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.
It’s hard to do, but for the next several years they are doing everything they can to satisfy the fans of their brand while trying their hardest not to dip into their stocks of bourbon that they hope to save up 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 add consistency from batch to batch. But another reason distilleries love to use that backset is because it saves on resources.
The super hot stillage helps to raise the temperature during cooking and fermentation by raising the temperature of the water (it is also a source of water itself).
The dead yeast inside of the stillage is an additional source of food for the yeast to feast on. For reference, Jack Daniels is said to use as much as 30% backset in their fermenting tanks!
But New Riff wanted to see just how much they could influence the final character of their bourbon and rye whiskey by using stillage from a batch of peated 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. Anyone familiar with peated Scotch knows that the smoky phenols of the peat start to disappear as it ages in a barrel, so the question on everyone’s mind was just how noticeable the peat would after 4 years in a barrel.
Thanks to my generous neighbor, 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.
Nose: Caramel sauce and vanilla scents mingle with the unmistakable undertone of medicinal smoke. A little bit of bacon grease also shines through followed by honey and wildflowers.
This seems a bit more fruity than usual with the scent of Hi-C Fruit Punch. Rye spices like cinnamon and black licorice are well received while the smoke becomes more complex and noticeable throughout the session.
Palate: A fruitier palate than I was expecting. Flavors of lemon rinds and clementine’s pair up with Fruit by the Foot strips to really bring out some sweetness that is typically missing in New Riff Rye Whiskey.
Spicy notes of clove, red pepper flake and cracked peppercorn let you know this is a heavy rye mashbill while notes of ash and soot along with the smallest amount of iodine show you that something is different here. Honey sweetness combines with malty notes that almost reminds me of Ezekiel Bread.
Finish: All of the fruits on the palate turn slightly less sweet on the finish. The spices do not dissipate as notes of anise, clove and cardamom remain in full force. There’s not much oak or leather as this is still somewhat young, but there is a bit of tobacco leaf.
In the world of bourbon lovers, there are many who have yet to acquire a taste for rye whiskey or Scotch (especially peated). Both can take a lot of time to get used to because of their unique and strong flavors.
I know of many friends who have tried this and found it to be too strange for their tastes. But if you’re used to Scotch (and rye), I think you’ll find that everything was done in moderation for this release.
But maybe this is why this whiskey works so well for me. I couldn’t imagine liking this one as much as I did if I didn’t already have a strong affection towards both of those whiskies.
With that being said, Backsetter just works. I already know that New Riff took MGP’s classic 95/5 rye whiskey recipe and added their own twist by using 5% malted rye instead of malted barley but I swear that it lost some sweetness along the way.
I’ll pair that hot take with another one when I say that I swear that the use of the peated malt whiskey backset actually increased the overall sweetness of New Riff’s rye while also imparting plenty more unique flavors.
I don’t think that if you are averse to peated Scotch that you’re going to be offended by the tastes and scents within this one. It’s subtle enough that you may ask yourself what it is that you’re tasting, but it’s honestly not a bad experiment overall.
If you’re a fan of Barrell Craft Spirit’s Infinite Barrel or High West’s Campfire Whiskey, then Backsetter Bourbon and Rye is a whiskey you really need to try.
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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