Author Mack McConnell is a Paris-based contributing writer for Cocktail Enthusiast. He also runs a Whiskey of the Month Club.
Hillrock Estate Distillery isn’t your classic distillery. Located in the Hudson Valley of New York, Hillrock’s practices respect bourbon tradition while embracing a few innovative ideas from the world of wine production, including a “field-to-glass” philosophy and the solera style of aging.
Jeff Baker, Hillrock’s founder, wanted to build a distillery that operated like a small-production winery. One where the product begins in the field and ends in the glass without ever leaving the farm. The distillery controls every aspect of production, from planting and harvesting grains, floor malting barley and crafting their whiskey in a 250 gallon pot still to aging the spirit in small oak barrels before hand bottling the result. This is rare within the spirits community, as it’s more common to outsource at least some of these endeavors.
Of the all undertakings performed in-house, perhaps the most impressive is that Hillrock does its own malting, which requires its own malting house. A handful of Scotch producers still malt a portion of their barley, but the practice is all but extinct in the United States.
Equally innovative is applying the “solera” style of aging to bourbon. The solera style of aging was borrowed from Spanish sherries and had never been applied to bourbons. Using this method, rather than aging whiskey in barrels until they are finished and removed, a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically and replaced by a new, younger whiskey. This yields a continuous aging process, which allows older and younger whiskey to mingle, creating flavors that don’t materialize when the whiskey is aged only with its own vintage.
Under the solera method, the stated age on the bottle’s label is simply an average of the various ages in a barrel at a given time. For Hillrock’s Estate Bourbon, the weighted average is about 6 years.
Now, let’s see how it tastes.
Hillrock Estate Bourbon Tasting Notes
Color: Golden Amber
Nose: Quite sweet with an emphasis on caramel and vanilla. There’s also a floral, honeysuckle scent.
Taste: Sweet, but shows a bit of spicy force from the rye content, plus some cinnamon and nutmeg. This mingles with maple syrup, brown sugar and notes of heath bar.
Finish: Medium length with caramel and butterscotch.
Hillrock Estate Bourbon is bottled in very small batches. Unless you live in New York, your best bet is purchasing a bottle online.
– 46.3% Alcohol by Volume