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Journeyman “Farm Rye” Experimental Malted Rye Review

Journeyman “Farm Rye” Experimental Malted Rye Review

I feel ashamed in a way that I have never reviewed – or even drank – anything from Journeyman Distillery before today’s review. They’re a distillery with roots in Indiana even though their physical location is directly across the state line in Michigan. The reason why their distillery was not originally built in Indiana had to do with our archaic state laws many years ago that said that a distillery cannot have a gift shop, sell their bottles to consumers or have a tasting room/restaurant on premises.

I believe the story with Journeyman was that they were the first to challenge the law and ultimately failed. Rather than invest money in the legal battle, they decided to move their operation to a state with more progressive-thinking laws.

Shortly thereafter, Indiana lawmakers finally came to their senses that their state was going to continue to lose out on money through sales tax, jobs and commercial development so the laws changed. It may have been too late for Journeyman to switch the center of their operations, but it opened the door for the dozens (maybe now a hundred+) of distilleries inside of the state to create and sell their own spirits on site. At the time of this writing, Journeyman is nearing completion of a new distillery location (along with a new Vendome Column Still) in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Journeyman’s long-term plans for a new line of highly aged whiskies called “Farm Series”

I won’t get into the standard lineup of Journeyman whiskies in this review. Just know that they make a diverse mix of bourbon, rye whiskey and – strangely – two different wheat whiskies. Instead, we’ll be talking about their “Farm Series” of whiskies which debuted late last year as a distillery-only product.

The “Farm Series” is intended to be one of Journeyman’s crown jewels. The concept is that each release of the Farm Series will feature a single grain grown during a single season on the Welter’s Family Farm in Putnam County, Indiana. The whiskies they’ve admitted to experimenting with so far are a bourbon made with red corn, a whiskey made with malted triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat) and a malted rye whiskey made from rye grown on their farm and malted on their malting floor in Michigan. I’m sure that there are even more that we’re not aware of that have been laid down.

Journeyman’s Master Distiller has gone on the record to say that he intends for the Farm Series barrels to be aged for at least 10 years. This bottle I’m reviewing today is only 6 years old. When I reached out and asked why it was released 4 years early, I was told that this was just a small, 2-barrel “sneak peak” release that was intended to garner some excitement and anticipation into the future.

Journeyman Farm Series Malted Rye Whiskey Stats

Journeyman uses a hybrid column/pot still at their location in Three Oaks, Michigan for all of their products. For this particular release, the still was set to column distillation and came off close to the maximum limit of 160 proof. Woodford Reserve does this as well (theirs comes off at 156-158 proof) and results in a much cleaner tasting, lighter spirit. From there, it was proofed down to 120 before entering a Char Level #3, 53 gallon barrel sourced from Independent Stave Company.

Journeyman says that after some more experimentation that they concluded that 113 should be the new barrel entry proof for Farm Series whiskies going forward. They found it created a much more mellow product.

After entering they barrel, they are palletized for storage in warehouses. When I asked how Farm House Malted Rye managed to reach 141 proof (the other barrel was 143 proof), Jessica Dant told me that the warehouse experienced much higher temperatures at the very top (where the barrels were stored) while also having much lower humidity overall. Lower humidity and higher temperatures is typically the recipe for higher barrel proofs when maturation is complete.

I also want to chip in an opinion that I’ve noticed how whiskies with a higher still proof have a propensity to easily gain that proof back during maturation, even though they were proofed down to a standard amount prior to barreling. I have no evidence to back that up, but feel it needed to be said!

Well if it isn’t my old nemesis, Malted Rye

My opinions about malted rye aren’t necessarily positive. Unlike malted barley – which yields honey sweetness and fruit flavors – malted rye always seems to give me chocolate, coffee beans and mint. It becomes almost annoying to find those scents and flavors because it covers everything else up. That’s why when my friend Mike said I had to try this whiskey, I wasn’t thrilled, but wanted to see for science. He said he loved it so much that he wanted to name it his “Whiskey of the Year” and asked me if he was crazy for thinking that. So I gathered up my courage and poured a dram neat in a glencairn. Here are my thoughts.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Huh. Smelling this whiskey gives absolutely none of the notes I typically associate with malted rye. Instead, I’m smelling what can only be described as a bowl of Wheaties cereal. I am also finding a lot of fruit notes, but not the usual suspects for a rye. I get dehydrated mango slices, cooked pear and over-ripe bananas. There are some herbal notes floating around, but just a little bit. And I know this is going to sound weird, but I can almost smell the chalky multivitamins I ate as a kid. The one thing I was looking for but didn’t find was oak. I know this is six years old, but I couldn’t find hardly any tannins.

Palate: When the first sip hits my tongue, I still found Wheaties cereal. Or maybe now it’s closer to “Grape Nuts.” Either way, it’s a very earthy, grain-forward cereal with a hint of underlying wheat berries. Afterwards, the flavors become curiouser and curiouser. Bubblegum, licorice and Mike & Ike candies add some flavors that I’m not sure should be together because they all seem so different. The over-ripe banana note continues along with some hot cinnamon. Each sip becomes hotter and more uncomfortable to hold in my mouth and study the flavors. And while I wouldn’t say that this whiskey is lacking in sweetness, I struggle to find a particular kind of sweetness that sticks out.

Finish: The intensity of the proof cools down quickly and becomes soft and somewhat bready. If you guessed “Wheaties” for my standout flavor on the finish, you’d be right. However, the rest of the flavors are completely new to the experience. I’m getting coconut flesh, breadfruit and Nesquik powder. The only fruit flavor that carries over is banana. If you’re friends with Jack Daniel’s, you’ll be pretty happy here.

Score: 6.9/10

This is good whiskey, but it’s not exactly something I would find myself lusting over. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the cereal notes I found, I’d almost guess that this was a barrel-aged rum due to some of the funky fruit. Am I glad I got to try this whiskey? You bet. It was bizarre to partake and quickly gets hot, but it’s not anywhere close to being “bad.”

I like to put my whiskies into groups as to which situation or mood I’d have to be in to drink them. I honestly couldn’t think of a single instance when I’d pull this bottle out for a casual drink. Instead, I’d probably conduct a few side-by-sides with other fully malted ryes like New Riff, High Tide or Hard Truth. Surely there has to be some differences. I’d also give this to some friends to see their reactions. After all, this is far from a boring whiskey.

Final Thoughts

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Journeyman sampled through these Farm Rye barrels and decided to sell the ones that were Hazmat (140+ proof) proofs on purpose. What purpose was that? The one where they know that enthusiasts will never not grab a bottle when they see a proof that high. But I don’t really think that the two barrels of Farm Rye that were sold last year really represent what the whole batch will taste like at 10 years old. And I say “batched” because I do hope that’s how they release them. This should help create a much more cohesive picture of how their malted rye will ultimately taste like.

For $170, Journeyman’s Farm Rye was an expensive gamble for my friend Mike. But he got to taste something that very few people will get to experience – at least for the next 4 years. I can think of worse reasons to buy something these days. He also seemed to really enjoy it. And while I didn’t think as highly as he did, I will give it the most thoughtful compliment that I can: Journeyman’s experiment showed me a whiskey that finally tasted different from other malted rye versions I’ve had. After resigning myself to thinking that I’d never like anything with malted rye in it again, I was happy to find a new reason for hope. All of this reminded me that whiskey is still a journey meant to be explored and there are plenty of distilleries out there looking to change the way we think.  

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