Don't tell the bees, but maple is the new honey. After a brief fling with the nectar of those orderly arthropods, it seems that the whiskey industry is turning towards the marriage of sap and spirit. While there were already a handful of whiskey/maple liqueurs on the market, the recent release of Knob Creek's Smoked Maple Bourbon heralded a new age in the movement to grow whiskey product lineups.
But adding flavors to spirits, especially whiskey with such a complex profile to begin with, is a tricky proposition at best. At worst, it's a quality disaster and an insult to both whiskey novices and hardline purists. But today's whiskey, Hudson Maple Cask Rye, is the exception to the rule. The latest release from Hudson Valley distillery Tuthilltown Spirits, it threads the needle perfectly and delivers a spirit that is an evolution in tradition.
Tuthilltown has been leading the charge in small batch spirits distilled from local grains for nearly a decade (see our behind the scenes tour for a look at the shop's inner workings). Their Hudson Maple Cask Rye is an extension of a barrel exchange program they've been running with maple syrup producers. Tuthilltown would sell their used bourbon barrels to the syrup guys for the creation bourbon barrel aged maple syrups. But Tuthilltown realized that the program would work even better as a two-way street. They began to buy back ex-whiskey, ex-maple barrels to experiment with, settled on rye as the base spirit, and the rest is history.
The Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey has a 100% rye mash bill from local New York grain, which gets double distilled in a pot still, and then aged under 4 years in new charred oak barrels. The final step, which takes it off the beaten path, is finishing the spirit in maple syrup cured whiskey barrels before bottling at 92 proof.
It's an absolute knockout. The young rye spirit gives it a fresh, spicy, minty scent which mingles beautifully with deep maple and brown sugar notes. The taste is surprisingly soft and round, with a chewy body and flavors of black tea, deep maple, and hot rye bite. It's a wonderful marriage of flavors that combine to be more than the sum of their parts.
The only issue is price, but that's been the common sticking point for Tuthilltown's hand-crafted spirits for some time. Available in limited distribution in New York and California for $44 per 375mL bottle, it's priced quite high for the flavored whiskey market. However, since it is not a whiskey with flavoring added, but instead a uniquely finished whiskey, it's a standard bearer for the way forward in the all-but-inevitable growth of the flavored whiskey market.
Kudos to Tuthilltown for thinking outside of the box, and delivering a high quality product that will satisfy whiskey geeks and novices alike.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Tasting sample provided for review consideration.