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RD One Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished with Brazilian Amburana Wood Review

RD One Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished with Brazilian Amburana Wood Review

RD One is a brand you may have seen pop up on shelves at a liquor store near you for the past few years. My first thought when I saw the unique, flask-shaped bottle and the colorful labels was that the producers were going for a more contemporary design. Later on, I came to learn that the founders were trying to incorporate many design cues from the history of the first registered distillery (hence the name RD One) in Lexington.

If you want to know more about the history behind the brand, check out the newest Bourbon Pursuit Podcast where Barry Brinegar spouts off the history of the brand like a firehose. It’s a lot to digest so be warned you might have to listen to it more than once.

RD One’s Identity Shift

The founders of RD One initially decided that to get into the market by setting up a store/gift shop in Lexington to sell their bottles. The plan was to sell the large majority of their product at their own location since they recognized that small producers are at a disadvantage when it comes to distribution. Why’s that? In a nutshell, distributors respond better if producers give them sales incentives to sell more cases to retailers. The smaller producers usually don’t have the capital to give the distributors the same kinds of incentives as the bigger guys, so they often lose out.

But fate had different plans for the RD One. Within months after opening, the pandemic closed their storefront down. Faced with an future uncertain, they had no choice but to play the distribution game. This required much more capital to increase barrel purchases and bottling capacity. Luckily they secured enough and the result has been that their bottles are now for sale in 22 states as of 2024.

The Core Four

I don’t think that the people behind RD One ever truly gave an explanation why they decided to steer the brand into the realm of finished bourbons, but that is ultimately what three of the four expressions are. RD One sources bourbon Green River Distillery’s standard 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malt bourbon recipe. The bourbon is said to be aged around four years.

The barrels are then sorted into batches to become one of four products. A traditional Small Batch bourbon bottled at 98 proof, a 99.9 proof bourbon that is “Double Finished in Oak and Maple Syrup Barrels,” a 101 proof bourbon “Finished with French Oak” and the star of today’s review, a 110 proof bourbon “Finished with Brazilian Amburana Wood.”

RD One bypasses true “double barrel finishing” in favor of a new technique

There’s a new trend that producers of finished whiskies are embracing. Instead of purchasing expensive secondary barrels to finish their whiskies in, they are opting to insert wood from those finishing barrels into the original oak barrel that the bourbon comes in. We have seen this with 13th Colony (who uses various oak spirals), Maker’s Mark (who pulls off the barrel heads to insert slats/staves of various wood) and even Dixon Dedman’s newest venture; 2XO.

I specifically mentioned Dixon in here because according to the pictures on RD One’s website, the wood that is being inserted in the barrels looks an awful lot like the wood “necklaces” that he puts into his barrels. The size and amount of oak squares are calculated to mimic the internal surface area of an oak barrel, effectively exposing the liquid inside to the same amount of wood that it would come into contact with if it were dumped into a second barrel.

Dixon Dedman showing off the oak chains he uses to finish the bourbon for his 2XO brand

These make sense in a lot of ways because they reduce production costs substantially. So much so, in fact, that I would like to give you this guideline/rule of thumb to go by. If you ever see a sourced whiskey that claims to be double-oaked or “matured with XXXX wood” and is under $80, it probably has not spent time in a secondary barrel. Chances are high it’s had one of these newfangled oak treatments inserted into the bunghole.

RD One also utilizes the same oak chains

RD One Brazilian Amburana Finished Bourbon goes for a slightly different approach. Instead of using wood necklaces, they drill holes into thick pieces of Amburana wood to maximize surface contact with the liquid before stuffing them through the bunghole for an undisclosed amount of time (probably just a few weeks).

RD One shows us the Amburana stave that they insert into the barrels drilled in a honeycomb pattern

If you know me, you’ve seen my enthusiasm for Amburana-finished products wane over the years. Initially, I was smitten with Starlight’s bourbon and rye whiskey. But that has devolved into an opinion that Amburana finishes completely smother all other flavors and scents from the underlying whiskey. Now whenever I taste it, I feel like I’m drinking gingerbread schnapps (does such a thing exist?). It’s way too heavy-handed.

So here I am, like the proverbial crash test dummy being loaded back into a test car. I’ve done this before and I’m sure the result will be the same. But each time I think to myself “maybe it will be different.” Will RD One be the brand that changes my mind? Thanks to my friend Brad, I’m going to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose reminds me of a certain kind of Christmas potpourri that my mom used to set out during the holidays. This mix smelled like all of the most fragrant kinds of mulling spices. Unfortunately, aside from some trace amounts of vanilla, I’m not uncovering scents that would tell me much about the bourbon underneath. It’s pleasant to smell, but it also smells like any other Amburana-finished bourbon

Palate: Every time I sip on an Amburana-finished whiskey, I hope for something other than the taste of gingerbread. And sure, enough RD One’s is a mouthful of exactly that. Gingerbread concentrates heavily on baking/mulling/brown spices while also adding the unmistakable heat and flavor of ginger. The mouthfeel is moderately thick and the heat overall is well-controlled. Each sip is also very sweet, almost like drinking a liquid dessert or something that Starbucks would feature on their drink menu in December.

Finish: More of the same from the palate. Lingering sweetness, gingerbread notes and potpourri abound. A little bit of residual heat gives a nice Kentucky Hug all the way down. Seasoned oak remains just a little bit too.

Score: 6.5/10

I was recently discussing the phenomenon of Amburana finishes with a new friend. My observation was that the fad of this wood finish seems like it’s dying out among many producers. Sure, there will always be some producers who won’t quit making it (Starlight and RD One seem to be heavily invested into it), but as new consumers are trying it, many aren’t returning to it.

This is kind of where I’m at as a drinker. I appreciated Amburana finishes in the beginning but feel like they’ve lost their appeal. RD One makes a solid product at a good price and proof, but there’s not much here that made me excited. Amburana truly is the one-trick pony of the whiskey world.

Final Thoughts

Interested in trying an Amburana-finished whiskey? RD One is probably where I’d start. Every other product I’ve tried that’s been Amburna finished has been over $80 and usually very limited. This particular release seems to be very easy to find by contrast. If you end up liking it a lot, you could jump up to the more expensive versions put out by other producers. And if you don’t, at least you’re not out a lot of money.

But if you’re like me and the honeymoon period is over with Ambruana, then there’s no need to chase this one down. It’s just like all the rest. I’m sure that RD One’s other products are very good, so if you’re wanting to give this producer a shot, I’d suggest any of their other 3 products first.

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