Whiskey has always carried with it an air of masculinity. Encouragingly, this has slowly begun to change over the last decade or so in some pretty fundamental ways. More women are being hired on as master distillers (Elizabeth McCall at Woodford Reserve, Caitlin Quinn at Eau Claire) or are founding distilleries themselves (Fawn Weaver at Uncle Nearest, Annabel Thomas at Nc’Nean). Some of the best blenders are women (Heather Greene and Nancy Fraley).
Yet there are still endless stories of discrimination and an enduring under-representation in an industry well known for its conservatism. This issue translates to the consumer side as well. At two recent local whiskey festivals I was pouring at, there were only a few dozen women in a sea of hundreds of men. Yet change is in the air. The first all-women whiskey podcast, Dram Fine, features dozens of women from all corners of the whiskey world who are proving that there’s space for everyone, no matter who you are. That’s a very encouraging thought.
That brings us to Buzzard’s Roost Whiskey and its co-founder and CEO, Judy Hollis Jones. Although not a distiller, Judy brings to Buzzard’s Roost, along with co-founder and master blender Jason Brauner, a vast expertise in the culinary world, including senior management, marketing, product development, and supply chain logistics. This gives Buzzard’s Roost a serious advantage over their other competitors in terms of business know-how. It’s one thing to be a good distiller with an idea. It’s entirely another to be able to make that work financially.
A lover of whiskey and a native of Louisville, Kentucky, Judy returned to her hometown to start an executive recruiting firm focusing on the food industry during the recession of 2007-2008. Creating Buzzard’s Roost with Jason came along entirely by chance with both of them buying a cask to bottle as Christmas gifts. They loved the process so much that they decided to pursue it full-time. Lacking the capital to start their own distillery, they instead went into contract-distilling with MGP, but introducing some really unique twists along the way (more on that in future reviews).
In an interview with The Whiskey Raiders, Judy said that “One thing I would like to say to, to all women in their careers: Being professional is really important. But I believe the things that are most important are being persistent. It just takes that continuing to press on, no matter what the obstacles look like…If we’re going to progress, we have to be our strongest supporters.” Sage advice indeed.
The first of many Buzzard’s Roost whiskies I’ll be reviewing in the coming months, their Char #1 Rye is originally sourced from MGP and is at least three years old. It’s a blend of several barrels of rye with a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. After initial aging, the whiskey is then re-barreled into a new American oak barrel, custom made for Buzzards Roost and treated with a #1 char. After several weeks of aging in the new barrel, it is bottled at a healthy 52.5% ABV.
Nose: My main worry about re-barreling this rye in a lightly charred cask (even for a few weeks) would be that it would be way too over-oaked. This is not the case at all. Instead, I get this lovely, light stone fruit character. And by light, I’m referring to the color of the fruit. The aroma is intense. I was waffling over whether it’s peaches or apricots for a while, but I’ve settled on the latter. As this sits for longer, I’m even getting apricot nectar. In terms of spicing, I’m picking up a good dose of cinnamon as well as a touch of clove and dried ginger. I’m getting this curious orange flavoured vitamin C tablet note now. Don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not off-putting. Just kind of adds to the tang that I’m expecting on the palate. Throughout the whole experience, there’s a solid amount of sponge toffee. The really high quality stuff I adore.
Palate: This whisky comes alive on the entry straight away. The citric tang I was expecting is here in abundance. There’s a mild orange cream for a couple of seconds before tipping into sponge toffee and apricot. It’s not assaulting your senses all at once. Instead, it slowly builds during the entire development. The cinnamon note rises in unison with the sweetness and the fruitiness, providing a consistent balance. As I smack my lips to let in some air, I’m getting lightly toasted pecans, which helps to darken the profile of the palate. At the end, I’m getting a very faint green cardamom pod. Perhaps that’s the lightly charred barrel talking. As I take a fair amount of sips, I’m getting some fresh blackberries as well, closer to the end of the development rather than the beginning.
Finish: The finish is medium in length and wonderfully balanced. The acidity of the fruitiness, the sweetness of the toffee, the spice from the cinnamon, now joined with freshly cracked white pepper. They all fade in unison.
With water added
The apricot has faded somewhat on the nose and the dried ginger and orange zest are coming more to the fore. Some dried strawberries are also coming into the mix. There’s a little bit of cocoa powder in the background too. As with the nose, the fruitiness isn’t as intense, but the cocoa powder is carrying through from the nose. With subsequent sips, I’m getting a little bit of mango purée. There’s still quite a bit of cinnamon spice, particularly at the end of the development.
As I review more whiskies on this site, I’m worried that I’m going to hit a plateau where nothing really surprises me anymore. When whiskies like this come along, I can happily shove that demon back into its closet…where it belongs.
I’m not really all that versed in rye sourced from MGP, so I don’t really have an idea what the base profile of this whiskey is prior to re-barreling. What I do know is that the end result is an intensely fruity, yet immaculately balanced rye that probably makes a fabulous cocktail as well.
In terms of price, $90 CAD is a pretty killer value considering its uniqueness and its proof. This is well worth seeking out if you need to satisfy your rye craving.