New Riff Distillery, located in Newport Kentucky, is an actual distillery. It saddens me that I have to specify that, but so many brands that are new to the shelves in the last decade can’t say the same.
New Riff was founded in 2014 and already has a massive following. All of its flagship bottlings – like the rye I reviewed last week and this bourbon – are bottled-in-bond and also bottled without chill filtration. This is a “high rye” Kentucky Straight bourbon with a mash bill of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley (for enzymes), which is aged “at least” (read: exactly) 4 years in new 53-gallon charred oak barrels.
My bottle is from the Fall distilling season and was distilled in 2017 and bottled in the Fall of 2021.
Nose: Quite vegetal with aromas of cut grass, nopales (cooked cactus frond), roasted green bell pepper, etc. Hoping those notes would dissipate, I gave it a rest in the glass. It… didn’t go away. It still smells like raw garden peas. Weird. A (very) long rest in the glass transforms some of those vegetal notes into cacao.
Palate: Medium bodied, not quite syrupy. Moderate tongue burn, a little higher than expected at 50% ABV. Very sweet, with caramel, vanilla ice cream, cinnamon red hot candies, and maple sugar candy. Now a complete 180° from the grassy aroma, this is very tasty, if a tad hot.
Finish: Medium-long. Spicy, with a hearty dose of cinnamon, fresh black peppercorn, more red hots, grape jam or – more charitably – port wine reduction. Fades slowly but without evolving.
With Water: Several drops of water have little effect on the aroma except to make it vaguely sweeter. Sweet grass? The palate seems more tannic, but the finish has a lot more fruit on it – cherry, mostly. Try water if you’re having trouble with this one, but don’t expect miracles.
Overall: This is a strange beast. Perhaps it’s the distilling season, but this is the grassiest (in a bad way) bourbon I think I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the grassiest bourbon I’ve ever paid 40 bucks for. If you can get past the aroma (or, lucky you, don’t notice the weirdness) the rest of the experience is spot-on. Tasty, with a good balance of sweetness and spice, a flavorful finish, all very satisfying. Until you smell it again. So weird.
I’m putting a “Not Recommended” rating on this, but I hope to taste a different batch to see if something was off with this one. Of course, the “something off” could be with me, too. Tasting is subjective, after all.