As if America’s whiskey boom isn’t exciting enough, upstart distillery growth is driving incredible innovation in an industry long accustomed to making pretty similar tasting products. Some of the finest spirits from said smaller distillers I’ve had in the U.S. are being made in French Lick, Ind., at the Spirits of French Lick. About three years old, the distillery is an offshoot of the well-known (in these parts, anyway) French Lick Winery. If you’ve never made the short drive to visit this amazing little town, go there and try these spirits.
But to the real news. A pair of French Lick spirits are now trickling into the Louisville market: the Lee Sinclair Four Grain Bourbon (90 proof) and The Wheater (90 proof), also a bourbon (but instead of using traditional rye grain as its flavoring element, it uses wheat). These whiskeys are making their way to shelves first at large River City Distribution accounts such as Kroger, Target and Wal-Mart, then eventually at local restaurants and bars.
I’ve had the good fortune of tasting these and several other spirits made by head distiller Alan Bishop, who learned the art and dark science of distilling at home, and refined that knowledge on a larger scale as an assistant distiller at Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. He took those spirits smarts a step further with a multi-still operation at French Lick, where he has created lines of vodka, rum, gin (his Old Tom expression is excellent), aquavit, eau de vie, bourbon and rye whiskey.
These spirits are grain forward, accentuating the cereal grain source materials in ways large distilleries often don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love big distillers’ whiskeys, but until you taste the grain nuance found in whiskeys such as those I’ve sipped at smaller distilleries like French Lick, Few Spirits (Chicago), Journeyman Distillery (Three Oaks, Mich.), Catoctin Creek (Purcellville, Va.), KO Distilling (Manassas, Va.), Copper Fox (Sperryville, Va.), Virginia Distilling Co. (Lovingston, Va.) and so many more, you’ll not understand what I mean.
So keep an eye (and your wallet) out for the Lee Sinclair Four Grain and The Wheater Bourbons. Get them, and then drink them with adventurous spirits fans who will appreciate the noticeable differences. These are delicious sipping whiskeys, so have some good nibbles at hand (cured ham, chocolate, cheese, etc.) to elevate those flavors.