I recently caught an article that named this Washington bourbon “Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon”. Those are definitely “big words” and a high compliment. Was this really that good? With bourbon booming, while Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon, there are some good (and bad) bourbons showing up outside the Commonwealth. How does this one rate? Read on.
Craft Bourbon or Crafting a Story?
It’s often easy to fall in love with the marketing that goes into a bourbon brand. Stories of a long-lost relative or a family recipe passed down through the generations can add credibility and can create a history for a newly opened distillery sourcing spirits and slapping their own label on the bottles.
One of the first things I look for on a label are the words “produced” or “distilled” and note the location to determine if the brand is distilling, aging, and bottling their own distillate. The good news is – Woodinville is doing all three. Their brands include a Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Straight Rye Whiskey, Double Barrel whiskey, a port-finished whiskey and even their own Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup. For our review today, we chose their 90-proof Woodinville Straight Bourbon whiskey. The word “straight” indicates that the bourbon is at least 2 years old.
According to their website, this small batch bourbon begins with a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley – all grown exclusively at the Omlin Family farm in Quincy, Washington. While Woodinville’s distilling operations are in Woodinville, Washington (a suburb of Seattle), the distillate is then trucked back across the Cascade Mountains where they are aged in Central Washington and exposed to more extreme temperatures than those found in costal Seattle.
One unique feature of this brand is the aging of the oak used by the coopers. Prior to coming together as a barrel, the wood is seasoned in the open air – exposed to sun, wind, rain and snow – for 18 months. The result is a softening of the typically harsh wood tannins that can cause bitterer notes in the finished products. Barrels are then toasted and heavily charred before receiving their small batch spirit.
Woodinville proudly states that their whiskeys don’t begin with 100-year-old recipes or generations of family distillers. Rather, it begins with best friends – Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile – and a dream of making fine spirits. As they began operations, they were guided by mentor David Pickerell – the former Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark, Whistle Pig, and the legend that helped craft Blackened. The Woodinville brand has already received several accolades, including Craft Whiskey of the Year and Craft Rye Whiskey from the American Distilling Institute.
Things are changing, though, as similar to the beer industry, major distillers are taking notice of exceptional craft spirt companies and gobbling them up. Luxury giant LVMH is the latest one to take notice and added Woodinville to their portfolio. While not a household name, you know LVMH’s brands. In addition to a number of retail shopping merchants, their lineup includes Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon, Hennessy cognac, Moet & Chandon champagnes, Givenchy, Dior, and in November 2019 they added their largest acquisition – Tiffany’s.
Woodinville Straight Bourbon is made from a mash bill comprising 72% corn, 22% rye, and 6% malted barley. It is bottled at 90-proof, and while there is no age statement, it is said to contain batched bourbons between 5-6 years.
Nose: Very lovely. Brown sugar, vanilla, caramel, and candy corn sweetness. There are layers of complexity present along with some light tropical-citrus notes.
Palate: This is very nice. Some raw, corn-like grains followed by more vanilla and brown sugar along with a balanced amount of spice and gentle wood notes. Truly, a very lovely expression, and for me, a comfortable pour.
Finish: Medium in length. Some oak and spice, but smooth without a harsh note.
Overall: Is this the BEST non-Kentucky bourbon? Wow, that’s a big honor, indeed. I’ve been expanding my palate and checking out some smaller, less known brands. This one does things right.
Similar to our friends at J. Henry & Sons in Dane, Wisconsin, New Riff in Newport, Kentucky, and Wilderness Trail in Danville, Kentucky, Woodinville has taken their time to produce a solid product. Sharing it with a friend, he felt it tasted thin and young.
I, on the other hand, appreciated the corn-forward, grassy notes that were well-blended together. This was very smooth, very drinkable, and I was surprised by the high-rye content. I would have anticipated this to have red wheat or a higher barley content to round out the flavors. Priced around $36, don’t be afraid to snag a bottle of this West Coast bourbon. It can stand its own with the Kentucky heavyweights.