Pro tip: If you see the word “Inspired By” in the marketing blurb for a whiskey, you can pretty much assume that entire paragraph is hogwash. The sourcing and selection of whiskey barrels on the secondary market and the subsequent aging, blending, finishing, and bottling of those whiskies may indeed be an art, but it is not like painting or sculpting. ‘Inspiration’ is thin stuff when the actual art form is taking disparate barrels and creating a balanced whole without breaking the bank. Standing on a rugged coast and watching the breakers crash on El Capitán beach may be an inspiring sight, but it does not help you in your efforts to turn the most cost-effective barrels your tiny upstart distillery can get its hands on into something tasty enough to justify a $40 – $50 price tag.
Breaker comes to us (by way of some place in Kentucky, where they actually distill bourbon) from Santa Barbara county, and the name and bottle labels are inspired by the wave ‘breakers’ on the nearby California central coast. That, I can believe. I actually went to school (and did a little surfing, badly) near that area and I will always have a special connection to that coast. That does not predispose me to like a bourbon “from” the area, even if the company claims that the continued aging of (sourced) barrels in the local climate affects the whiskey, spouting some nonsense from student scientists at Cal Poly (I went there, I wasn’t qualified to say stuff like this then, either) about high humidity rolling in from the Santa Rita hills aging the whiskey 4 times faster than Kentucky. See? Hogswash. The climate might have some effect, but the climate of the California central coast is mild, and mild climates require more time to mature whiskey than extreme climates (hot during the day, cold at night) do. Just look at India. Note also that the company doesn’t say how long the whiskey ages in California. They could be buying white dog and maturing it for the whole 5 years in Santa Barbara (I doubt it), or they could be buying 3 year-old bourbon and giving it the extra 2 years by the beach. That’s more likely. Kentucky, specifically, requires any bourbon with “Kentucky” on the label be aged at least a year in the state of its birth.
Two points of order: One, Ascendant Spirits previously sourced its bourbon for Breaker from MGP in Indiana. Now, the bottle says “Distilled in Kentucky”, so who knows where it’s made now, or why the switch. Second, the bottle does not say “Straight Bourbon” on it, which is odd for a “craft” distillery, especially one with an age statement on the label. Your guess is as good as mine, but it may have something to do with the cross-country trip, or perhaps an undisclosed addition of caramel color? Hmm.
At any rate, Breaker creates its small batches from actually small batches of 8 sourced barrels of high-rye bourbon, each at least 5 years of age, and bottles them at 45% ABV. The website is maddeningly short on details, yet lush with photos. If that isn’t a metaphor for today’s whiskey industry then I don’t know what is.
My bottle is from batch #25.
Nose: Piney, like young rye. Basic corn-forward spirit – not too youthful – with a very mild but also pleasant pineapple note. Shy, and a rest in the glass does not reveal additional aromas.
Palate: Syrupy/silky body with a moderate tongue burn. Quite sweet, with elements of caramel, nougat, marshmallow, and tropical fruit jam. Very nice, with no rough edges. The texture is unusual, and pleasant.
Finish: Of medium length. Mild tannins, with leftover tartness from the tropical fruits. Suddenly shy again, fades with only a hint of charcoal bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water do the worst possible thing: they wash out what little aroma there was! The palate and finish seem unchanged, except for a slight bump in the already-sufficient level of sweetness. Avoid water with this one, and maybe only use it in cocktails where you want the whiskey to take a back seat.
Overall: This might be damning with faint praise, but the whisky has no off notes, and nothing objectionable in its makeup. The aroma has a nice (and rare) pineapple note, but is otherwise shy to the point of boredom. The palate is on the sweet side, but without any challenging aspects (charcoal, tannins, heavy wood, etc.) and aside from the typical tongue burn, is quite easy to drink, with a very nice silky (oh God, I’m going to say it… smooth) mouthfeel. The finish is similar to the aroma in its reticence.
If you like your bourbon sweet and unchallenging then this isn’t a bad choice, although I balk at paying $40 (and especially $50) for a bourbon unless it’s exceptional. This is… just fine, and it has nothing to do with the climate in the Santa Rita hills. I suggest buying your pleasant 5 year-old sourced juice elsewhere, and for less.