Some of you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a born-and-raised Midwesterner. But I haven’t lived in the Midwest my whole life. The Army made sure that I got to see plenty of places around the US during my time in the service. One of my favorite places was when I lived in the American Southwest. Some of my earliest memories involve spending weeks at a time in the middle of the dessert between Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands, New Mexico.
Whenever we’d have downtime during our training, some of the country boys in my Battalion would spend their time making traps to catch the wild desert hares (jackrabbits) that inhabited our camps. Once they caught them, they’d cook them over a fire using the only firewood we had access to: mesquite shrubs. To this day, the smell of that deeply fragrant wood still brings me back whenever I catch even a hint of it. That’s why when I found out about a bourbon that used mesquite-smoked corn as a foundation for their mash, I knew I had to try it.
Sespe Creek Distillery
Sespe Creek Distillery, located in Oxnard, California, teamed up with MMA Heavyweight fighter Josh Barnett to create a distinctive label of their Warbringer Bourbon called Warmaster. The Master Distiller of Warbringer is PhD by trade but uses his knowledge of science to distill and age his spirits quickly by essentially pressure cooking the distillate with the wood. From all of the material I’ve read, it is still aged in a #4 char barrel afterwards.
But before it even is distilled, Warbringer Bourbon starts its life by having all of its corn roasted and mesquite smoked. For a flavoring grain, they’ve elected to use malted rye (no barley). The mashbill is split 75/25 and undergoes a 10 day long fermentation before being distilled in a pot still. This is one of the longer periods of fermentation that I’ve heard of in the distilling world.
Once the bourbon is done maturing it is dumped into sherry casks for further maturation. There are two labels of Warbringer Bourbon: the white label is batch-proofed at 98.5 while the orange label is a single barrel bottled at cask strength. My bottle that I’m reviewing today comes in at 113 proof and wears no age statement.
I’m not going to lie, when I received this bottle I swear I could smell the mesquite smoke even though the cork and seal were still intact. This was going to be one wild ride. I sampled this in my Glencairn.
Nose: The sweet and somewhat acrid smell of mesquite smoke dominates everything. There is no way to avoid it. But it will require some skill to look past. The smell takes me back to my time in the desert with the Soldiers and their mesquite-shrub fires. It also kind of smells like the inside of a Tractor Supply Company store. It is delicious, transfixing and utterly polarizing. You’re either going to love this or hate it. Honestly if you can get past it, there is a fair amount of sweet wine notes that you can pick up on. Sherry always has notes of chocolate sauce and black cherries/currants and that is what I find here. Some sharper notes of orange extract are detectable too. There’s also a lingering scent of pavement on a hot summer day.
Palate: The barbecue mesquite wood smoke coats everything I taste. The smoke scent from the nose turns into creosote on the palate. It is absolutely dominant and there is nothing else like it. Grilled cherries and honey drizzled cornbread taste like they have been doused with Liquid Smoke. Other reviews of this bottle mentioned one of the flavor notes you’ll encounter is “diesel fuel,” and that is likely one of the most accurate descriptions I can think of. That’s not saying this is poisonous or anything, but if you’ve been around diesel fuel in the past, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s probably one of the most intense notes I’ve ever tasted.
Finish: If you’re betting that I’m going to say that the finish still tasted like Liquid Smoke, you’d be right. But outside of that, the finish is oily and that actually keeps my tongue from drying out. This finishes much like peated Scotch whereby medicinal notes and salinity mix with smoke. There’s also the lingering note of solvent (which could also be that diesel fuel note) that lingers the entire time.
Putting a rating on this bottle isn’t something that is easy to do. This will be a strictly love it or leave it kind of drink for anyone that tries this. If I had to describe this whiskey to you in one word, it would be “INTENSE.” There is nothing else like it out there (at least that I’ve had so far). I realize that some of the descriptor words seem like I’m joking or that it’d be undrinkable (hot pavement, diesel fuel, solvent) but in reality, these are the same notes you’d find lifting the lid on your smoker or sitting around a campfire.
In fact, while I was drinking this, I was thinking of a few foods that this bourbon would really go well with. Fried chicken and/or fried pickles would be a great pairing because the smoke and sweetness would pair well with the saltiness/acidity found in them. Wild Game/Quarry meat would also be another as the mesquite taste may compliment the leaner, gamey tastes. And if you’re having dessert, something tart like a berry cobbler would make sense seeing as how the sherry wine cask finish is prominent enough to compliment the fruits.
This bottle isn’t likely to become a daily drinker for most, but is more of an occasional sipper that requires just the right mood to enjoy. But when the time is right, its complexity is unmatched.
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)
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.