Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Spirit Works Distillery Four Grain Bourbon, Straight Rye, and Straight Wheat Whiskey Reviews & Tasting Notes

I have fun with samples I receive from others these because they're often from off-the-radar distilleries. I love that they're blind tastings for me and for the most part, I have zero preconceived notions (again, since they're not on my radar).

One such distillery is Spirit Works Distillery of Sonoma County, California. It is a grain-to-glass operation that was founded in 2012 by the husband-and-wife team of Timo and Ashby Marshall. Ashby is the original Head Distiller, and Krystal Goulart, who trained under Ashby, is also a distiller. One thing of note is Spirit Works was awarded the 2020 ADI Distiller of the Year. All of the grain they work with is organic.

"We make everything in-house from milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling all the way through to bottling and shipments out the door." - Spirit Works Distillery

I'm going to explore their Four Grain Bourbon, Straight Rye, and Straight Wheat whiskeys. Without further ado, let's #DrinkCurious and get these tasted and rated.

Four Grain Bourbon

This is a blend of two of their whiskeys, and has a mashbill of 60% corn, with the remainder rye, wheat, and malted barley. The corn and wheat are from California. The mash was distilled in their German-made hybrid pot still and then aged at least four years in new, charred oak 53-gallon barrels.  This Bourbon is bottled at 90°, and a 750ml runs about $50.00, which is smack-dab in the middle of what craft whiskey is priced. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the whiskey presented as a brassy, orange-amber.  It created a thicker rim that generated slow, medium-weight legs to roll back down the wall into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: The nose on this was sweet and fruity, with brown sugar, honey, berry, cherry, plum, and then oak. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I found a blend of honey, vanilla, and musty oak. 

Palate: The mouthfeel was light and creamy. There was no burn per se, but spice notes were evident. The first thing I tasted was vanilla sugar cookie. That was the only flavor on the front. At mid-palate, flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg took over. On the back, there was an impression of cherry and toasted oak.

Finish: The finish was challenging because it was a flash and then gone. It required several sips to pin anything down. I picked up nuts, nutmeg, and finally, white pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I stated earlier, $50.00 is right in the middle of what most craft distilleries charge.  At 90°, you aren't left with a feeling that the distillery is only interested in mass production. The team has carefully determined what the optimal proof should be. However, I believe this Bourbon needs to age a year or so longer. The almost missing finish gave nothing to round things out. This had a beautiful nose but an average, unremarkable palate. Considering all of that, I'm going to toss a Bar rating.

Straight Rye Whiskey

This one is non-chill filtered and aged a minimum of four years in 53-gallon new, charred oak barrels. The mashbill is undisclosed other than it being a "high rye" whiskey. Suggested retail is $65.00 for a 750ml, and bottled at 90°.

Appearance: Using a Glencairn glass, the Rye appeared as a honey-amber color. It left a medium rim on the wall, which created long, fast legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of oak, cinnamon, mint, and green apple greeted my nostrils, and when I drew the air into my mouth, spearmint rolled across my tongue. 

Palate:  A medium body with a very oily mouthfeel started things off. On the front, I tasted caramel and cinnamon. As it moved to the middle, flavors of cherry and coconut became evident, and then, on the back, I discovered rye spice and oak.

Finish:  I found the finish to be long and peppery, with dry oak and cherry abounding.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The Straight Rye was a fairly basic whiskey. There's nothing not to like, but similar to the Four Grain, there's nothing that stands out. If Spirit Works didn't mention it was a "high rye" whiskey, I would have guessed it was barely legal at 51%. Again, I think this needs a few more years in oak. Were I to keep this in my whiskey library, it would be for mixing cocktails. That being said, $65.00 is way too much to pay for a mixer. Due to that, I'm rating this one a Bust

Straight Wheat Whiskey

Made from a mash of 100% California-grown red winter wheat, the Straight Wheat Whiskey is non-chill filtered and aged at least four years in new, charred oak barrels. It is proofed down to 90°, and you should expect to pay about $65.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Appearance: Being consistent and using a Glencairn glass, the Straight Wheat offered a deep honey color.  It left no rim but generated one heck of a wavy curtain to drop down the wall.

Nose:  Light and floral on the nose, one thing that stood out was bubble gum. When I brought the fumes into my mouth, I was hit with a wave of butterscotch.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was full-bodied and somewhat bitter. On the front, I sampled walnut and sweet tobacco leaf. As it moved to the middle, there was a strange mix of unsweetened tea and cocoa powder. The back was a combination of oak, clove, and black pepper. 

Finish:  Medium-long in length, it consisted of a ramp-up of clove, dry oak, and cola. The bitterness from the mouthfeel continued all the way through.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There are certain things I'm not a fan of.  Unsweetened tea is one of them. I'm also not big on neat whiskeys that are bitter. Bittersweet I don't mind at all, but this was not that. It, like the previous two whiskeys, was fairly unremarkable, and when I take into account this is a $65.00 whiskey, it becomes an unattractive prospect. This, like the Rye, will, unfortunately, take a Bust from me. 


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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


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