There are a lot of bourbon choices on the shelf. Big-name distilleries in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, and beyond can put out five, ten, even 20 or more different labels from the same stills and barrel houses. Celebrities are launching lines left and right. Drinkers are rich with choice and, even still, many of them like to stick to the tried and true.
It must be scary as hell to be an upstart craft distillery. How do you compete?
By being as skilled at creating craft expressions as Woodinville Whiskey Co. out in the Seattle suburbs, that’s how. The relative newcomers have been killing the whiskey game over the past couple of years. Their entry-point bourbon won Double Gold and was named the Best Straight Bourbon of 2020 at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Their 100% Rye is equally lauded, along with their Port Finish Bourbon — our favorite bourbon of 2020.
This is quality juice, is what we’re getting at. And people who know bourbon whiskey see that.
Woodinville is a small operation making big whiskeys, which makes this ranking a little shorter than our normal Friday brand rankings. We’re only talking about their four core expressions (though you can find some serious barrel picks out there and great cask-strength one-offs at the distillery when it’s open). The flipside of that coin is that it also makes ranking these four bottles almost impossible — it would have been easy to finish with two ties.
Still, we’re going to give it our best shot. That way, when you do come across a bottle, you’ll know which one to start with. Click the prices to order the expressions that look best to you!
4. Woodinville Double Barrel Blended Whiskey
Average Price: $60
Double Barrel is a great example of the craft involved with this brand. The juice is fermented from grains (corn, rye, and barley) pulled exclusively from Omlin Family farm in Quincy, Washington. The distillate then goes into barrels that spend two years air-drying on the leeward slopes of the Cascade Mountains before a light toasting and very light charring. The hot distillate mellows in those barrels and is then transferred to used bourbon barrels to finish out their maturation.
There’s a nose of red berries dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar with a buttery base next to a hint of that toasted oak. The palate veers away from the berries towards a ripe peach floating in vanilla cream with honey and eggnog spice cutting through. The end circles back to the dry wood notes, with a slight spicy tobacco chew offering a counterpoint to that silken vanilla cream and stonefruit on a medium-length fade.
Something has to be at the bottom of this list. The main reason for this landing in the bottom slot is that this feels like the best mixer on the list — or the bottle we reach for the least when sipping neat or on the rocks. It’s absolutely a fine sipper but, really, it’s a better cocktail base for a craft Manhattan or old fashioned.
3. Woodinville 100% Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $45
American Distilling Institute Craft Spirits Awards named this their Best Rye back in 2017. The juice is 100 percent rye with grains sourced locally from the Omlin family farm. The whiskey is barreled in air-dried and toasted barrels but this time they’re heavily charred before the spirit goes in. The barrels are then hand-selected and married to create a pure rye whiskey experience at an accessible 90 proof.
This very much falls into the “classic” rye category with a nose full of dark and woody spices next to bright red fruits, honey, and a touch of fresh and (maybe even wet) tobacco leaves. The palate embraces the nose while adding in a, dare we say, plummy Fruit Roll-Ups taste and vibe next to a slight nuttiness, mild vanilla/caramel, and spicy dried tobacco chew on the end of the sip. The finish is long-ish, velvety, and touches back on the almost cedar woodiness and leathery fruit as the spicy tobacco warms the chest.
This rye feels like it’s for aficionados while still holding onto real accessibility in flavor and mouthfeel. While it can be a bit bold, it’ll never overwhelm, especially when you get a little ice or water in there to really let it shine in the glass.
2. Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $42
This much-lauded bourbon is Woodinville’s touchstone expression. The whiskey is made with those same family farm grains. The juice spends years in the toasted and heavily charred barrels maturing until it’s just right (around five years in total). The results are married and proofed down with local water to a very welcoming 90 proof.
You’re greeted with a thick vanilla pudding with caramel candy and a cedar box full of dark spices. The caramel thickens to a buttery and rich toffee with notes of dark chocolate peeking in next to more of those woody spices and a vanilla oil velvetiness. The end is long and really embraces the sweeter edges of the vanilla pudding while allowing the spice to warm the senses.
This is one of those drams where you’re left thinking after the first sip, “Oh, this is what good bourbon tastes like.” It’s matter-of-fact while also being incredibly sippable neat or on the rocks … in a highball … or in your favorite cocktail.
In short, it’s as versatile as it is drinkable.
1. Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey Port Finished
Average Price: $52
This expression is the brand’s award-winning five-year-old bourbon taken up a notch. That means you’re getting that grain-to-glass experience of local Washington craft along with the bespoke barreling process on those snowy Cascade Mountains. The juice is then finished for six to 12 months in port casks, adding a whole new dimension to the bourbon.
Candied fruit, roasted nuts, and bourbon vanilla entice you throughout the sip. Those notes lead right into a Christmas cake full of dried fruits, spice, nuts, and plummy sherry depths. The end shines in all of those notes, adding a warming feeling that revels in all the candied fruit, cake, spice, nuts, and oak as it slowly fades away, leaving you with a silken mouthfeel and sweet warmth.
This word gets thrown around a lot, but this bourbon is smooth. It’s just the right amount of sweet, spicy, and bourbon-y, creating a unique and delicious sipping experience. We like it neat. But don’t sleep on making a killer cocktail with this one — something like a Sazerac, eggnog, or boulevardier feels right.
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