Craft and otherwise newer whiskey producers are going through something of a transformation. Where these fresh faces were previously dismissed by most, oftentimes for being minimally aged while commanding high prices, they’re now being accepted and even sought-after in some cases. Among the more recent examples are producers outside of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. Nowadays it feels like every state has at least one distillery producing their own whiskey, and Wisconsin is hardly an exception thanks in no small part to Driftless Glen.
Named after the Driftless Area in the state’s southwest region, Driftless Glen resides in Sand County along the Baraboo River, “a bountiful region rich with peat, bogs, an amazing aquifer, and uncommon sandy soil for our grains to grow in.” To date, they’ve produced 19 separate expressions utilizing both a 44-foot tall column still and custom pot still, and are currently distributed in 24 states. I recently came across bottles of their small batch and single barrel bourbon and rye whiskey (at Winn-Dixie of all places). Although their single barrels are available at cask strength, often as part group or store picks, the ones I found were bottled at 48% ABV. My domestic whiskey exploration has been mostly limited to the more popular, aforementioned states, and I often preach exploration for exploration’s sake. Toss in a 5-year age statement with a reasonable $35-$40 shelf price and I figured, “worst-case scenario, I have another option for cocktails.”
Nose: Root beer and cream soda vibes with a vague cotton candy essence. Soft and earthy, but also dry. Some caramel, vanilla, and mellow lime while grass and ground cinnamon offset the sweeter aromas.
Palate: Light-medium viscosity. Vanilla buttercream frosting upfront immediately followed by a tart lemon-lime combo. Sassafras quickly kicks up with distinct spiciness heading into the finish.
Finish: Citrus-forward Earl Grey tea. Some rye spice and relatively sweet basil carry this to a medium, slightly drying finish.
From the onset, one of the more distinct aspects of Driftless Glen rye’s more interesting aspects is the two-grain mash bill of rye and barley. It’s easy to take that for granted when Ross & Squibb’s 95/5 mash bill is so ubiquitous, but besides them and New Riff, most whiskey enthusiasts would likely be hard-pressed to name a rye with similar composition. If anything, I’d say the rather high percentage of barley makes Driftless Glen even more interesting. That doesn’t mean the whiskey is inherently good or enjoyable, but sometimes a change of pace is welcome.
The good news is that this particular single barrel shows some promise. Even at sub-100 proof, this packs a decent bit of spice, which is impressive given the sweet flavor profile. I believe the lack of corn in the mash bill and more subtle role barley plays in American whiskey allows the rye to shine that much more. What this ultimately translates to is a fun whiskey to dissect, but not one I’ll replace. Driftless Glen Single Barrel Rye fits comfortably into the “appreciate more than enjoy” territory for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they quickly become a formidable force at the rate they’re going.