Review: RockCastle Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Barrel House Distilling Co. (batch #3)

I’ve heard this described as the ‘local Holy Grail’ of bourbons. RockCastle is the first bourbon by Lexington’s Barrel House Distilling Co.

This is batch #3; batches #1 and #2 sold out within a week of hitting the shelves.

Barrel House Distilling Co. has been producing spirit for about 8 years but they waited to release a bourbon until they were confident in their ability and in their product. They also make Pure Blue Vodka, Devil John Moonshine, Devil John ‘Darkshine’ and Oak Rum, which is aged in used bourbon barrels. (BHD also has an amazingly fun tour. Be sure to ask for Chad or Bobby. Actually, there’s no need to do that because those are all the distiller/tour guides they have.)

Production is what you’d expect for a small, Kentucky craft bourbon distillery. They use local grains from nearby Weisenberger Mill and water direct from the spring from King Springs in Rockcastle County. They have a beautiful little 500 liter pot still from Portugal. They bottle by hand. They have a cat.

Production: “about” 60% corn, 30% wheat, 10% malted barley (the “about” was from Bobby); distilled and bottled by Barrel House Distilling Co. in Lexington, KY with off-site maturation in Kentucky;  aged 2 to 2 1/2 years in 25 gallon barrels; minimally filtered and bottled at barrel strength of 117.5 proof.

Color: The darkest obsidian drawn from the black heart of a sleeping giant buried beneath the earth. Okay, that’s not true at all but it is striking how much darker it is than most bourbons. Part of that is the higher proof but that doesn’t seem to justify all of the color. It’s actually dark red-brown verging on purple; it reminds me of a dark port or sherry.

Nose: Don’t nose it. The alcohol is overwhelming and the nose is clearly faulted. In addition to the alcohol, there’s kind of an earthy/mushroom and blackened crème brûlée thing going on.

Palate: Hot but not overwhelmingly so. Obvious alcohol. Very sweet and smokey. More of the crème brûlée but also distinct vanilla bean, caramel and butterscotch plus faint orange and stone fruit, especially dark plum.

Finish: Don’t judge it by the nose because the finish is divine. Unlike many small-barrel bourbons, there are no ashy/tobacco notes. The finish isn’t as smooth as some higher-proofed bourbons like Booker’s, but it’s smooth enough and just warm enough. The finish lingers and transitions through a complex range of sweets, light wood smoke, stone fruits, berries, a few holiday spices and a dazzling array of chocolates. There are dozens of distinct flavors within those categories – butterscotch, oak, nectarine, plum, blackberry, dark cherry, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate and cocoa nibs, just to name a few.

Verdict: I’m so glad I have a bottle because RockCastle is a joy to savor. At $70 (or more if your retailer jacks it up), is it overpriced for a two year old bourbon? Maybe, but I’m not the kind to stand in line for PVW and I would stand in line for this.  Also, there’s only 428 bottles available. (Well, 427 now.) With so little to go around, I’ll definitely be sharing mine until it’s gone. And then I’ll be sad that there’s no more.

Post Script: Oddly, it doesn’t taste much like batch #2 (at least according to my tasting notes of that one). While the nose is worse, there’s much, much more complexity here which, in my personal opinion, makes for a much better bourbon.

EDIT: Corrected water source and maturation location. Thanks to Pete at BHD Co. for the corrections!