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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

New Riff Single Barrel

I was recently at Justins’ House of Bourbon in Lexington, Kentucky and noticed this new barrel pick - New Riff Single Barrel. These are boom times in Kentucky when it comes to bourbon. While many instinctively head to Central Kentucky for bourbon, Northern Kentucky has a rich history when it comes to dark spirits.

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, some craft distilleries have a long way to go. In several instances, I’ve been disappointed by the micro-distilleries, 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. New Riff has been doing many things right, including patiently waiting to release bottled-in-bond products and using a non-chill filtration process (to learn more about non-chill filtration, check out our story on Jim Beam Repeal Batch), allowing a more flavor-packed product.

The distillery recently had much success at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with head distiller is 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

The tall, dark bottle shares a wealth of information. It is bottled at 108.5 proof. It is from barrel 17-1913; distilled on 3/28/2017; and bottled on 6/15/2021. Similar to other products from New Riff, this has not used chill filtration.

From the label, we're told to expect aromas of cinnamon stick, vanilla cone, and strawberry with flavors of French toast, black pepper and cranberry. The mash bill reflects the local area's heritage of higher-rye whiskeys, and is made from 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley.

Eye: Amber.

Nose: Warm vanilla and fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon scone with brown sugar topping. This is quite lovely.

Palate: The non-chill filtration adds a slightly thicker mouthfeel that imparts velvety richness. Vanilla and browned butter up front plays off of cinnamon and pepper spice. This is a nice balance of sweet and savory. A couple drops of limestone-filtered water brings out intense vanilla and tames the cinnamon but leaves the snappy pepper notes.

Finish: Medium-long. Warm vanilla sugar with a cinnamon-pepper ending.

Overall: This is absolutely delicious. New Riff has nailed another one! For a higher-proof bourbon, this is a very enjoyable blend of sweet and savory. With a substantial mouthfeel, this is a perfect bourbon to expand your collection and to share with friends. If you don't see a single barrel selection at your favorite shopping spot, don't hesitate to try one of their tasty Bottled-in-Bond versions.

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