By Jake Emen
As craft distilleries continue to explode onto the scene across the United States, each brand has to find its way past a common obstacle. How do we produce a mature, refined spirit when we want our product on shelves and atop home bars not years from now, and not even today, but yesterday? Small barrel aging is the norm, and a variety of other techniques and subtle shifts have been developed as well.
At Blue Ridge Distilling Co., in Bostic, North Carolina, which is located in a region, the Golden Valley, famous for its moonshiners, they say to hell with barrels, and to hell with the norm. Their tag line is “unbound by barrels or convention” but what exactly does that mean?
Blue Ridge takes great pride in their process, but perhaps even more in their ingredients: their carefully selected and cultured strain of yeast; the 100% two-row premium malted brewer’s barley; their pure below-ground water source. That covers three of their four listed ingredients. Last up, toasted American white oak, which is actually both ingredient and process. A video on Defiant’s website explains:
“It’s not about aging whiskey, it’s about imparting the qualities that are in the oak, in the whiskey, in a way which marries those two together and compliments the whiskey. And barrels are such an inefficient way of doing that.”
The solution Defiant sees as more efficient essentially turns the tables by putting the barrel into the whiskey. That means that they put spiral cuts of that toasted American white oak and insert that into the spirit itself.
Aging time? Just 60 days. It’s a proprietary process which the mad scientists at Defiant developed in part thanks to their experience as an international salvage diving team – Defiant Marine. In some ways, the idea is similar to the use of barrel inserts to impart certain desired flavors, such as Maker’s Mark 46 does with French oak, but that is just trim whereas what Blue Ridge is doing goes to the core. In others, its similar to the way small barrel aging increases surface contact with the whiskey.
All that is fine and good, but how does it actually turn out? In the glass, Defiant is a coppery amber, offering cereal grain, honey and oak on the nose.
Take a sip and you’ll find a chewy spirit, with that cereal grain coming strong, in tandem with the malt. The finish is very long, and while mostly pleasant, it’s also a bit hot, and offers a lasting note of black pepper and spice in front of a slight backdrop of caramel sweetness. Add some ice if you’re so inclined, and a vanilla caramel sweetness takes center stage with malt and honey, offering a very smooth sip.
For a single malt whisky aged for only 60 days, Defiant is indeed revolutionary. Still, I’d love to see what they came up with if they utilized that proprietary process for a longer time, perhaps a year, allowing those flavors to become even richer and more nuanced.
Defiant Whisky can be purchased online, with a 750ml bottle (82 proof, 41% ABV) available for $39.95 (although I’ve seen references of up to $54.95 as well).
Defiant Whiskey was recognized as the “Best New Whiskey of 2013” by the “2014 Drammies Awards”.