Some folks see Black Maple Hill as a brand name that seriously fell from grace. The Whiskey Wash has a fantastic post about the brand’s history, but the short version is that it went from highly sought-after whiskey aged into the double-digits allegedly sourced from Stitzel-Weller to roughly 5-year Oregon-sourced distillate. This new source, coming from Stein Distillery in Joseph, Oregon, brought with it a bottle and label refresh, the bourbon being blue and the rye being green. I had no prior investment in the Black Maple Hill brand, so reading up on its backstory at least made its more limited status understandable. So when I had the opportunity to sample the brand from a fellow whiskey fan, I had to take it out of sheer curiosity. Let’s dive right in.
Nose: Smells grassy and barely aged. Yeasty like bread dough or cornmeal. Dry and lightly herbal with vague impressions of anise, sassafras, black pepper, and rosemary. Oddly effervescent (think club soda). Hints of dry caramel and vanilla. Pecans and hazelnuts buried in there.
Palate: Corn, yeast, and bread dough with a light drizzling of caramel, vanilla, and maybe honey. Mild black pepper note with slight lemon zest. Floral and hay-like.
Finish: Short-medium and fairly clean. Pepper and herbs (rosemary and clove). Corn, yeast, and mash residuals remain consistent for the time they last.
There’s no sugarcoating it: I can begin to understand why people regard this as a sharp drop in quality. Although I never got to try any previous versions of Black Maple Hill, replacing any of my favorite expressions with something like this would almost certainly crush me. Even if I remove this perspective and attempt to judge the whiskey on its own, I’d still describe it as unfulfilling. It smells and tastes oddly young (given its color), the pleasant flavors require a considerable amount of digging, and what’s there fails to leave a lasting impression. This is honestly one of the most difficult spirits I’ve reviewed because I feel like there’s remarkably little to discuss. I can’t think of any reason I’d recommend someone try this, least of all for the bottle’s asking price.