a resurrected namesake with a direct connection to their distillery. The major raw materials (corn and barrels) come from the place where the whiskey is produced. The mash bill is a legacy one, and production is tailored to honor the flavor profile of days gone bye. They have embraced the Bottled-in-Bond designation, with all the strictures around age, proof, and disclosure of details that entails.
Speaking of details: this bottle keeps with its predecessor in the amount of data provided to us on the label. It can’t be said enough: this is an obvious best practice in craft whiskey and should be followed by every producer worth their salt. Distilled in Spring 2017 and bottled in March 2023 at an age of six years, the breakdown of barrels in the batch is as follows:
52% Floor 4
18% Floor 1
16% Floor 6
14% Floor 2
Looking back on my notes from the prior bottle, I noticed that the composition of that was 79% Floor 5 and 21% from Floor 1. While this won’t be an apples-to-apples comparison (given the different mash bills), it will at least offer the chance to taste some different types of flavors from within Holladay’s palette of barrels.
This has a mash bill of 73% corn, 15% wheat, and 15% barley, which corresponds to Holladay’s standard rye bourbon mash bill, with the twist that the rye is replaced here with wheat. The promotional flyer accompanying this bottle indicates that this gives a “sweeter and softer” flavor profile, which is consistent with the broad characterization of wheaters generally.
Being a Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, this is 100 proof (50% ABV), as required by law. As with the rye bourbon, SRP here is $60. This bottle was sent to me free of charge by Holladay. Per Malt’s editorial policy, this will not affect my notes or score, but is being noted here in the spirit of full transparency.
Holladay Soft Red Wheat Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – Review
Color: Medium-pale golden brown.
On the nose: Soft, sweet, and very floral initially, this has a spring bouquet-like aroma with some accents of confectioners sugar and a touch of mint leaf. Allowed to sit a few moments, this evolves a very intriguing set of deeper and richer notes. I get butterscotch, candle wax, a savory, meaty note, and some herbal accents of cloves and menthol. Revisiting a new glass a few days later, this has changed again, and for the better. There are abundant orchard fruits with hints of cinnamon, reminiscent in some ways of apple cider. There’s also a salutary nip of fresh ginger.
In the mouth: A spicy and woody kick starts things off as this enters the mouth. Initially I found this wood note is extracted to the point of being nearly bitter, though this abated quickly. This wasn’t an issue at all on my second try, with that moment in the progression being characterized by more nuttiness. A faintly soapy texture with some of those floral notes moves this toward the middle of the mouth. Those orchard fruits from the nose have a gentle reprise, before we’re back to that floral soapiness, which coats the mouth and lingers into and through the finish, playing against a spicy woodiness that also sticks around. There’s also a residual heat on the mouth that feels higher than 50% ABV, and continues tingling the tongue and lips long after the bourbon is swallowed.
This is the equal of the rye Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, showing some good flavor development. If anything, looking back on my notes from that prior bottle, this has actually gone up a notch in terms of what it has to offer, both on the nose and in the mouth. It still tacks toward a lighter style of bourbon, but that’s not to say that it’s thin or weak. I like that this has heft in a few places, while allowing softer flavors to tiptoe to the fore in quieter moments.
More importantly: it’s got its own character. It’s not trying to be a Maker’s Mark or Larceny knock-off. Two datapoints aren’t much, but I am sensing a house style emerging, comprised of diverse notes of mint, fruit, nut, and spice. None of these are novel in isolation, but in Holladay bourbons they are combined uniquely, contrasting, but with good balance.
It’s not cheap in the grand scheme of bourbon, but it’s cost competitive with other craft bourbons, especially in light of the fact that it offers a solid age statement and respectable ABV. All in, I’m scoring it a point above its predecessor, corresponding to “Superb” on our price-sensitive scoring bands.
Thinking about the landscape of craft bourbon distilling broadly, I feel like there are a few categories that make sense. Kentucky is its own place, and the best in breed there are Green River, New Riff, Peerless, and Wilderness Trail, not necessarily in that order. Then you have the “state champions;” I’d put Holladay in this group, alongside names like Driftless Glen, Starlight, Chattanooga, and Woodinville, among a few others. Then, there’s a very long tail of quasi-incompetent distillers making whiskey that curious drinkers will file under “F” for “Fool me once, shame on you…”
Those looking to broaden their horizons beyond the established heavyweight distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee would do well to sniff around in the “state champions” category, being assured (at the least) of something novel and of above-average quality. For the explorers out there, I can advise you to put Holladay on your list of liquid destinations.