Monday, October 26, 2020

Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Pretty bottles concern me. It isn't anything scary, mind you, but it is often indicative of trying to make a crappy whiskey seem better by putting it in a fancy package. As such, when this Solera Aged Bourbon from Hillrock Estate Distillery showed up on my doorstep, I had to roll my eyes and wonder what I was getting myself into.

Unless you're a real whiskey nerd, you're probably wondering what a Solera is.  

Solera aging involves a pyramid of barrels where a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically from the lowest tier of barrels and an equal measure of new whiskey is added to the top barrels. No barrel in the Solera is ever emptied, and over time, the older whiskey in the Solera mingles with younger whiskeys to create unmatched depth and complexity. - Hillrock Estate Distillery

Does that sound like marketing-speak?  I've seen Solera systems up close and personal. There is a distillery (Dancing Goat) about 20 minutes away from me that utilizes one. It is an interesting way to age whiskey and the cool thing is, no two batches are alike. But, you have to know what you're doing with a Solera system. You can't just randomly pull out and add whiskey.

Hillrock started the whole Solera aging system for Bourbon back in 2012. They didn't invent it. Solera systems have been used by brewers, vintners, and distillers for ages. But, Bourbon is fairly new to the process. Hillrock has another first:  it was the first American distillery to have its own malting floor.

Founded in 2012 at Ancram, New York, by Jeffrey Baker and his wife, Cathy Franklin, they reached out to the late, great Dave Pickerell to be their Master Distiller. The finishing process in the Solera uses 20-year old Olorosso sherry casks. Hillrock is a grain-to-glass distillery, meaning it does everything from growing the grains to bottling the whiskey on-premises. A copper pot still is used to create the distillate of 63% corn and 37% rye. The average age of the whiskey is six years, although it carries no age statement.  A 92.6°, 750ml bottle will set you back around $90.00.  

I'd like to thank Hillrock for sending me a bottle in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious. For the record, I'm reviewing Batch 185.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Hillrock presented as chestnut in color.  It left a medium rim that generated fat, fast legs that fell back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of maple syrup and sweet vanilla cream were obvious. As I continued to explore, I found raisin and mint. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, very strong vanilla races across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick, rich, and creamy.  The more I sipped, the heavier the body became. On the front, the sherry influence offered plum, raisin, and fig.  As it moved to mid-palate, a blend of caramel, nougat, and milk chocolate was easy to pick out. Think of a Milky Way candy bar. Clove, cinnamon, and toasted oak made up the back.

Finish:  A long finish started spicy with oak, cinnamon, and the slightest hint of char. But, dark chocolate and raisin fell behind that. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Solera aging is interesting and doesn't always work well. I've had some that have been very meh.  On the other hand, there are some that are mind-blowing. Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon falls into that latter category. I loved every aspect of this whiskey, from the nose to the finish. There isn't a single negative thing I can point out. Yeah, it is a $90.00 Bourbon, but once you crack it open you won't care. This snags my coveted Bottle rating and, in fact, might be one of the best non-allocated, on-the-shelf Bourbons I've had this year.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


  1. Great review, you had me at caramel, and milk chocolate 😉

  2. This was the worst bourbon I've ever tried. I bought the bottle for $132 and after 2 sips out of a glass I dumped the bottle out and only kept the bottle. This is coming from a guy that has tried many, many different bourbons.

    1. Interesting, but that simply reiterates the point that no two palates are alike and is the reason why there's hundreds of different Bourbons. On the flip side of the coin, the people I've given samples to have enjoyed Hillrock. Cheers!

    2. Sorry but that is ridiculous. If you didn’t like this bourbon then there is no explanation. I bought many bottles of this and have turned on many friends to this bourbon and all have 100% thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it’s you?