For a couple years now, Spirits of French Lick has risen to become the second most famous whiskey producer in Indiana. Through careful marketing and a dedication to making whiskey the way they see fit, the company has churned out new products that have impressed quite a few reviewers in the industry, most notably Fred Minnick.
Spirits of French Lick
What I think makes SoFL stand out from its peers is their concentration on the grains used in their whiskey. Master Distiller Alan Bishop talks at length about his dedication to sourcing the best local grains or even growing them himself and making unique whiskies to show them off. This respect for the grain is also shown by the way he ages his products such as using barrels with a #2 char level and aging most of those barrels in a chai cellar. This won’t be the case for long as he’s recently had two bright red warehouses built right behind the distillery in West Baden Springs.
Speaking of West Baden Springs (aka French Lick), I had the opportunity to travel down there recently for the first time ever. This was a proud community that has Larry Bird as its most well-known figure but spent the last half of the 20th century declining into a wasteland. Then about 20 years ago a cash infusion from a new casino would see the economy become revitalized as the downtown was rebuilt and more businesses opened up centered around making the area a vacation destination. It’s not easy to get to if you’re traveling from the north, but the town is worthy enough to enjoy at least a day trip to explore.
The Morning Glory is not what you think
When I was perusing the gift shop/tasting room/restaurant at Spirits of French Lick, I saw a label that I was not familiar with. Titled “The Morning Glory,” (named after a popular whiskey bar in turn-of-the-century southern Indiana) I was interested enough to buy two pours of it. One to drink in the gift shop and the second to pour into my Aged and Ore travel container to study more back home. Fun fact: when you order a pour of this at the bar, be careful not to say the name too loudly or else tipsy, middle-aged women that are doing their wine sampling will snicker and ask if you just said “Morning Wood.” Ask me how I know this.
The quick specs on this bourbon is that the mash bill uses two flavoring grains; technically three if you count one of them that is a toasted variant. Since it is a bourbon, the first grain is obviously corn (in this case, it’s 66% of the mash bill) followed by rye (12%) and malted barley (4%). But where things get weird is that Bishop decided to use both buckwheat (2%) and its toasted version known as “kasha” (16%) in the mash bill as well. This bottle is a single barrel that was bottled at cask strength which ended up being 108.6 proof.
If you read my reviews often, you’ll see that I’ve had a buckwheat bourbon recently. Ironically it was from another producer in Indiana called Cardinal Spirits and was named “Perry’s Secret Stock.” While the barrel was aged at MGP for over 7 years, I was told by a source that it was contract-distilled in small amounts by an unknown company. They took the standard MGP low-rye bourbon mash bill and substituted buckwheat in place of the traditional rye grain. This resulted in a bourbon that was extremely spicy and also a bit earthy. In my review of that bottle, I wrote how that buckwheat bourbon would appeal to rye whiskey drinkers looking to experience a different kind of spice in their whiskey. For most of my friends, they concluded it was an acquired taste.
The key difference between SoFL’s The Morning Glory and Perry’s Secret Stock is that TMG’s buckwheat gets toasted. Toasting the grain isn’t done much in the distilling world, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be successful. I’m also wondering if this version of buckwheat bourbon will be similarly spicy and earthy since they both contain about the same amount of it in the final mash bill ratio. There’s only one way to find out! I sampled this neat in a glencairn (even though my picture shows me using a rocks glass when I first drank it, haha)
Nose: No surprise here, but the grains dominate the scents right off the bat. Notes of bran flakes, toasted oats, and even a smokey char are front and center. I even detect a bit of fruit by way of baked apples and banana bread. There might be other starchy fruits as well, but I’m unable to describe them. This nose is quite wild and I don’t believe I’ve smelled something so unique before.
Palate: Thick and oily with a peppery burst on the tongue. The buckwheat grain comes off like you’d expect with lots of flavors that make you think of baked goods. Buckwheat pancakes and bran muffins come to mind. There is a nice sweetness that’s closer to honey than it is caramel. It’s funny because the grain itself tastes a bit “drying” on my tongue but the thick mouthfeel helps it along by never actually drying my mouth out. On the sweeter/fruitier end of the spectrum, plum and date syrup flavors can be found. There’s even a touch of “socarrat” (the toasty rice that forms at the bottom of Paella). Occasionally I’ll get a passing green note, but not enough to turn me off.
Finish: Baked goods spiced with loads of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice complete the sip. All of the grains have a wonderful, residual toasted flavor that leaves the sensation like you just ate a baked good rather than drank a whiskey. The heat is overall well-controlled for the proof and allows to you find all of the nuances due to how easy it is to drink. I even find lingering notes of banana and maple pecans, somewhat reminding me of Jack Daniel’s.
Each time I had a session with this whiskey, it always started out unexpectedly delicious. It genuinely tasted much older and more refined than I was expecting. But the longer I left it in my mouth the more the traditional bourbon flavors disappeared into the background. This allowed the toasted grain notes to shine. By the end of the session, it was like I had just finished eating a bowl of Wheaties. That’s not to say it was a bad bourbon! On the contrary, it was still a fascinating dram and I really enjoyed its uniqueness overall.
Many enthusiasts look at these craft bourbons that use unconventional grains in their mash bills and immediately reject them. I admit that sometimes when I find a bourbon on the shelf with a grain other than corn, wheat, rye or malted barley inside, I tend to put it back. But SoFL may be onto something by breaking the mold by using buckwheat AND toasting it before it gets distilled. This added step seemed to transform it into something totally new. I just wish I could find more products out there that toast the grain in their whiskey. I’ve been following a couple of producers who have begun using popcorn in lieu of corn in their mash bills and have to wonder if they aren’t onto something as well. What I want to know is if it’s really the toasting process that amps up the flavors and erases the youthful graininess or if it’s something else. What would toasted wheat taste like? Or rye or spelt or oats? This is an experiment that I hope SoFL continues to look into for future releases.
The Morning Glory is easy enough to pass on the shelves if you are a person who typically rejects anything craft. But it’s worth looking at closely and I would recommend buying a bottle. I have been a big fan of the William Dalton label in the past, believing it to be the best SoFL product so far but this bottle has me singing a different tune. If you’re looking to expand into something new that tastes like nothing you’ve had before, then The Morning Glory should be your next pick.
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