American history holds no shortage of interesting stories. This reality isn’t lost on whiskey producers, as entire brands and individual expressions alike often pay homage to these very tales. Many of the larger, more established brands honor significant individuals and points in history pertaining to whiskey in some way, shape, or form. 1792 references the year Kentucky became a state, Buffalo Trace’s E.H. Taylor line celebrates the man responsible for the Bottled in Bond act of 1897, Old Forester’s Whiskey Row line denotes four years of note for whiskey and the brand itself, etc. With so many names and labels to keep track of, newer brands sometimes need to get creative in order to have a chance at standing out. One of the more curious examples of this is Wheeler’s Raid.
Founded by Ryan Thomas, Wheeler’s Raid derives its name from a calvary raid during the Civil War in 1863. The Wheeler in question was General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler of the Confederate Army. This eponymous raid took place in Tennessee near Nolensville and, upon intercepting, led to the looting of whiskey and other supplies. A curious basis for a brand, if nothing else.
Distribution for this recent face hasn’t hit my state, but I was able to come into a sample from a whiskey exchange. The exact expression is the twice-finished Toasted Honey Rye, taking Ross & Squibb’s 95/5 rye whiskey at 4-5 years before first finishing in a toasted barrel, “then in a honey cask made using our own in house developed honey cask finishing process.”
Nose: Honey, sweet cereal, light rye grain. Citrus, lemon-leaning with orange accents. Heavily honeyed tea (green, or Earl Gray without the bergamot). Opens up significantly after sipping; honey becomes elevated, warm, buttery, and rich. Nice, light presence of toasted oak. Warm, light brown sugar just before it becomes caramel.
Palate: Big and viscous. A bit buttery. Honey lemon tea (best drink when down with a cold). Mildly grassy and fairly spicy under the thick, sweet exterior.
Finish: Lengthy. Buttery honey and strong, lingering rye spice are opposites that work strangely well. Lingering lemon with hints of grass and basil creeping up.
Almost all of my interest in this whiskey came from its finish and not from the brand itself. Honey finishes seemingly shot up in popularity and subsequently vanished within a moment’s notice this past year. These are distinct from the likes of Wild Turkey American Honey and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey in that they dump whiskey into a honey cask for finishing (like sherry, port, sauternes, etc.), as opposed to blending whiskey with honey and/or honey-flavored liqueur. I didn’t have any luck tracking these finished examples down locally, so coming into a sample was ideal for satisfying my more or less mild curiosity.
The results were mostly what I anticipated. Wheeler’s Raid don’t disclose how long either finishing process lasts, so gauging the impact of either becomes that much more difficult. My guess is either the whiskey was left in the honey casks for a moderate amount of time or said casks are quick to impart their overarching personality, because the honey is positively dominant. First impressions are expectedly sweet, but surprisingly spicy and alcohol-forward. Although the honey finish is almost certainly the star of the show, the base whiskey comes through surprisingly well. The buttery aspects also caught me a bit off-guard, since honey itself doesn’t usually bestow such personality. I imagine this is thanks to the toasted finish. Subsequent sips rein the aggression in just enough to keep the thick, sweet profile in check, resulting in an experience that’s fun in a boisterous way. I wouldn’t regularly turn to it (especially for the price), but I’d enjoy having it to change things up, especially when feeling the itch to make a more wild cocktail.