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Staves & Grains Experimental Series Rye Whiskey #8 (finished in an Other Half Stout Cask) Review

Staves & Grains Experimental Series Rye Whiskey #8 (finished in an Other Half Stout Cask) Review

Back in May, 2022, Bhavik Patel (a well-known and respected retailer and entrepreneur in the whiskey community) revealed an upcoming Staves & Grain project to the New Jersey Bourbon and Yacht Club (NJBYC). He showed us a picture of a freshly dumped barrel of 7 year old MGP rye whiskey and revealed its next stop: Other Half Brewing.

Other Half Brewing – one of the East Coast’s premier craft breweries

I’m not from the East Coast, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the guys from the NJBYC are enamored with the beer that Other Half makes. Occasionally, one of them will make a pilgrimage to one of their locations for a new drop. They post their trophy pictures with their trunks full of the colorful cans. During the summer months, our group usually shows off more pictures of beer than whiskey. And most of the time that beer is from Other Half Brewing.

On a personal note, My first experience with the brand was last year after I made the trip to New Jersey/New York. Sampling some of the beer and buying some to take back with me to Indiana was a highlight of my trip. I’ve recently been told that Other Half has opened a location in Chicago so now I won’t have to travel as far in the future.

The collaboration between Staves & Grain and Other Half

When Bhavik announced that the barrel would be used to age Other Half’s stout beer in, he followed it up by saying that when they were done aging beer in it, the barrel would be returned back to S&G to finish the original rye whiskey in. It was at that point I think I blacked out with excitement. I came to in a room full of doctors who told me I had actually had a heart attack. I told them it was because an Other Half finished rye whiskey was coming soon and they totally understood.

Look, I know that beer-finished whiskies aren’t for everyone. In fact, most of my friends downright hate them. I have had a couple different Belle Meade “Black Belle’s” along with a special release of Big Red Liquor’s own private bottling of “VIP #2” which was finished in stout barrels from a local brewery called Taxman Brewing Company. I’ve even had Nick Offerman’s second collaboration with Lagavulin (the one finished in Guinness Casks) and found them all to be very good to excellent.

But before you jump on the beer-finished hate train, I want you to hear why I like them. To me, the (usually stout) casks don’t add a weird “hoppiness” to the whiskey. Instead, they seem to add a roasted, complex layer of coffee beans and dark chocolate. They also tend give a creamy character to the mouthfeel. For all these reasons and more, I was stoked to try something finished in a beer barrel from a brand as respected and loved as Other Half. And the kicker? This time it was going to be a rye whiskey that was finished instead of a bourbon.

I have two different rye whiskey picks through two different groups from Staves & Grain. I find them to be some of the best 7-8 year rye whiskey from MGP that I have in my collection. And no, I’m not just saying that either to be a kiss-ass. Bhavik is a bit of a whiskey snob, but when his reputation is on the line, he’s not going to put out an inferior product. This is why I had confidence that this particular S&G release would be something special. All I had to do was wait.

…and wait is what I did. Like a kid who constantly asks “are we there yet?” I kept bugging Bhavik on the status. He sent the barrel to Other Half sometime in May 2022. Other Half got done with the barrel and it made its way back to S&G by November 2022. From there, it took the rye whiskey almost a year until it was declared done and bottled up. It wasn’t until the late Fall of 2023 that it went on sale.

Thankfully I had the opportunity to buy a couple bottles along with bottles of the Other Half collaboration beer. It’s been a long journey, but I’m happy to say that my journey is over. Now all that’s left is to see if the wait was worth it. Let’s dive in. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: There’s a battle going on with the dominant scents on the nose. I can smell the floral and herbal rye notes duking it out with the roasted malt of a heavy stout beer. There’s a mixture of candied sweetness (candy cane?) that fights with a heavy dose of chocolate and coffee. Sweet cream notes tag along too. Oddly, there are some sniffs where I uncover tart raspberries and a little bit of underlying coconut shell. Is that from the beer?

Palate: The first flavor to hit my tongue is semi-sweet chocolate. But then the roasted barley/cereal notes kick in. Honestly, there is a “tangy” sensation on my tongue that is really fun to find. It is almost exactly like the aftertaste from a slightly warm stout beer. It’s not a youthful note either (sometimes I dislike finding tangy notes in youthful whiskey) but instead one that playfully highlights the beer used within. The mouthfeel is beautifully creamy throughout. Herbal notes (peppermint, tarragon) are noticeable near the back of the palate. Unsweetened cherries, banana, chocolate-covered oranges and unsweetened shredded coconut wrap up the accompanying fruit notes. If I had to sum up the palate, it would be like if a York Peppermint Patty melted onto a Mounds Bar.

Finish: The semi-sweet chocolate note remains along with the aforementioned roasted malt/stout flavors. It’s got a lingering sweetness like honey and molasses while mixing with classic MGP notes of pine needles and peppermint. More unsweetened coconut finds its way to the finish while vanilla, peppermint and fennel seeds keep reminding you was, in fact, a rye whiskey and not a beer.

Score: 8.1/10

This is a delicious, complex and unique rye whiskey. It has just enough character not to get snowed by the thick, creamy stout that once inhabited the barrel. The color on this whiskey is about the darkest maroon I’ve seen yet. It’s hard to capture with a picture.

While MGP’s rye whiskey is no slouch when it comes to fruit flavors, I have a theory that the fruit flavors I found seemed to originate more from the stout finish instead. Still, the MGP rye provided a nice contrast of herbal and floral notes that brightened up the dark, roasted malt notes. Give me contrasting flavors that lift each other up any day of the week. I loved them.

Final Thoughts

The sad part is that by time you read this, Experimental Release #8 will be sold out. It was a flash in the pan but I hope it will be replicated again in the future. I still find I have love for beer-finished whiskey and I’m much more interested to find other brands that finish their whiskies in unique stout casks too. And for those of you who wondered how the Other Half beer turned out? Absolutely amazing. Could this be the start of Bourbon Culture beer reviews? To be continued…

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