Looking at a map of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, most distillery visitors will concentrate their time exploring the “Bermuda Triangle of Bourbon” from Louisville to Bardstown and all the way over to Lexington. Encompassed in that area are basically all of the major distilleries in Kentucky. Sure there are distilleries outside of the three points, but those are mostly new guys without a lot of history. For most people, the best bourbon is only produced east of I-65.
But there is one major distillery who has fought back from the brink over and over and has recently risen from the ashes again: Green River Distilling. This distillery has been known by many names during it’s 130+ year history but the name it has now is the name that it started with in the 1880s. For most of that period of time, it was the Medley/Wathens family who were involved during its most prosperous years. They are probably one of the most well-known families in bourbon distilling outside of the Beams too. In the later decades, the distillery began to fall on hard times and stopped distilling whiskey in 1993. From 1993 to 2009, they were primarily selling remaining stocks of whiskey as well as sourcing barrels from elsewhere. Their doors officially shut in 2009. Just like Stitzel Weller (both were owned by United Distillers at the same time), they had to close due to lack of demand. But if they had they been able to hold on just a little bit longer, the bourbon boom may have breathed new life into their sagging businesses.
Before Green River Distilling it was known as O.Z. Tyler
In 2014, the Terressentia Corporation bought the mothballed grounds and set to work completely rehabilitating it. The warehouses that stand to this day were built from unique masonry back in the late 1930’s/early 1940’s. That meant they remained in pretty good condition throughout the years. An interesting hallmark of these warehouses are the very small windows which don’t allow for a lot of airflow. Once the heat gets in there, it doesn’t leave easily. By time 2016 rolled around, work on the distillery was complete and the first barrel was filled.
Early bottles of whiskey that were bottled from the newly named O.Z. Tyler Distillery were part of an experiment to age the whiskey faster. Nicknamed “Terrepure” the process involved sticking sonic instruments inside of the barrel to create chemical reactions that would, in theory, simulate the interactions between the whiskey and the oak of the barrel in a more rapid manner. Real bourbon enthusiasts stuck their noses up at this product and it damaged the name of the brand permanently. This made the name change in 2020 to “Green River Distilling” essential. Plus, now that the brand was concentrating on “traditionally-aged” bourbon, there was little desire to retain a name that many associated with bad whiskey.
Ever since 2020, a handful of non-distiller producers (NDPs) have popped up sporting bourbon or rye whiskey that has “distilled in Owensboro, Kentucky” stamped on the back. This is because Terressentia Corp. smartly decided to finance the complete renovation of the distillery by selling barrels of new-make bourbon to brands who didn’t want to sink millions into building their own distillery.
Cumberland Falls is the newest label to show up with bourbon produced from DSP-KY-10 (the distilling license of Green River Distilling). They are a bit of a mystery as no social media or website exists and the bottle has little-to-no information about the company itself. We can probably assume that they use Green River’s standard 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley bourbon mash bill. The label says that it was aged for four years and indicates that it was handcrafted in small batches. The strangest thing is that they do not indicate a batch number. My bottle number is #25,551 which would indicate that this particular batch is at least 100 barrels (with an estimate that the barrels contained an average of 190 bottles before being proofed down). Speaking of being proofed down, Cumberland Falls elected to proof the bottles down to a rather low 86 proof. I would hope in the future that a barrel proof would be an option, but there’s been no word on that yet.
I’ve had generally good experiences so far with other Green River Distilling bourbon and rye whiskey and see them as being a big player in the next few years as their distillate ages and more bottles hit the market. So how is this bottle of Cumberland Falls? Let’s take a look.
Nose: Scents of fresh-sliced apples couples with a sharp kick of cinnamon stick and chili pepper flakes. Interestingly, I detect the passing scent of brine (a note normally found in Scotch) that pairs nicely with the aroma of caramel. Salted Caramel anyone? And for being low in proof and somewhat young, I am picking up on some nice oak notes.
Palate: Just like in the nose, orchard fruits and sharp cinnamon are the first notes I detect with my tongue. The high rye content of the mash bill makes itself known with flavors of fresh cut grass, peppermint and herbs. There is no hiding the youth, but it doesn’t come off as overly young. There are citrus notes of tangerine while strong tannins like oak, bitter wood and barrel char let you know that the liquid wasn’t quite finished aging. Thankfully I don’t find it very grainy indicating that the bourbon is at least aging well. It’s still got a lot of pep despite its 86 proof.
Finish: The finish mellows out quickly leaving behind some pleasing sweet bourbon flavors. Caramel and cinnamon lead the way while the orchard flavors and green, herbal notes seem to fade away. Overall, I get kind of a “Young Willett” vibe to this bourbon.
Taking this Cumberland Falls Bourbon at face value, I found it to be youthful, yet flavorful enough to keep my interest pour after pour. Being somewhat young, I was happy that it never seemed to sprout up those offensive flavors that you sometimes find in similar 4-year-old craft whiskey. I think the proof actually helps in this situation because the spicy notes seemed like maybe they could’ve gotten carried away if left at barrel proof, but I’d still like to try a barrel proof version of this anyway.
Before I wrap up this review, I have to share one Easter Egg that I found interesting; the cork. This bottle has a synthetic cork (no big deal, plenty of brands do these days) but this is the first time I’ve seen one with coloring flecks that give it the appearance of a real (pebbled) cork. And while it’s my first time seeing this, I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Overall, this bourbon has enough attractive qualities about it that it would make a fine gift to bourbon drinkers or the cocktail enthusiast in your life. I mention that because of the spicy nature it exhibits. It shouldn’t get lost behind syrups, bitters or fruit juices next time you’re making an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Green River Distilling is making great bourbon these days and it’s popping up in the unlikeliest of brands. So next time you turn the bottle around and see a reference to Owensboro, Kentucky on the back, just know that it’s a quality whiskey with lots of history behind it. And as they release even higher aged bottles in the future, it will get even better.
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