J Henry Bourbon – Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is Craft Bourbon that will blow your mind.
Fun fact: The state of Wisconsin, best known for cheese curds, beer, and the Green Bay Packers, produces a straight bourbon. And here is the kicker, not only is it good, it may just be the best craft bourbon you have never tried.
J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is produced on Henry Farms in the rural countryside of Dane, WI (about 20 miles north or Madison). The Henry family has owned and operated the 900-acre farm since 1946. Here they grow the main ingredients for their uniquely Wisconsin bourbon – rye, wheat, and an heirloom variety of red corn developed at the University of Wisconsin in 1939. Owners Joe and Liz Henry selected the red corn due to its unique starch/carbohydrate complex and the natural richness it lends to the mash bill. The only product not grown on site is the small amount of barley obtained from a malt producer in Chilton, WI. The resulting four-grain mash is distilled at 45th Parallel in New Richmond, WI, a small family-owned distillery near Minneapolis, Minnesota. The whiskey is then aged for 5 years in an old, rustic dairy barn back at Henry Farms. Staying true to the time-honored traditions of their Kentucky brethren, only 53 gallon barrels are used to age the spirit and the barn is not climate controlled. The latter ensures maximum interaction between the whiskey and wood by exposing the barrels to the regions extreme seasonal temperature fluctuations.
J Henry Bourbon currently offers two award winning products, their 92 proof J. Henry & Sons 5-year Wisconsin Straight Bourbon and the cask strength 5-year Patton Road Reserve. Both products are available in their on-site tasting room and stores throughout the Wisconsin/Chicago area.
J Henry Bourbon
I sampled both products on my tour in December 2016, but the following review focuses on the cask strength Patton Road Reserve.
The Whiskey: J Henry Bourbon / J. Henry & Sons Patton Road Reserve, Cask Strength; $74.99 in tasting room.
Stats: Batch 14, bottle #9. 120 proof, 5-year age stated straight bourbon whiskey. 60% corn, 14% rye, 14% wheat, 12% barley.
Appearance: Amber in color; thick, slow legs like you would expect from a barrel proof whiskey
Nose: Classic bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla, and burnt brown sugar mingled with a pleasant grassiness. A second smell gives you cornmeal (like a fresh corn tortilla), rye spice, and obvious mint in the background. Not overly aromatic, but very well balanced.
Neat: A rich mouthfeel opens up with sweet mint, orange peel, and the caramel and vanilla from the nose. The finish is long and tannic with more cornmeal, sawdust (in a good way), hot cinnamon, and chocolate. A big, flavorful bourbon. Very approachable neat despite the high proof.
With Water: A few drops of water tames the sweetness and brings out more of the grass and grain on the nose. The mint also moves to the forefront, somewhat reminiscent of a sweet mint chewing gum. Interestingly, the palate contradicts the nose with sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel taking center stage. The finish has a nice nutty character with cocoa and cinnamon. (Side note: Ice releases a veritable onslaught of French vanilla. Definitely worth trying).
Conclusion: I’ve read a couple comments online suggesting that this whiskey is too young, but I strongly disagree. Yes, you get graininess on the nose and palate, but it’s not the unpleasant barnyard-like quality you find in many young craft products (especially those aged in smaller barrels). Here, the grain adds a delicious earthiness that echoes the Wisconsin climate, soil, and agricultural history. In other words, this is the farms terroir coming through in the craft bourbon. Overall, this is a well-crafted, complex, and distinctive bourbon that easily ranks as one of the best craft whiskeys I have ever tried. Kudos to J Henry Bourbon for not cutting corners and creating a product worthy of any whiskey lovers’ shelf. Find a bottle, crack it, and share it with friends that will appreciate a pour that is simultaneously traditional and ardently singular.
Bourbon Sippers Rating 4.5 Stars
Note: Joe and Liz informed me that 2 new releases are currently planned – Bellefontaine Reserve, a cognac finished craft bourbon that will be released in February 2017, and a 7-year expression of the straight bourbon. Check the Henry Farms website for updates on these exciting releases!