Corrected December 15, 2020
By Richard Thomas
Covington’s New Riff Distillery has carved out quite a name for themselves in recent years. They started with the excellently curated OKI series of sourced bourbon, and then wow’ed the enthusiasts and critics with their inaugural releases of bonded bourbon and rye whiskeys. They’ve continued to build on that momentum. It’s an impressive showing from a group of people who, as New Riff co-founder Jay Erisman put it to me once, “had never made whiskey before” (true, although they got some good advice from Larry Ebersold, the former Master Distiller of what became MGP).
The folks at New Riff weren’t exactly novices, though. Even today, veteran whiskey-making hands are in short supply, and most recruits come from either other spirits industries or from craft brewing. Drawing on the latter base of experience, New Riff put together a pair of new expressions that use on malted grains other than the usual barley (that most often relied upon for breaking down grain starches into sugar and not as a flavoring element) to take their flavor profile in a different direction.
In the case of Maltster Bourbon, they made the most unusual choice of making a malted wheat bourbon. Although not unheard of — Cedar Ridge has a malted wheat whiskey and Woodford Reserve used some malted wheat in its Distiller’s Select Five Malt — it’s still an unorthodox choice. This whiskey uses 65% corn, 18% Bohemian malted wheat and the remainder a mix of two unmalted wheat varietals, with no barley at all. This was aged in standard 53-gallon barrels and bottled in bond.
The high wheat, malted wheat mash bill was supposed to make this a darker, heftier whiskey that the usual wheated bourbon, and it succeeded to a large degree. That starts with its look, sitting on the place where light red amber and dark, sooty copper meet.
The nose is quite unexpected and far outside the usual bourbon footprint, leading with pine, mint, peaches and citrus oil, with just a hint of the more familiar creamy caramel. The flavor moved back into more familiar territory, however, but leaning very heavily on the fruity aspect wheated bourbons often have. Peaches dominate in a basket of stone fruits, seasoned with vanilla and tinged with oaky wood spice. That last part is what carries over into the finish, with the bourbon going down a touch spicy.
It may be hard to find and officially costs just $50, but–based on what I’m seeing with online retailers–a bottle of Maltster Bourbon should run you $65.