We recently were visiting family in Wisconsin. The last time we were there, I had eyed an unopened bottle of J. Henry & Sons that our hostess had acquired at a work event. Not wanting to crack the seal on a host’s bourbon, I kept my hands off and thought, “maybe next time”.
It was late summer, and we were making a return visit to Southern Wisconsin. Taking in New Glarus (including New Glarus Brewing) and plenty of cheese, I decided that “when you’re with the locals, try some of the local stuff.”
The Secret is in the Corn
Since 1946, the Henry Family has been farming their 900-acre farm in Dane, Wisconsin – about 20 miles north of Madison. During the farm crisis of the 1980’s, Joe Henry made the decision to do whatever it took to save the family farm. Taking off-farm jobs, Joe and wife, Liz, worked for others before taking the leap of faith to produce their own product.
Pride shows throughout the finished bourbons and ryes. Most of the grains are grown onsite, including 1939 University of Wisconsin heirloom red corn, wheat, and rye – only barley is not produced on the family farm (but still in Wisconsin).
Distillation takes place at 45th Parallel Distillery in New Richmond, Wisconsin (not far from Minneapolis). There, the distillate is shipped back to the Dane farm, placed in barrels with a #3 char and allowed to age in the former dairy barn – now converted to a modern-day rickhouse storing about 500 barrels. Mother Nature provides the rest over five successive Wisconsin summers and winters.
The mash bill is approximately 60% heirloom red corn, 14% wheat, 14% rye, and 12% malted barley. The bottle I’m enjoying is from batch #53 and bottle number 2057. It carries a 5-year age statement and is bottled at 92 proof.
Nose: Soft and gentle corn and grassy notes, along with vanilla and subtle hint of cherry and nuttiness.
Palate: Definitely “grain forward”. Creamy sweet corn pudding with subtle notes of vanilla. This is very soft and pleasant. Very corn-forward and reminds me somewhat of Wilderness Trail.
Finish: Medium with some crisp rye notes followed by more oak with a smooth peppery finish.
Overall: This is a wonderful Midwestern expression. I’m the first to question craft expressions, but similar to New Riff and Wilderness Trail – hats off for NOT rushing something to market that is less than your best product.
While Kentucky produces 95% of the bourbon, congrats to these Midwesterners for truly delivering a great, craft product. The price point is around $50, which for a craft-distilled product is on par. If you’re on the hunt for this, it’s in a small footprint, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. Add on a 5-year age statement and this is one you’ll actually be proud to share with your friends and family. My bottle is just about empty, which, at this rate, says this was fine bourbon!