Wilderness Trail 8-Year Small Batch
I've been a huge fan of this, now, not so small little distillery. And, apparently, it has caught the eye of bourbon lovers and investors as Campari announced in October 2022 that they had purchased a majority stake in this craft distiller. Today, we take a look at the long-awaited Wilderness Trail 8-Year Small Batch. Based upon the distillery's age, this is likely one of the early batches produced at the Danville, Kentucky distiller.
Good Things Come to those who Wait
I've shared before how much I enjoyed our tour of the Wilderness Trail Distillery in the Fall of 2021. Founders Shane Baker and Dr. Pat Heist, with an intense knowledge of yeast fermentation, began operations in 2012 after helping many distillers - fledgling and established - hone their product.
Like all of Wilderness Trail's products, this one is made using a "fresh mash" or "sweet mash" process. While a majority of distillers utilize a "sour mash" process where a portion of the prior batch's mash is "set back" (or serves as "backset") and is added to the next batch of mash. Like sourdough bread, the sour mash process ensures a consistent quality without the careful watch of the distiller.
Sweet mash processes, on the other hand, can be very tricky, as each bash of mash receives fresh yeast, and operators need to ensure that no wild yeast strains are introduced to the mash, changing or tainting the finished product. Master Distiller Jimmy Russell shared at a dinner once that everyone tries a sweet mash batch once - and then goes back to a sour mash. The folks at Wilderness Trail have ultimately proven that this process can work and can be used to produce some exceptional bourbons.
This bourbon is in the iconic rectangular Wilderness Trail bottle with script writing, and a golden neck label indicating it has been aged 8 years. This is batch number 17F22221. Wilderness Trail utilizes both a wheated mash bill for their flagship Bottled-in-Bond product in addition to a high rye mash bill for their small batch brand 64 percent corn, 24 percent rye and 12 percent malted barley). The finished product is Bottled-in-Bond, indicating a final proof of 100, and like all their products is non-chill filtered.
Eye: Orange copper with thin and lacy wisps in my Glencairn glass.
Nose: Buttery vanilla and caramel, with marzipan and floral blossoms. There is a very light note of tropical bananas.
Palate: A creamy sweet-savory explosion. Vanilla, spice, oak, and banana-candy (think of Circus Peanuts you had as a child) are gently layered together. When I say "Circus Peanuts", one can easily be "put off", but this was absolutely delicious and very gently expressed, with no single element overpowering the other.
Finish: Long, smooth, and balanced, with vanilla, oak char and spice.
Overall: Two thumbs up! If you can find this, it is well worth the price for a unique, craft bourbon. Retail is around $89, though, I probably wouldn't pay too much north of that, as there are other, similarly aged bourbons that are more consistently found, including Russell's Reserve and Knob Creek.
Be sure to check out our tour review, as well as Wilderness Trail's Wheated Bourbon, their traditional Small Batch, and 6-Year Small Batch expression. With Campari's purchase of Wilderness Trail, I'm hoping that Wilderness Trail won't stray too far from its well-established roots.