In July of this year, Fruge Spirits who have had a rice vodka on the market since 2018 released their first Rice Whiskey, J.T. Meleck. During the pandemic they made hand sanitizer which was available at Hokus and I bought some. Made with Louisiana rice and aged in newly charred oak barrels for four to five years. I hadn’t picked up a bottle as I had no idea what it would taste like and thought there is no way this could taste like bourbon. But Hokus Pokus did a barrel pick with them, a cask strength 122.2 proof whiskey that was aged in a thirty gallon as opposed to a standard 53 gallon barrel. I sampled it at the store and bought a bottle to review because this is a good sixty dollar bottle of whiskey, and I am surprised at how good it tastes.
The color is a really nice dark amber; you would think you were looking at bourbon based on the color. On the swirl are really thick oily legs. On the nose is vanilla, caramel, with some dark fruits in the background. On the palate, you would swear this is bourbon – vanilla and caramel notes predominate and are followed by chocolate and buttery notes. Again, if you were tasting this blind, you would swear it was bourbon, and wheated bourbon at that. On the finish this whiskey is very desserty, sweet but with cinnamon spice notes rounding the flavor out. Mouthfeel is very rich and it is dangerously quaffable at 122.2 proof as it is extremely smooth. Despite being a “craft” distillery, this has no craft bitterness at all. Moreover, after the finish fades this lovely vanilla note hangs around for a long time.
Tasting this blind I think most people would think it was a wheated bourbon, where the spirit is not as assertive on flavor and the barrel does the work as far as flavor profile. Apparently four years in a smaller barrel in Acadia Parish, Louisiana, can really transform a rice whiskey into something really special, as this drinks a lot older than four years old. I have tried a lot of cask strength cask bourbons at four to five years old that really were not that good and were bitter on the finish. J.T. Meleck blows those bourbons out of the water.
I watched the virtual tour of the distillery. Mike Fruge indeed knows what he is doing. He didn’t jump the gun and release his whiksey too early; he waited for it to age properly. He filtered his water so it was just right; and he’s only barrelling three barrels a day after a painstaking distilling process with no shortcuts. The results are absolutely outstanding.
Color me shocked that a Louisiana rice whiskey aged for four years in the hot Louisiana climate would end up being amazing. I have generally eschewed Texas bourbons contending that without the seasonal changes you have in Tennessee and Kentucky you can’t properly age whiskey south of there, as you get all harsh oak and nothing else. I have said that Louisiana is too hot and humid to age whiskey and we should only make rum down here. J.T. Meleck defies all of my logic on that, with a rice whiskey to boot.