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New Riff Backsetter Bourbon Review

New Riff Backsetter Bourbon Review

New Riff Distillery’s meteoric rise to fame is a result of careful planning and preparation as well as the ability to be patient while their whiskey ages.

In the ultimate test of patience, they have decided to do everything they can to satisfy the fans of their brand with 4 year old barrel picks while trying their hardest not to dip into their stocks of bourbon that they hope to continue to age until it is 10 years old.

To help us bide our time, we’ve been fed a steady diet of limited releases that showcase New Riff‘s core concept: putting a new “riff” on the typical whiskies we see come out of Kentucky.


On their website, you can find these unique experiments under the “Our Whiskey Riffs” section. The first ones to come up are a pair of “Backsetter” releases that first came out in mid 2020.

The concept of Backsetter was to show just how influential the backset (the spent grain that is removed from the still after distillation) is in the sour mash process.

Typically, a portion of stillage is “set back” to add into the fermenting tanks to help achieve consistency from batch to batch. Another reason distilleries love to use it is because it saves on heating, water and grain costs.

The super-hot stillage that has just been emptied from the still is siphoned out and fed into the fermenting tanks. This helps to raise the temperature in the tanks to try and get it around 99 degrees where the yeast does its best work by raising the temperature of the water (Stillage is also a source of water itself). The dead yeast inside of the stillage are also a source of food for the yeast to feast on. Interesting fact: Jack Daniels is said to use as much as 30% backset in their fermenting tanks.

New Riff decided to experiment with seeing just how much they could influence the final character of their bourbon and rye whiskey by using leftover stillage from a batch of peated malt whiskey they were contract distilling for another customer. So they added some into the fermentation tanks of a rye and bourbon batch before distilling it.

So how noticeable would this peated character be after 4 years in a barrel? Thanks to my generous neighbor, I should have the answer for you. He was able to snag both the bourbon and rye from the distillery last year. It has taken me this long to finally get around to reviewing this. So let’s see what it’s like! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

New Riff Backsetter Bourbon rear

Nose: A very sweet nose right out the gate with scents of maple candies, cinnamon raisin toast and vanilla bean pods. The peated backset makes itself known with scents of an extinguished birthday candle.

I’m surprised at the amount of fruit notes on the nose too as notes of cherries, over-ripe melon and orange flesh keep the whole event nice and sweet.

Palate: The sweet theme continues on the palate with caramel candies, vanilla pudding, cinnamon and some oak influence. The smoke adds a slight bitter note but it is not strong enough to detract from the experience.

For comparison, I detected way more peated smoke influence on the palate when I was tasting Backsetter Rye, but not as much in this bourbon. Additional flavors of Medjool Dates, fresh brewed tea and a hint of anise also add complexity.

Finish: For all the more the smoky notes were vague in the nose and palate, they come to life in the finish. Every flavor now has a lovely touch of smoke surrounding it.

Barrel char, caramel, nougat and mint are all lingering flavors in this somewhat short lived finish, but they’re all accentuated by the smoke as you sit back and ponder the finish.

Score: 7.6/10

New Riff Backsetter Bourbon lean

I’m pleasantly surprised by this Backsetter Bourbon. It’s such a different take on this unique concept when compared to the rye. Whereas the rye felt like the traits of both rye and peated malt shared the stage with each other equally, I find that Backsetter Bourbon uses the peated malt to amplify the typical bourbon notes.

It became sweeter and more fragrant. Tannins became softer and fruits became more noticeable. All of this caught me off guard but ended up being a very tasty experience.

The reason why the score for this is slightly lower than the Backsetter Rye is that I felt that it brought no additional complexity to the party. It didn’t make it any worse though, so the use of peated malt backset is still a net positive that I could get behind if New Riff ever wanted to make this a regular release.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I think that New Riff really did a nice job with these two releases and they don’t get nearly enough credit. For those of you who are curious but don’t like peated whisky, try the Backsetter Bourbon first. I think you’ll find that the smoke is harder to notice than you would in the rye.

And for those of you who won’t step foot near a peated Scotch (you’re missing out!), maybe this will help give you that tiny nudge to experiment more with the great products that the Scots have been producing for a few centuries now.  You never know!

Ratings Breakdown

1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)

2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it

3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)

4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)

5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)

6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)

7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)

8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)

9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)

10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)

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