Jackie Zykan’s recent departure from Old Forester for a whiskey startup sent shockwaves through the bourbon world, and I swear you can still feel them.
For those who missed it, Hidden Barn was founded by Zykan and Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner of Colorado’s 5280 Whiskey Society, and while they get their own Kentucky-based operations up and running, they’re putting out a spirit made from distillate sourced from the Neeley Family Distillery, an operation that’s been around since 2015 but which I’d never heard of until today.
Some material from the company:
In the spirit of doing things the hard way, Master Distiller Royce Neeley touches every step of the process from grain to aging, personally hand-collecting wild Kentucky yeast, carefully monitoring a 5-day fermentation using traditional cypress fermenters, and personally distilling and hand-cutting the double pot distillation.
The Whiskey Made the Hard Way series was fermented using wild yeast and is double pot distilled. It was collected at 127 proof, and entered the barrel at 110 proof. The seven barrels represent some of the first lots to mature under the watchful eye of Neeley. To maintain the integrity and viscosity of the liquid, the bourbon is screened for sediment and sees no additional filtration.
Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch #001 is presented at an undiluted batch proof of 53% ABV and offered at a suggested retail price of $74.99. The initial offering will be available in Kentucky, Colorado, Florida and California, with more distribution expected before the end of the year.
The mashbill for this whiskey is 70 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley, and it’s proofed with local Kentucky water. No age statement here but the company says maturation is 4 to 5 years in barrel. Seven barrels made.
Let’s dig in to batch #1 of the product formally known as Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Small Batch #001 Whiskey Made the Hard Way Series, shall we?
Seasoned drinkers of craft bourbons will find plenty of familiar character here. It’s distinctly corny on the nose, but heavy laced with Bit-O-Honey, butterscotch, and molasses — and with a healthy slug of oak in the mix. There’s lots of heat at full proof, though water is naturally an effective tempering agent (albeit one which dulls the sweeter elements on the nose). The palate belies some youth, with a ton of peanut shell coming across almost like peanut butter at times. Again the wood is intense and ruddy here, though notes of chocolate and toasted grains add some level of nuance, along with a pinch of mint, some baking spice, and a tiny hint of cherry. Water sadly dulls the spice and sweetness considerably, bringing more tannin and lumberyard character into the fold. With or without water, the finish is focused almost exclusively on wood, which this whiskey doesn’t need more of.
Ultimately, it’s rather harmless — though distinctly undercooked — and I was hoping to enjoy this a lot more than I did. It definitely doesn’t feel like anything Zykan has done in the past, feeling a bit like a Hail Mary shortcut to get something into the market, even if it is just seven barrels of product to get the company’s name out there. (Listen hard and you can hear the suits discussing the strategy.) Of course, that’s the problem with a whiskey company: Whiskey takes a long long time to mature, and until then, you either have to sit on your hands or release sourced product. Hidden Barn is taking a huge gamble in sourcing craft distillate instead of MGP or some other large producer for this release, and kudos to them for trying something different. Unfortunately, the results here are still shaky, and I doubt that many early buyers are going to agree that there’s $75 in value to be had in this inaugural bottling.
106 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.
B / $75 / hiddenbarnwhiskey.com