In the craft whiskey scene, it’s a big deal for a distillery to launch a 4-year-old product. There are so many new options available to showcase this moment. Some distilleries elect to start labeling their whiskey “straight” because they no longer have to say just how old it is while the consumer can feel comfortable about its origins and aging. But most distilleries elect to release a Bottled-in-Bond version of their whiskey as an unofficial banner into the “we made it” club. This is what Mile High Spirits did with their Fireside Bourbon label in 2021. There were also plenty of 4-year-old age-stated single barrels released by them too.
Fireside Single Barrel Bourbon turns 5 years old
I was so pleased with their 4-year-old products that it completely skipped my mind when the summer of 2022 rolled around that their barrels would turn another year older. Sure enough, Mile High’s 5-year-old single barrels began to pop up for sale. The bottle had changed a bit from their earlier long-necked design to one that was simpler. I haven’t checked with them on the reasoning, but I’m almost 100% sure it has to do with the ongoing industry-wide glass shortage. But it’s not always about the packaging, it’s about the whiskey inside. In this instance, it’s a barrel strength (122 proof), ryed bourbon.
Mile High initially sourced some young barrels of MGP back in the day. They ran out sometime around 2018/2019 just in time for their own distillate to come of age (around 3 years old). They make a variety of different mash bills, but the one in the bottle you see before you uses 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% malted barley. The grains are sourced as locally as they can get (the corn, rye and the barley all typically come from Colorado farms) while the 53-gallon, char #3 barrels are aged in a special warehouse inside of Denver’s city limits.
In previous reviews, I always noted how rye-forward their bourbons tasted. This wasn’t a bad thing in my eyes as I typically love the tastes that rye brings to the table. You might be thinking I would dwell on the specific kind of rye they use, but it’s the specific kind of malted barley they use that has me more interested. In particular, Mile High uses the “chocolate barley” variety. If you have been a fan of other chocolate malt whiskies, this one will have a few notes here and there that will remind you of it. If you’re not a fan of it, don’t fret, I have found it usually adds coffee and chocolate notes to the mix, nothing funky like that one Woodford Reserve release.
When my bottle came in the mail, I was very excited to see just how well these barrels have aged in the extreme Denver weather. Having lived an hour south of the Mile High City, I knew firsthand what the strange, high-altitude climate is capable of. So what secrets does this whiskey hold? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Inviting rye-forward scents of bubblegum, evergreen and Girl Scout Thin Mints arrive first. More nosing reveals notes of charred wood, new leather and melted lollipop. The nose is refreshing and a little bitey, but seems to be filling out in all the right ways.
Palate: Cinnamon flavored Red Hots mix with sweet notes of molasses, date syrup and cherry cough syrup. These are all notes that I get with some Kentucky brands of bourbon. That’s a plus in my book! There are also lots of spices to sort through such as clove, black and white pepper and even a touch of oregano and wintergreen mint. The oak notes, like seasoned and weathered oak seem to show off the liquid-to-barrel interaction going on at the Denver warehouse. I’m really digging that the age is starting to show so well!
Finish: A long finish that leaves some very high-rye flavors lingering in my mouth. There are more wintergreen mint notes along with Mike & Ike candies, ginger root and a nice menthol cooling sensation. But there are two flavors that stand out in particular that make me really dig this finish: Tootsie Rolls and fresh brewed sweet tea. I am impressed with such robust and unique flavors!
Mile High Spirits should pat themselves on the back for how well their bourbon seems to be aging. Not every craft distillery can claim that their products are getting better with age. I don’t know what the reasoning is when that occurs, but I’m noticing it more and more (I’m looking at you Hudson Whiskey). It’s almost like their distillate was so bad coming off the stills that no amount of age can correct it. Mile High seems to have avoided that problem and I’m noticing that younger tasting flavors like honey, earthy notes and pepper-forward spice are disappearing into the background in favor of more developed sugars and added wood notes. It’s really been a fun experience seeing how these barrels have changed over the last 3 years.
Knowing Mile High, they will continue to be selective about how many highly aged barrels they release every year. I really hope they don’t release too many that it effects the ability to keep releasing single barrels in the years to come. This is selfishly because I am very interested to follow the journey of how they continue to develop. Wyn, Joe, Chase and the rest of the team at Mile High are doing a lot of things right. It’s always satisfying to see a spirits maker improve year after year. And with so many different choices to choose from (I recently saw a wheated bourbon being released too), the only decision you need to make is the hardest one of all; which bottle speaks to you the loudest? I know my answer and it’s this 5-year-old single barrel. I can’t wait to see what else they roll out with over the next 12 months.
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