Crane Whiskey Society has recently added another single barrel pick to its portfolio in the form of a New Riff Single Barrel picked by the guys early in 2023. Who is the Crane Whiskey Society?
They are a group of like-minded enthusiasts who work in or around the super top secret Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division in the middle of landlocked southern Indiana.
Why is it is so top secret? Because of the alternate dimension portals located in the basement, a training program for telekinesis powers and the occasional demodog outbreaks. But they told me not to talk about all that.
New Riff – keeping the status quo since 2019
Anyway, if there is one distillery that seems like they’re stuck in an alternate dimension, it would probably be New Riff. These guys are going on their 9th year of distilling whiskey and have yet to release a single barrel of bourbon in their private barrel program that is over 5 years old.
Part of this is by design. They know they can’t sell all of their maturing barrels now or else there won’t be older barrels to sell in the future. The only issue is that retailers and enthusiast groups have been stuck with selecting barrels all aged somewhere between 4 and 5 years old. Realistically, there’s no difference between a barrel selected in 2019 versus one selected in 2023.
On a positive note, the single barrels that they get to choose from are virtually limitless. Go to their distillery in Newport, KY and you’ll have a literal book given to you with barrels to choose from, their specs and a brief list of profile notes. But the one negative about this all is that even despite the range of choices, the bourbon (and rye whiskey) is still quite young overall.
I’ve talked to many store owners who have begun to turn down New Riff picks that are offered to them solely because it’s more of the same. Their customers – many of whom have to keep buying store picks to keep their access to allocated bottles later on – have begun to retaliate when faced with the option of buying their 5th or 6th New Riff store pick in as many years because it’s the same age as the last one they bought.
I’m not saying that every group and every person is upset at New Riff. There are some groups out there (mainly newer ones) that are genuinely excited and grateful to be able to land a pick. But after 1 or 2, the experience and excitement dies down considerably.
There were enough members of the Crane Whiskey Society that were ok with buying a New Riff pick because they hadn’t done one in a while and because the price per bottle is still relatively cheap. At wholesale cost, these won’t break the $50 price point.
I was interested enough to buy one. I haven’t bought a New Riff pick for a couple years now, so I thought “why not?” It will give me a chance to see if I still have feelings for the brand. I just wish they’d release their older products already. Enough complaining, let’s get down to tasting this to see how it is. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose is lively and jam-packed full of scents. I’m picking up on Crème Brule and cinnamon first. This is followed by fruit scents like cooked raspberries, pear, currants and dates. For being so young, there’s a nice amount of oak that has a slight antique quality to it (along with barrel char). I even find ground fennel seed, surely from the rye grain that was used.
Palate: The whole palate screams out that it contains a lot of rye in the mash bill. There’s spices galore with every sip – peppercorn, cinnamon and anise. Mint also hints to the flavorful grain being present in large quantities.
Caramel sweetness controls the tannic notes like leather and oak. Cherry and vanilla round out a classic bourbon profile that pleases everyone. Overall, the sip packs quite the punch which I was hoping it would since this barrel came in at 113.3 proof.
Finish: The finish rounds the experience out with sweet flavors like molasses, sweet tea and vanilla along with lingering fruit notes like cherry juice and raspberries. I’m not sure why, but oak is not the dominant tannin on the finish, it’s actually leather. Nice!
Darn you, New Riff. I guess that even though your barrels aren’t as mature as other Kentucky distilleries, they’re still very good. Overall, this bourbon is much more complex, refined and interesting than almost all of the other sub-5 year old bourbon I’ve had this year.
As I was drinking this, my brain kept telling me that this tasted very similar to another bourbon I’ve had recently. Then it hit me, this tastes on-brand with a Four Roses OBSK recipe single barrel. The high-rye and spicy vibes were very similar. Anytime a bourbon tastes close to a Four Roses pick, it’s going to be a winner to me.
I know I like to drone on and on about New Riff’s lack of older bourbon, but it’s probably because I’m aware of the potential they have based on younger barrels like this one. So while these single barrel picks are generally worth every penny they cost, I know that there could be so much more inside of them.
For the moment I’m just going to have to keep on being patient and wait for the day that we find out that older barrels are coming. And believe me, they’re going to be worth the wait.
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