TASTING REVIEW: NEW RIFF BOTTLED IN BOND

I was recently in one of my favorite little “honey holes” in the Bluegrass and noticed an elegant looking bottle.

I’ve read an article or two on the boom-times not only in the traditional bourbon country of Kentucky, but also in the Northern Kentucky area. In addition to the old mainlines of bourbon (e.g. Beam, Maker’s, Buffalo Trace,etc.), there’s an emerging craft bourbon market, as well.  While craft breweries have been chipping away at market share of the old mainline brewers, craft distilleries have a long way to go. In several instances, I’ve been disappointed by the micro-distilleries, as whether it’s the water, yeast, barrels or aging – they just haven’t been able to match some of the “Big Dogs”. And in many cases, the bourbon has been overpriced, underaged, sourced, or just rotgut.  

New Riff has me rethinking that statement.

Building on an Old Tradition

New Riff’s website begins –   Family-owned, Kentucky Bred … We answer to nothing but our relentless commitment to whiskey, quality and craft. No shareholders. No shortcuts. New Riff is based in Newport, KY and was founded in 2014 by Ken Lewis, a liquor retailer with more than 40 years of experience. They currently produce bottled-in-bond bourbon, bottled-in-bond rye, single-barrel bourbon, Kentucky Wild Gin, and Barrel-Aged Kentucky Wild Gin.  

New Riff has been receiving a host of accolades of late, as well. As a small distiller, they’re able to source grains locally, including non-GMO corn from Indiana, rye from Northern Europe, and American malted barley. The product I picked up was their first batch of distillery-made bourbon (they had sourced a product previously). This first release is a four-year bottled-in-bond with a limited distribution area. New Riff also touts a non-chill filtration process (I wrote about a similar process used by Jim Beam Repeal Batch a couple months ago).

The distillery recently had success at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with head distiller Brian Sprance, a veteran of BarrelHouse Brewing and Samuel Adams, coming home with five Double Golds. New Riff operates a pot still along with six 5,300-gallon fermenters. As a micro-distillery, they’re typically filling 40 barrels a day – less than what Jim Beam barrels in a single hour.

The Tasting

As mentioned earlier, this was a bottled-in-bond non-chill filtration bourbon. The Bottled-in-Bond label requires it to be a product of a single distillation season, by one distiller, at a single distillery, stored in a federally bonded warehouse under US government supervision for at least 4 years, and bottled at 100 proof. The mashbill reflects the local area’s heritage of higher-rye whiskeys, with 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. I was able to purchase this bottle in the $35-$40 range.  

Eye: Very dark amber – very interesting for a four-year bottled-in-bond product.

Nose: Brown sugar and butterscotch with cinnamon and some dark fruit notes. The smell is pretty amazing. Can’t wait to taste.

Palate: The non-chill filtration adds a slightly thicker mouthfeel that imparts some richness. Definitely some cinnamon spice from the higher rye content, with notes of vanilla and even some light citrus notes at the end. Interesting, based on what I nosed.

Finish: Medium. There is sweetness and spice (again from the higher rye content).  

Overall: If you enjoy a higher rye bourbon, this is one you should consider adding to your cabinet. It was solid on the rocks, as well as neat. This is probably one for your more experienced bourbon friends. This was a little “rough” around the edges – I’d love to see a couple more years on this product.  

I applaud the New Riff team for allowing this to be a bottled-in-bond product in today’s rush-to-market where products at some smaller distilleries seem to go from still to bottle in a matter of months. For a 4-year bottled-in-bond product, from one of the hottest new bourbon areas, and in today’s no-age-statement labeling, this is good one to try.

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