ORIGIN: NEWPORT, KY.
The new guy is going old school
One of the newest players in the bourbon game is dead set on doing things the old school way. When liquor retailer and entrepreneur Ken Lewis founded New Riff Distilling in 2014, he vowed to make whiskey the way it was made by the great bourbon makers of the past. The idea is to celebrate Kentucky whiskey tradition and honor it by using the same methods of sour mash, open fermentation, copper column still, and a second distillation using a doubler. On their website, New Riff proudly proclaims, “This is the way we make whiskey in Kentucky, for which we do not apologize.”
If you’re not super-nerdy about the art of distillation, you might be wondering what some of these things that Mr. Lewis is not willing to apologize for are about. Let’s start at the sour mash. When you begin to make whiskey, you take a combination of grains (corn, rye, malted barley, and in some cases wheat) and water and ferment it. The exact combination or recipe of grains is critical to the final product and is commonly referred to as the “mash bill.” For a product to be labeled as bourbon, the percentage of corn in the mash bill has to be at least 51, but is commonly higher. To ferment this mashed up combination of grains, the distiller adds yeast; the yeast consumes the sugars in the mashand produces alcohol. When they talk about a sour mash, they are referring to the process of taking some amount of the spent mash from a previous fermentation and using it to condition the new mash being fermented. Think of it like using starter dough to make a new loaf of bread.
Another area where New Riff takes things back to the early days of bourbon is in their lack of chill filtration. The process of chill filtration is strictly for cosmetic reasons and therefore Mr. Lewis wants no part of it. To be more specific, when you drop a cube of ice in your whiskey, the temperature change causes the natural fatty acids, esters, and proteins in the spirit to clump together and make the whisky look cloudy in your glass. The majority of large distillers use a process called chill filtering to remove those elements that could cloud your whisky. The argument from chill filtration detractors like New Riff is that those fatty acids, esters, and proteins are part of the distillate and removing them for cosmetic purposes isn’t necessary and could take away from the quality of the final product. From a traditionalist standpoint, I applaud this approach.
The beauty of this product is that because it is bottled at barrel proof from a single barrel, there will be a noticeable difference from barrel to barrel. This bottling is from barrel number 15-4540 and it has a nose of rich vanilla, caramel apples, oak, and spice. The palate is full-bodied and well balanced with more vanilla and spice up front with well-integrated tannins on the long finish.
Cigar Pairing: Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro
This bourbon screams for an Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro. The box-pressed cigar’s smooth core of cocoa, espresso, and pepper are a perfect complement for the bourbon’s heavy vanilla and caramel apple. Because this whiskey is barrel proof, you can experiment with adding a drop or two of spring water. You’ll give up viscosity but gain new access to hidden flavors that continue to complement the pairing.