I've been putting the hurt on a couple of new mico-distillery whiskeys of late, one from Boston and one from upstate New York. Both are creditable and tasty and make me happy.
Bully Boy American Striaght Whiskey ($40) is produced by a couple of brothers in a frayed, industrial part of Boston — the first to produce liquor in Boston in years. They're also making rum, vodka, and white dog. Their aged whiskey was just released late last year and is made in a 150-gallon Kothe still with a mashbill of 45% corn, 45% rye and 10% barley. Then it went for two years in new American oak barrels with a heavy char.
Given the high rye, it's a surprisingly big and round whiskey, with hints of corn candy and only the slghtest hint of white-doggish funk, reflecting the honorable amount of time it spent in standard sized barrels. "It's kind of ppular to age stuff in small barrels, to get stuff to market faster," Will Willis told me, "but we just weren't psyched about it – it was a little too woody." I thought it shared a nicely harmonizing note or two with rum – there's a lovely, lingering sweetness.
I'm glad they gave this some time to relax instead of rushing to market. Thanks to time, Bully Boy makes for a perfectly fine sipping rum – not as complex as some longer-aged bourbons coming out of Kentucky, but still a welcome companion on a persistent winter night.
Hilllrock, located a little more than two hours north of New York City near where New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut converge, is all about the time. It claims the first approved solera-system for aging bourbon, an arrrangement whereby the whiskey starts in barrels that are later drawn down partway and used to top off older barrels and so on, until the whiskey at the bottom of the process is bottled. (This is a prety simple technology; what's more of a feat is that they it managed to find their way through the federal regulatory maze and still call this bourbon. My assumpton is that the juice has to be aged in new oak barrels for a time before it makes its way into the solera.)
It's a new distillery, so they're starting with "seed bourbon" – some aged product sourced from another distillery that mirrors the taste profile they're seeking. Distiller Dave Pickerell was at Maker's Mark for quite a run, and he knows where a lot of good stuff is hidden around the U.S. and Canada, and has the connections to acquire it. (He did much the same with the remarkable Whistlepig Rye.) The newly made whiskey at the upstate N.Y. the distillery first aged in smaller, new barrels, then blended with the seed bourbon, and then re-aged, solera-style. They claim an average age of six years.
It's quite good, and has an elegant custom bottle. There's a pleasing flinty minerality to it, with and nice spicnees on the finish, which is likely attributable to the aggressive 37 percent rye in the mashbill.Then it's all complicated with cherry notes. Is it worth $88? Well... I prefer some of the Willett's at half that price, but this is still an excellent sipping whiskey and should occupy a place of pride at any bar.
Neither of these were as complex as some of the longer-aged whiskeys I've been sucking down lately, but both have sufficient richness – far better than the one-note of bottom-shelf whiskey, and they run circles around a lot of the thin, one-note stuff coming out of other micro-distilleries. I say: check 'em out.