West Fork Whiskey, based out of Westfield, Indiana, has been sourcing whiskey from MGP for almost as long as they’ve been in business. They also distill their own whiskies too. To make sure the public doesn’t confuse the contents of their bottles, they’ve created two different lines of whiskey. West Fork Whiskey (whose bottles are labeled WEST FORK WHSKY) contains whiskey they’ve distilled and aged themselves. Old Hamer is their other line that uses sourced MGP bourbon and rye whiskey.
Due to the history of the Hamer brothers and their past with whiskey making, Old Hamer products are known for using MGP’s “High-Corn” recipes. The bourbon that they source is the 99% corn, 1% malted barley recipe while the rye whiskey uses the 51% rye, 45% corn, 4% malted barley recipe.
MGP’s 99/1 bourbon recipe was primarily made as a cheap alternative to their more expensive ryed bourbons and are primarily used for finishing and blending. I’ve tried over half a dozen barrel finishes from West Fork’s Hugh Hamer line (which are strictly barrel finished, unlike the Old Hamer line) and can say that they’re solid choices depending on the finishing barrel you prefer. Almost every one has earned a rating in the 7’s.
During the pandemic, West Fork listened to their fans and began to release single barrels of Hugh Hamer bottled at cask strength. Prior to this, they were all bottled at 103 proof. Almost every kind of liquor store in Indiana has a pick of some kind on their shelves. They’re relatively inexpensive and popular, which has led to increasingly wild finishing barrels to pop up.
What exactly is a maple syrup cask?
Before I get into reviewing this bottle, I want to point out that there are two different kinds of “Maple” Casks when it comes to finishing barrels. Brown-Forman has increasingly been making barrels out of actual maple tree wood. They use them to finish Jack Daniel’s No. 27 Gold Tennessee Whiskey in. I’ve also seen them used in Jack’s Distiller’s Select Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey. Then there are maple syrup casks that once held gallons of maple syrup inside of them. I’d have to imagine that when they get dumped, there is a decent amount of residual syrup stuck to the staves.
West Fork Whiskey obtained some of these barrels, but it was never exactly clear who they got them from. I wish that producers would specify which farm or producer they get them from. I think it goes a long way into selling the authenticity of the final product. Otherwise, what’s stopping them from dumping just a gallon of maple syrup into a used bourbon barrel and rolling it around until it’s touched all of the staves? That is a technique some producers use, but it feels like cheating. There’s something different about barrels that have legitimately aged their liquids inside versus just giving the barrel a “wash” with a random liquid.
I’m not saying West Fork Whiskey has done that with these barrels, but I also don’t know for sure they haven’t. I was given a sample back in December, 2021 straight from one of these maple syrup barrels when I was invited to West Fork’s warehouse for a special influencer event. I don’t recall any mention of where they got the barrel from, but it was the best one I sampled that night.
Hugh Hamer Maple Syrup Cask Finish specs
When the bourbon (which is typically between 4 and 5 years old) that West Fork put into this Maple Cask was “finished” (see what I did there?), they dumped it out and ended up getting 210 bottles from it. That’s a pretty significant yield – far more than the 150 bottles that came from the rum-finished barrel that Rural Inn picked with it. The final proof ended up being 118.8. That’s pretty high for a Hugh Hamer pick considering that the bourbon entered the barrel at only 120 proof.
I noticed that honey-finished bourbon tends to show off lovely floral scents in the final product. This is undoubtedly due to the main food source of bees and was always interesting to me that it could be detected through such a sweet finish. Would there be anything unique that pops out when maple syrup is used? Let’s find out. I sampled this bottle neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Scents of maple syrup and Halloween Candy Corn bring sweet notes straight into my brain. Grain-forward notes like bran flakes (?!) and buttered corn bread bring the mash bill into full focus. Spice notes are simple, yet effective – cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s a simple nose that very plainly spells out what this bourbon was made out of. No surprises here.
Palate: Traditionally I have always found a lot of corn notes in my Old Hamer bottles. That rings true here too. Cornbread and hints of youthful, grainy flavors. Hard maple candies don’t give off a ton of sweetness, but do pack a nice maple punch. Baking spice notes like cinnamon and allspice kick it up a notch. There is a decent amount of ethanol present too. Not enough to ruin the flavors, but enough to make you remember this is a barrel proof product.
Finish: Lingering notes of maple sweetness, caramel sweetness and candy corn corn sweetness. There’s also some grainy flavors that hang around as well as a bit of vanilla. Overall, it’s not a bad finish and has just enough maple to distract you from anything else.
I find the maple notes in this bottle to be so polarizing that I can’t help but not like it. I shared this bottle with a friend who is into much higher-tier bottles than this and he absolutely loved it. Thankfully, at no time did this bourbon taste like it was artificially flavored. That would’ve been a huge turnoff.
My main gripe with Old Hamer in general has to be that the bourbon tastes one-dimensional. Yes, it’s got nice corn and spice notes, but not much else. It practically begs for a finishing cask. Therefore, most Hugh Hamer releases are scored directly on how good the finishing cask was. I can confidently say that this maple cask is near the top – the Peach Brandy ones will be hard to dethrone, haha.
I notice a recent trend where tenured reviewers have begun to revert back to the opinion that finished whiskeys should be shunned. This is creating a rift in the realm of whiskey reviews where it almost feels like finished products get lower scores than non-finished whiskies. I get where they’re coming from but at the same time, if a product is good, it’ll show you it’s good. This bottle of Hugh Hamer Maple Cask Finished Bourbon is legitimately good.
So don’t feel any shame in picking one of these up if you see it. Rural Inn may be sold out, but West Fork Whiskey is still making more. If you’re reading this review while staring at a bottle on the shelf, I’d tell you to go for it. There are few finishes that are as unique as this one and it’s worth keeping it in your cabinet for an easy-drinking, sweet maple treat. You’ll thank me later.
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