Angst should never be one’s companion when sipping whiskey, especially bottles as pretty (and promising) as Redwood Empire’s Grizzly Beast Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Rocket Top Straight Rye Whiskey (both $80).
But life in a post-truth world means that even our pleasures must be seasoned with a healthy dash of post-truth attitude. That, plus a bit of balance: Just because we’ve been hurt before doesn’t mean it must happen again. Maybe it’s past time we spirits aficionados purged our memories of what I’ll call the Templeton Learning. (For those in the back, that was the time an Illinois circuit court punished that darling little whiskey operation, to whom we had given our virginity, for sourcing its products from a corporate monolith, and then omitting this information from the label!). I mean, if there’s good juice on hand—regardless of provenance—isn’t it spiteful to stink up a happy room with your grandpa’s notions of authenticity?
Perhaps, but hell hath no fury like a once-fooled whiskey geek, and there’s a kind of polish to Sonoma, California-based Redwood Empire that fosters angst rather than reckless joy. Redwood sprang into the American beverage world fully formed in 2011, armed with an impressive wine-world pedigree (if names like Patz & Hall and Duckhorn mean anything to you) and a plan. Over the years they’ve accumulated a handsome stock of sourced whiskey which they have aged and blended expertly, and packaged handsomely. And now they’ve introduced two “bottled in bond” whiskies (distilled in a single season by a single distiller; aged for at least four years in a secure or “bonded” warehouse; bottled at 100 proof)—the aforementioned Grizzly Beast Bourbon and Rocket Top rye. For distillers and the geeks who love them, this is a moment of crowning glory, a long-awaited leap into Redwood 2.0.
And sure enough, right there on the front label: “distilled and bottled in Sonoma, California.” So that’s a relief. But one hurdle cleared opens the way to another. Often when small American craft distillers try to wean themselves off sourced whiskey, they find it tough to replicate their previous heights.
Redwood Empire gamely clears this second hurdle as well. The California Bourbon might not take home all the ribbons at the State Fair, but it’s nothing you’d want to hide from people you actually like, either. Flashing rosy gold, running to copper in the glass, it gives you all the Bourbon-y things you crave: confectionary notes of cotton candy and fudge, built out with roasted corn, acetone, cedar, and fig. On the palate you get mellow energy rather than raw heat. Roasted corn reappears, raisins start a dance with the figs, and a note of apple drifts into focus. A fine sipper that also asks the right questions about appearing in cocktails.
Coming in a shade darker than the Bourbon, the rye shows perhaps the stronger of the two. Cuprous, molten orange—it’s as if a tangerine, resolving to become whiskey, had leapt from a height into a bubbling caramel volcano. This is a big, handsome, manly hit of rye that doesn’t leave you feeling like you just snorted a line of nori. More high-toned than hot, the Rocket Top dances its way through dried orange peel, cola, pretty cider, and lovely, toasted, chewy grain. Spicy and warm, it offers great energy in the glass, and seals the deal with rewarding persistence.
So let’s review the offerings of Redwood Empire: Good story? Check! Great packaging? Check! Is it their own? It seems to be… so, check! That it’s also good whiskey seems like a bonus, even an afterthought: thus satisfaction, and pleasure, here in the post-truth world.