Sunday, March 24, 2013

Whiskey Review: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Rock Hill Farms is one of the single barrel bourbons distilled at Buffalo Trace using their 'high rye' mash bill. I got a sample of this bourbon from Florin, one of my readers, as I'd been itching to try it since reading Josh's review. Rock Hill Farms is an actual location near BT, the home of Albert Blanton - the founder of the distillery.

While reading the comments on Josh's post I became aware of one of the confusing things about Buffalo Trace - they distill whiskey made from a number of different mash bills - a wheat recipe bourbon, a low rye (8%) bourbon, a high rye (15%) bourbon, and a rye whiskey (51%). However, despite a number of flagship products including Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, and Rock Hill Farms coming from the high rye mash bill, the distillery's name never appears on those bottles.

It turns out this is because the brands associated with the high rye mash bill are actually the property of  a Japanese company owned by Takaro Shuzo, Age International, who previously owned a major stake in Buffalo Trace and also owns a number of other spirit companies (the Tomatin whisky distillery, for instance). This came about due to the distillery's rather turbulent history during the late 1980s and early 1990s - at that point the distillery was still known at Ancient Age and Age International bought in after a less than successful attempt by executives from the previous owner, Schenley, to run the distillery on their own. Subsequently, the Sazerac corporation, which had previously bought bourbon under contract from Heaven Hill, purchased a majority stake in the distillery in the late 1990s so that they would be able to distill their own bourbon and renamed the distillery Buffalo Trace. This ended up pushing AI into a minority shareholder position, creating quite a bit of friction between the two companies. However, BT still produces bourbon using the high rye mash bill under contract for AI, as well as distributing it in the US. AI does international distribution on its own - meaning that some versions of their bourbons are only available abroad. This also explains why none of the high rye whiskey produced at BT has made it into their top-of-the-line Antique Collection - BT doesn't actually own any of it.

From Buffalo Trace
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel

Nose: red wine/brandy notes (acidic and grape-y), underlying dusty corn and rye grain, berries, dark chocolate, sandwich bread, rich caramel/toffee, a bit of vanilla. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes lighter and airier, the rye retreats but corn gains more ground, there's a touch of oak,  it seems sweet and dry at the same time, and there are stronger berries and vanilla.

Taste: brief sucrose sweetness up front - which subtly rides underneath the subsequent flavors, then big black/chili pepper spice and grapes/berries mid-palate, ending with mildly bitter oak notes. After dilution there is a more integrated flavor profile - the sweetness extends further back and the pepper/berries/oak come in sooner, and the berry flavors become much bigger with spikier pepper notes.

Finish: berries, rye, lightly bitter oak, toffee/vanilla, coffe beans, pepper, corn

This is a very, very good bourbon. While I will once again state my annoyance that there's no info about the barrel that this whiskey came from on the bottles, the person picking it did an excellent job. The only stumbling point comes when you want to talk about value. Out here in the great state of Oregon, Rock Hill Farms is above $50. Even from cheaper sources it's above $40. That's single malt whisky territory where there's a lot of stiff competition. If you want a bourbon of this caliber I'd lean towards something like Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which has a similar flavor profile and is also a whole lot cheaper.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review, Jordan. Just for fun, here were my notes, on the same bottle:

    Well balanced. Nose: cherry juice, subtle wood, elegant, not overwhelming. Taste: not as exciting as the nose, sweet, with some bitter wood notes, and rather simple. Finish: medium, slightly bitter. In a snifter with some water it opens up very nicely, with more depth than most bourbons. I can't explain why but I did not really appreciate it until it was almost gone.

    I also fully agree on the Rare Breed - with the note that for me Rare Breed stands head and shoulders over all commonly available bourbons.