Wilderness Trail is just one of many new faces to the American whiskey scene. At first glance, their operation might not seem terribly distinct, other than the fact the distillery is a bit of a detour on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Yet this 10-year-old establishment in Danville has been generating quite a bit of interest, and the more one digs in, the easier it is to see why.
Cofounders Shane Baker and Pat “Dr. Pat” Heist are literally rockstars turned fermentation experts, founding the company Ferm-Solutions prior to Wilderness Trail. This allowed them to market and consult several distilleries and breweries regarding their yeast and enzymes. Perhaps appropriately, Wilderness Trail exclusively use a sweet mash; “by not acidifying the mash, we are able to bring more flavors forward from the grains with a softer finish, just as in preparing a fine meal.” Dr. Pat also claims a sweet mashing technique lets them achieve greater consistency with their products. Much of this information is openly communicated on their website. Their labels are equally transparent, disclosing the barrel and bottle number, mash bill, barrel entry proof, and more.
Today we’re going to look at a pick of their rye whiskey, which is column distilled and barreled at either 100 and 105 proof, “the lowest entry proof we know of in KY” to “highlight the balance of the distillate and alternate solubility expression we get from the barrel at a lower proof.” The pick in question was selected for r/bourbon. I wasn’t able to justify a bottle purchase, but was able to try it thanks to a sample swap.
Nose: Soft. Marshmallow meets lemon pastry. Nice, mellow vanillin and wood essence. Smells like walking into a recently laid rickhouse. Eventually get cinnamon butter and mellow orange rind. Light brown sugars. Post-sip kicks up way more fruit and citrus, a sweet note reminiscent of grapefruit.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel. Nice balance between sweet, tart, and spice. Initially mellow and somewhat restrained flavor-wise. Nice oak, slightly burnt toffee upfront while the rye spice slowly develops with hints of citrus notes. Bit of toasty orange.
Finish: Simultaneous burst of toffee, pepper, and oak spice. Gradually mellows out without compromising on length. Orange-cinnamon frosting, perhaps? Lightly creamed coffee aftertaste. Nice rickhouse woodiness brings the essence from the nose full circle. Modest, welcoming spice.
Very intriguing. This is one of the more unique rye whiskeys I’ve tried. I’m most impressed by how developed this tastes for a product that’s just past the four-year mark (the color is wonderfully dark for the age too). I will say the first couple or so sips didn’t leave too strong an impression, but over time its true colors became that much more vibrant. When I finished my sample, I found myself wishing I had a full bottle, since I can tell it’d be a fun one to revisit over time.
Between visiting the distillery last year and this pick, you can count me as a Wilderness Trail fan. I already knew they’d be worth my attention based on said visit, but this pick has me excited for their future. That being said, I do think it just barely misses being a personal favorite. If the flavors came on just a touch stronger it probably would’ve been love at first sip. Instead, this feels more like a grower, going back to my comment about wanting to revisit it over time. Be that as it may, I still enjoy this pick and think Wilderness Trial are on the right path to creating some fantastic whiskey. It left me hopeful for their future while feeling nostalgic about my recent Kentucky trip, which is naturally a win-win.