Wilderness Trail Small Batch
We’ve enjoyed several products from newer distillers that are doing things right, including Wilderness Trail and New Riff. Both have been patient to release bottled-in-bond products, allowing the finished product to slowly mature to an age of at least 4-years, with the finished product bottled at 100 proof.
Small Batch = High Rye
The traditional Wilderness Trail Bottled-in-Bond product is a wheated bourbon, with a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat (one of the highest in the industry), and 12% malted barley. To the contrary, the Small Batch rendition is 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley. Due to its hefty dose of rye, this would qualify as a “high rye” bourbon.
The grains are sourced locally, and the bourbons are made with a sweet mash process. Many bourbons on the market utilize a sour mash process, meaning a portion of the spent mash is added to subsequent mashes, similar to adding a portion of the sourdough batter back to the starter to make the next batch of bread. Using a sweet mash process means a fresh batch of yeast is added to each batch of mash. This can be tricky and delicate to generate consistent flavor profiles and can be a true test of a distiller’s skill. The result of a sweet mash is to provide both a softer and more flavorful profile than traditional sour mashes.
The Small Batch adjective can be cryptic in the bourbon dictionary. There isn’t a single definition, such as that of “proof” or “age”. One distillery may batch several barrels or several hundred barrels, and still label it as small batch. At Wilderness Trail, Small Batch is a blend of up to 12 barrels per batch – basically the result of a single fermenter, capturing more complex notes than a traditional non-small batch run. The distillate comes off the still at around 137 proof and enters a #4 charred barrel at 110 proof.
As mentioned earlier, this was a bottled-in-bond non-chill filtration bourbon, bottle 246 of 253. The Bottled-in-Bond Act 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 non-chill filtration allows some of the fatty oils and esters to remain in the bourbon. While the bourbon may become a little cloudy if chilled with ice, these oils and fatty acids typically add a creamier, richer mouthfeel.
I lean towards a balanced blend, and sometimes brands with high rye can be a bit too spicy for my palate. Let’s see how master distiller Shane Baker did with this small batch profile …
Eye: Deep amber. This has a rich and inviting eye.
Nose: Loads of vanilla, corn, and butterscotch along with marzipan and baked stone fruits. This smells lovely.
Palate: A burst of cornbread at the outset followed by sweet honey a baking spice explosion. The non-chill filtered process produces a thick and smooth sensation. This definitely has some more complex notes than the traditional Bottled-in-Bond rendition.
Finish: Long and smooth with honey, vanilla, and green pepper spice. Absolutely delicious.
Overall: Well balanced and delicious. This is a great testament to the strength of the craft distilling industry and an interesting look at the impact of the mash bill. While the traditional Wilderness Trail Bottled-in-Bond uses wheat as the secondary grain, the Small Batch utilizes rye. The traditional expression weighs heavy on buttered sweet corn and cornbread notes and to me, tasted just a tad youthful. The resulting Small Batch feels more balanced, allowing the corn sweetness to pair nicely with the spicier rye. Hats off Shane! You’ve created another solid bourbon for the books!