Local craft whiskeys are coming into their own, giving imports a run for their mash. We gathered a group of esteemed drinkers for a blind tasting to sound off on what’s worth a spot on your bar cart.
Erik Adkins, bar director, Slanted Door Group (The Slanted Door, Hard Water, The Coachman)
Kevin Alexander, national food/drink editor, Thrillist
Virginia Miller, San Francisco/Bay Area editor, Zagat; editor, Distiller Magazine; founder, The Perfect Spot
Zack Smith, bar manager/partner, Southpaw BBQ
1. THE BOOZE: Sonoma County Distilling Co. Sonoma Rye Whiskey
Tasting notes: Malt, fruit, some spiciness
“It’s balanced, not heavy hitting.”—Z.S.
“I get a piney note on the finish, and a whisper of hops, oak, and vanilla.”—V.M.
“This one grew on me. It could also be that I’m drunk.”—K.A.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
2. THE BOOZE: Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey
Tasting notes: Spice, oak, wood, fresh bread
“Soft and drinkable.”—V.M.
“It’s like the kid at the party who won’t leave, but you want him to stick around.” —Z.S.
“I’m finally getting some wood.”—E.A.
Overall rating: 4/5
3. THE BOOZE: Old Potrero Hotaling’s Single Malt whiskey
Tasting notes: Fruit, heat, tannins; super smooth finish
“I didn’t see that coming.”—Z.S.
“It’s either a higher proof or not as elegantly made.”—V.M.
“It tastes like the dudes on the Titanic who kept playing while it was sinking—it’s that special.”—K.A.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
4. THE BOOZE: St. George Single Malt Whiskey
Tasting notes: Bread and fruit on the nose; focused, precise, and pretty
“There’s a really nice brightness to it.”—E.A.
“Tastes like the maker has experience with other spirits.”—V.M.
“It’s like honey on the lips.”—B.S.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
5. THE BOOZE: Seven Stills Chocasmoke Whiskey*
Tasting notes: Powdered chocolate with cayenne-like spiciness
“It’s the whiskey equivalent of Mexican mole.” —E.A.
“I get a Scotch vibe, all peat and smoke. Maybe some burnt caramel.”—K.A.
“This is what Willy Wonka drinks when his mother-in-law is in town.” —Z.S.
Overall rating: 3/5
*2013 bottling, made from smoked chocolate oatmeal stout. The new release is due out in October.
Sonoma County Distilling Co.’s Sonoma Rye Whiskey was the sleeper hit. Both Miller and Smith wagered it was made by St. George Spirits, and Adkins was floored by the reveal. “I have this at the bar, but I haven’t been paying much attention to it,” he said. It’s his number one pick, so that’s likely to change.
Photograph by Nader Khouri, Prop stylist: Kiersten Stevens
This article was published in 7x7's September 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.