Reservoir Distillery, the subject of today’s review, is located in Richmond, Virginia and was started in 2008 by a group of friends. Their website shares some basic facts like how they source all of their grains from farms within a 45 mile radius of the distillery.
They distill their whiskies on a pot still and age them in 5 gallon (quarter) casks. Those three facts alone are not terribly unique to the craft whiskey industry, but it’s good to have a starting point to know what you’re dealing with.
Reservoir’s standard whiskey lineup is aptly named “Reservoir” and consists of a 100% wheat whiskey, a 100% rye whiskey and a bourbon (which uses a 100% corn mashbill).
The expressions don’t end there either. Reservoir produces other styles of whiskey under the label “Holland’s.” It’s hard to miss these bottles because they’re so eye-catching and look vastly different from the Reservoir line.
The shape of the bottle is different as too. As for the artwork on the front, I can only assume we’re looking at Holland himself.
The name Blade Rummer is obviously a riff on the fact that this whiskey has some sort of rum finish. It turns out it was finished in a 53 gallon Jamaican Rum barrel.
Reservoir Distillery has also finished their whiskey in other barrels like Imperial Stout casks from nearby brewery, Ardent Craft Ales.
Ardent and Reservoir have a relationship whereby Reservoir gives their bourbon barrels to Ardent so they can make their Imperial Stout beer and then Reservoir gets those barrels back to make their “Holland’s Milkman” bourbon.
Based on the description of Blade Rummer, it sounds like they either take their Milkman bourbon and finish it in the sourced rum barrels OR they have Ardent Craft Ales finish their Imperial Stout beer in a rum barrel before Reservoir dumps their bourbon into it. The bourbon that is used isn’t just the 100% corn mashbill bourbon by the way, it’s is blended together using a ratio of 70% corn, 15% wheat and 15% rye mashbill whiskies before resting for 2 more years in the rum cask.
The end result should be a fascinating experiment in the art of multiple cask finishes. I’ve typically enjoyed whiskies with multiple finishes, so when a local friend offered some to me, I couldn’t turn it down.
Let’s dive in and see what we’ve got here! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Sticky rhubarb, strawberry and cherry pie filling scents bubble up first. Oatmeal raisin cookies, vanilla and a bit of green wood follow next and provide some really sweet scents coupled with a tiny bit of youth.
Palate: The fruits on this are fun to experience with notes of guava, papaya and cherries all likely stemming from the rum barrel influence.
There are also citrus notes of lemon and lime peel that may not have came from the rum, but stand apart from the sweeter fruit notes.
The mouthfeel is thick and sticky, just like most rum finishes would make it, but there is a lingering youthful note from the underlying distillate that reminds me of green wood.
There’s also a bit of acetone throughout; never repulsive but always aloof. The wheat whiskey is most identifiable as notes of unbaked pie dough, espresso beans and cinnamon spice are easily found.
Finish: The finish seems to be missing most of the fruits that developed on the nose and palate. It also leans heavily towards the youthful taste of the base whiskey.
The sweet notes lean more towards sugarcane and less towards caramel. There is a bit of oak but it’s most noticeable because it starts to dry out your tongue.
The spent coffee grounds note is unique, but without a lot of sweetness to help them out, kind of falls flat. This has got to be from the Imperial Stout finish.
Combining the flavors of an Imperial Stout and Jamaican Rum was a surefire way to create a unique experience. In fact, I’m pretty sure Reservoir is the first to do it.
However the one thing that holds it back is that the bourbon tasted under-aged. The two finishes do everything they can to cover it up, but the youthfulness is noticeable.
Reservoir had to make the same difficult decision that most new distilleries will face: whether or not to use smaller casks to age their bourbon quicker or to lose more money initially while their bourbon aged in a 53 gallon barrel.
They rolled the dice on the smaller barrels for a shorter maturation cycle and unfortunately it is very noticeable.
A rating of 5 seems appropriate because I genuinely enjoyed the moments where the barrel finishing notes took over and showed me some unique flavors and scents. But for every step forward, there were 2 steps back as the young distillate crashed the party and reminded me of its youth.
Don’t count Reservoir Distillery out of the fight just yet though. They’ve got solid ideas that they’re gaining experience on right now. This should translate into products that get incrementally better as time goes on.
One final consideration is that I believe they’ve hinted to the fact that for every few quarter casks they’re filling, they’re also filling up some 53 gallon barrels for the future. This is positive news that will have me keeping an eye out for this brand in the coming years.
And if you’re reading this review a few years from now and Reservoir has announced that their whiskey is now coming from 53 gallon barrels, then I’d tell you to absolutely check them out again. They’ve got a lot of promise.
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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