Sugarfield Spirits is a truly great start up distillery and non-distiller producer about which I have written a good bit. The Soltau brothers are great guys, who are dedicated to delivering great spirits. I was really excited that Andrew emailed me about their new special release bourbon, marked as batch SR-1. I immediately made arrangements to purchase one and it arrived at my office today via a special courier who shall remain nameless. Unfortunately, due to there being limited quantities of this release, you can only pick this up at the distillery in Gonzales, LA, but they are open for pickup despite the governor recently closing down bars in Louisiana.
What makes this special release unique is that it is not sourced from Davis Valley, where the first four batches of their bourbon came from, but from MGP, which stands for Midwest Grain Products, which is the old Seagram’s Distillery in Indiana that has been in business in one form or another since before the Civil War. MGP has numerous different mashbills for all the different whiskies they make, and this one is truly unique – 51% corn (the bare minimum for bourbon) and 49% barley malt. Meaning there is no wheat or rye as a secondary flavoring grain. But, rather than simply going with a very high corn mashbill, the corn is going to be balanced out with the use of barley malt. This bourbon is seven years old, and is bottled at cask strength at 113.5 proof.
The first thing that impressed me was how dark this bourbon is. Untainted by water from proofing down, the color is an extremely rich dark amber, which is darker than other cask strength bourbons I have tried at the same age. On the swirl is a thin film that develops into thick legs. On the nose is sweet gooey caramel, some nice vanilla notes, and some lovely floral notes, with some oak deep in the background. On the palate, the caramel fades and the vanilla becomes more pronounced, and after a few Kentucky chews on this smooth bourbon, notes of cinnamon, dark chocolate, and a hint of star anise and oak comes to the fore and is the main part of the finish. The star anise and oak notes are reminiscent of certain Knob Creek Single Barrel store picks I have had. The mouthfeel is thick and rich on this bourbon, and the finish is very lingering. Adding a little water increases the sweetness and carries the vanilla out into the finish but buries the hint of oak that is there when drinking it neat. I say drink it neat but a little water doesn’t detract from this bourbon’s flavor profile.
Just a note about the unique mashbill; the closest thing I have ever tried to this mashbill is Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey, which is majority barley malt, secondary to corn and a hint of rye in the mashbill. This bourbon is unique in only having two grains, corn and malted barley, and with the mashbill being so heavily tilted in favor of malted barley. Most bourbon producers use minimal amounts of malted barley in the mashbill solely to extract enzymes from the barley that allow yeast to better turn sugar into alcohol. Some use more, and this bourbon helps me understand why. The barley really helps balance the harsh flavors corn whiskey can have and really adds to the lusciousness of the mouthfeel of a bourbon (or scotch, for that matter.) I do have to say that I wondered if the lack of wheat or rye in the mashbill would reduce the complexity of the flavors in this bourbon. It didn’t; the barley malt filled in nicely with floral and star anise notes on top of a wonderful traditional bourbon flavor profile.
But, this is a rock solid bourbon of good age and bottled at cask strength. And, at $75, this is a great value proposition given that a four year old bottle of Pinhook cask strength at under four years old costs that much or more. This beats Pinhook cask strength by a mile. But the most fun part about this bourbon is having tasted three of the other Sugarfield Bourbon releases and their rums and liqueurs, you really can taste the Soltau brother’s palates on this. They are setting a high bar in the nascent craft spirits industry in Louisiana, and the SR-1 bourbon release just set the bar a little bit higher.