Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Whiskey Wednesday: Tut Tut Tut Tuthilltown
The biggest whiskey news of the past month was that the esteemed Scotch company William Grant & Sons had purchased the Hudson whiskey line from Tuthilltown Distilleries. Tuthilltown is an upstate New York microdistillery that started up in the early 2000s. Like most micros, they started with white sprits such as vodka and eau de vie. They were also one of the first microdistilleries to make a corn whiskey, and I reviewed their first whiskey product: Old Gristmill Corn Whiskey. Eventually, they started ageing spirit and now have a line up that includes two ryes, their very young "Baby Bourbon," a four grain Bourbon, and a single malt, as well as an aged rum and the corn whiskey (now called Hudson New York Corn Whiskey).
William Grant & Sons is a major Scotch company. They own two of the world's most popular distilleries, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, and produce Grant's Blended Scotch. They also own Hendrick's Gin and are the US distributor for Stolichnaya Vodka.
There has been increasing publicity around American craft distilleries, but this is the first time that a major spirits company has purchased a craft brand which is, to (almost) quote the Vice-President, "a big friggin' deal." It is important to note that Grant purchased the brand, not the distillery. Tuthilltown will still make the whiskey and will continue to own the products that are not part of the Hudson line.
It's possible that this single purchase will change the economic landscape for craft distilleries, and this could be for better or for worse. On the one hand, this opens the possibility of some real financial backing for a microdistillery. Small start-up distilleries are sorely in need of funds and having some financial security could free up the distillers by decreasing the pressure to put out immature products and, instead, let barrel ageing run its course. On the other hand, the possibility of a corporate buy out could inspire people to start entering the market not as artisans but as speculators, trying to do just well enough to land a deal with a corporate sugar-daddy. Only time will tell how this shakes out, but it certainly is big news.
Since I haven't tasted any Tuthilltowns since my initial corn whiskey tasting, I thought I would sit down to a trio of their Hudson whiskeys. All of Tuthilltown's whiskeys are sold in 375 ml bottles (half bottles) and those I'm tasting today all cost in the $50 range.
Hudson Baby Bourbon, distilled 2010, 46% abv
The aroma I get has a distinct rye spice to it, which is odd given that Hudson's Baby Bourbon is made from a 100% corn mashbill (the only 100% corn Bourbon I know of). On the palate, this is definitely a very young whiskey. You can tell by the rawness. It's got some fruit as well, very much akin to the fruit in Wasmund's Single Malt. Adding water makes it unpleasantly soapy. Tasting blind, I'm pretty sure I would guess rye or maybe American malt, but not Bourbon. It's interesting but has some rough edges.
Hudson Manhattan Rye, distilled 2008, 46% abv
The Manhattan Rye has a very nice nose. It's a very tempered rye spice, very subtle and sophisticated, particularly for another very young whiskey. The flavor has a lot of spice, but it's different than traditional rye spice. I taste a lot of South Asian flavors, like a big curry whiskey. Rye, with its strong flavors, works better with a very young age, much as very young peated Scotches work better than young Scotches with other flavor profiles; the strong flavors make up for some of the rawness that comes from youth. This does very well with a few drops of water which takes off the edge and highlights the rye.
Hudson Single Malt, distilled 2009, 46% abv
The aroma is fruity with some spice (spice seems to be a Hudson characteristic). Very nice flavor with lots of pine/fir type flavors and some licorice, very herbal stuff. This one should be taken straight as water dilutes the flavor and adds some bitterness.
Interestingly, these three whiskeys taste more like each other than they do other whiskeys in their respective categories. Perhaps that has to do with the type of wood Tuthilltown is using to age them. While I thought the Baby Bourbon was just too young (maybe they should rename it Fetal Bourbon), I enjoyed both the single malt and the rye and would recommend them as unique expressions, though it would be hard for me to say they were worth the price of $50 per half bottle (maybe the Grants can take the price down a notch).