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Buzzard’s Roost is a relatively new producer on the whiskey scene. They got their start in 2019 when Judy Hollis Jones and Jason Brauner partnered together to create a new brand. From the get-go, their idea for a brand would be entirely centered around double-barrel maturation. That means that every product they put out would see time in a second barrel. To accomplish this, the duo worked with Independent Stave Company (ISC) determining which profiles they liked the best.
The whiskey that they decided to use is sourced entirely from MGP. For the bourbon, they settled on a blend of both the 21% and 36% ryed bourbon recipes. Whereas the rye whiskey uses the famous Indiana 95/5 recipe. Depending on the release year or the batch, the barrels they are using are between 4 and 6 years old. Buzzard’s Roost also has a philosophy that their products will never be bottled under 105 proof (but don’t worry cask-strength lovers, they have you covered on that front too).
What makes the Cigar Rye barrels different from other “Cigar” whiskies?
You may have noticed the uptick in producers using the word “Cigar” for their whiskies. The reason varies but what they’re trying to create is a whiskey where the flavors are bold enough to stand up to the powerful notes of a cigar (i.e. Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend) OR that the flavors are unique enough to found through a cigar’s heavy profile (i.e. Starlight Cigar Batch). But Buzzard’s Roost Cigar Rye is striving for something different. They’re trying to make a whiskey that reminds you of smoking a cigar. That’s where they are trying to change the narrative.
Almost all of the secondary barrels that Buzzard’s Roost uses are either toasted or are given a level #1 char (which is the lightest char available). But this particular release of “Cigar Rye” uses a unique process that I don’t believe anyone else has copied. The secondary barrel receives a toasting treatment followed by a quick char and then is “cold smoked” with actual cigar tobacco leaves grown in Kentucky to achieve a wild new flavor profile.
You might be familiar with the term “cold smoked” if you’re a fan of smoked trout or salmon. In those situations, the fish is smoked at low temperatures that hover around 90 degrees or so. The goal is to not cook the fish, but to naturally preserve the meat while allowing it to absorb the aroma and flavor of smoke. It’s probably a safe assumption that they’re not setting the barrel on fire with the tobacco leaves, but rather allowing the wooden staves to absorb some of the smoke or at least allow some smoke/tar residue to stick to the inside.
I last saw the application of adding smoke to wood before whiskey would touch it when I researched the process that Brain Brew used to create Arby’s Bourbon. I don’t think that Buzzard’s Roost is doing anything like that. But smoking tobacco leaves is unique enough to make me want to try a whiskey that claims to benefit from secondary aging in a barrel exposed to it.
For my review today, I have a bottle of Batch 1 which Jason Brauner said was comprised of only three barrels. Subsequent batches should be slightly larger. Thanks to my generous friend Mike, I am getting a chance to try this today. Let’s see what I find. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: In the beginning, the aroma of ashy smoke is easy to find and moderately pungent. But just like a peated Scotch, I find that the longer my session is, the less the smoke stands out. Beyond it I’m finding an MGP rye whiskey that differs from some of the older “brown sugar and pine needles” versions that I love – instead leaning more towards herbal scents with citrus peel. Sweetness comes from honey notes. The spice is mostly restrained with cinnamon and allspice notes hitting the most. I like this younger version of MGP rye on occasions where I want something wildly different from bourbon. MGP is one of the few distillers whose rye whiskey is great even at a young age.
Palate: Smooth tobacco notes pair alongside some bitter ash. Together, they’re not really dominant. Just like for the nose, the longer I sit with my glass, the more I don’t notice them. The main source of flavor is the youthful MGP rye which does a great job of balancing the herbal, spicy nature with honey and brown sugar. Baking spices consist of cinnamon, peppercorn and clove. Licorice/anise bridges the gap between those and the fruit notes like citrus (lemon and orange) and black cherries. I can also say that the mouthfeel is delightfully thick.
Finish: The finish ends on a sweet note with smooth tobacco, ash and smoke as the main players. Of course the herbal and citrus notes remain – this is a rye after all – and that’s okay with me. Sometimes ryes become more bourbon-like on the finish and that’s not the case here.
This was a very enjoyable rye whiskey that delivered on what it promised – the infusion of tobacco smoke with every sniff and every sip. For just that part alone, I would recommend it to anyone out there that had their doubts if this was a gimmick or not.
But a great whiskey does not achieve a score like this purely based on gimmicks alone. I feel as if the base rye whiskey was also very well blended. While it lacked the brown sugar and pine needle notes of a more mature 95/5, the herbal and spicy notes of this younger blend never tasted youthful. In fact, some might argue that 4 to 5 year old MGP rye whiskey is closer to the “sweet spot” than the same barrels aged over 8 years. Do you agree with this?
The category of whiskies between $60 and $80 is bursting at the seams with new producers who are trying any gimmick they can to sell a bottle of sourced booze. All too often, they don’t name their sources, bottle at low proofs or skip age statements because they’re embarrassingly low. Buzzard’s Roost is refreshingly honest and upfront for revealing their source and age. The fact that everything they put out is 105 proof (or more) shows an understanding that true enthusiasts have no interest sipping low-proofed whiskey unless it has some impressive age behind it.
All of this is to say that the $75 price point is worthy of your hard-earned money. Going into this review, I wasn’t so sure that would be the case. But my time with this bottle left me a believer. Now I need to try some of their standard releases to see what else I’ve been missing.
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