The First Millionaire American Barley Whisky Review & Tasting Notes


It’s not unheard of for winemakers to dip their toes into distilling and come out with fascinating results. There’s Wollersheim, Cedar Ridge, Huber’s Starlight, and many others. Wineries have advantages over other startups because they already have distributors, are familiar with legal issues, including dealing with the TTB, and understand that not everything turns out fantastic.


Boisset Collection, headed by Jean-Charles Boisset, owns several historic wineries worldwide. Boisset dedicated his life to winemaking and has since established Calistoga Depot Distillery in California’s Napa Valley.  


“The debut of the Calistoga Depot Distillery spirits portfolio is a culmination of the years of work that it took to develop a collection that portrays the best in artisan distilling in Northern California interwoven with our unique savoir-faire. This is expressed through our expertise in terroir, the art of refining spirits in our own wine barrels, and a deep passion for the history of distilling in the region. We are stewards of history - both in the spirits we create and in the destination that inspired them.” – Jean-Charles Boisset


Today, we’ll check out The First Millionaire, labeled as an American Barley Whisky that was aged (not finished) in 100% Napa Valley wine casks. It honors Sam Brannan, an entrepreneur during California’s Gold Rush. Once the first miners and panners showed up, he cornered the market for every available shovel, pan, and pick-axes in the immediate and surrounding areas. In turn, he sold them – at markups of 1000% or more – to miners desperate to strike their fortune. By 1850, Sam was California’s first millionaire.


The First Millionaire carries a 4-year age statement and is packaged at 45% ABV (90°). The barley used came exclusively from Sacramento, and the distiller is undisclosed. It stands to reason that one or more of Boisset’s wineries supplied the barrels. It has a suggested price of $75.00 for a 750ml bottle.   


Is The First Millionaire a bargain at that price? We’ll #DrinkCurious to find the answer, but first, I must thank Calistoga Depot Distillery for providing me with my sample in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest review.  


Appearance: I poured this whisky into my Glencairn glass and sipped it neat. The liquid was the color of deep gold. The medium rim released slow, wavy tears.


Nose: The fragrance of wine filled the air while I allowed it to rest. When I brought it close to my face and began nosing, I smelled white grapes, apples, grass, and oak. I asked Mrs. Whiskeyfellow if she could identify the type of wine; all she could tell me was likely not a chardonnay. When I pulled the vapor through my lips, I tasted apple cider.


Palate: The thick, creamy texture led me to flavors of crème brulee and baked apples on the front of my palate. The middle featured milk chocolate and almond, and the back tasted of oak, old leather, and clove.


Finish: Its medium duration left me with leather, oak, chocolate, and apples in my mouth and throat.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you blindfolded me, handed me a glass, and told me to sip, I’d guess I was drinking a semi-dry white wine. This did not taste like any whisky I’ve had before, malted barley or otherwise. I’m not a wine drinker – I like wine, but I don’t seek it out. If you're into semi-dry white wines, this could be a winner.


I’ll give kudos to Calistoga Depot Distillery for producing an unusual whisky. Despite my gravitating to unique whiskies, I still prefer whisky to taste like… well… whisky. The First Millionaire American Barley missed that mark. For $75.00, this is a novelty for sure, it isn't bad, but at the same time, I can’t score it above a Bar rating. You’ll absolutely want to try this one first before you commit. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you to do so responsibly.