Hillrock Estate Distillery, a “field-to-glass” distillery located in New York’s Hudson Valley, is a tribute to the pre-prohibition farm distilleries that once flourished across the countryside where more than half of the nation’s barley and rye was produced. This distillery has roots dating back to 1806 and claims to be the first US distillery since before prohibition to floor malt and hand craft whiskey on site from estate grown grain. The distillery itself commenced operations in 2012 and sits on a sprawling piece of land in the Hudson Valley, overlooking rolling barley fields and the Berkshire Mountains. Hillrock was previously led by former Maker’s Mark head distiller Dave Pickerell.
This bottle represents the first bourbon ever produced using the Solera aging method, a tiered-aging system traditionally used to create sherries, ports, madeiras, and cognacs, which the distillery started implementing in 2012. According to the distillery website, this method involved a pyramid of barrels, “where a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically from the lowest tier of barrels and an equal measure of new whiskey is added to the top barrels. No Barrel in the Solera is ever emptied, and over time, the older whiskey in the Solera mingles with younger whiskies to create unmatched depth and complexity.” To add some additional layers of complexity, the distillery then takes this bourbon and finishes it in 20 year-old Oloroso Sherry casks.
Based on my research, the average age of the bourbon in this bottle is 6 years. And while Hillrock is currently producing their own distillate on site, it appears that the older bourbons used in the Solera method were sourced from MGP. I was not able to find any specific information about the mashbills for any of the bourbon used, but from the taste I expect that this is a high-rye bourbon.
This bottle came from barrel number 30 and comes in at 92.6 proof (46.3% abv). I was lucky enough to find this bottle for the MSRP of $90.
Appearance – burnished copper.
Nose – the nose on this bourbon is complex and inviting. Initially, it is somewhat soft, with some mild alcohol and traditional notes of oak, sweet vanilla, and honey. With time I found a peppery rye spice developing, along with some light citrus notes (grapefruit), some stone fruit, and very mild floral notes.
Palate – this bourbon presents with a very nice balance of sweetness and spice. There is a pleasant bouquet of rye spice, oak, and caramel, consistent with what you would expect from a good high-rye bourbon. However, the effects of the Oloroso Sherry finish quickly develop, revealing notes of dark fruit, mainly dark cherry and dried fig, along with the rich flavor of cinnamon roasted walnuts. A few drops of water really emphasized the sweetness of this bourbon.
Finish – the finish is medium long with a pleasant mouthfeel. Dark fruit jam and cinnamon walnut continue on the finish, but then start to fade and give way to more oak and rye spice, with remnants of stone fruit and honey lingering in the background.
Overall – When I learned about the Hillrock Distillery – its history, mission, and leadership – I knew I wanted to try one of their products. However, I am always reluctant to make an investment in a craft spirit without having had an opportunity to try it beforehand. I took a chance with this bottle and I am happy to say that this investment paid off!
I really enjoyed this bourbon. Indeed, after spending about an hour with this pour I can honestly say that this is one of the best finished bourbons I have ever tried. This bourbon is smooth, well-developed, and complex. The Solera method may be controversial to some, but I think it worked here. And while I am not usually a fan of finished bourbon, the Oloroso Sherry finish really adds a nice touch of sweetness to this bourbon without overpowering the other flavors.
This enjoyable bourbon, and the beautiful bottle that houses it, is a great discussion piece and a welcomed-addition to my bourbon cabinet. Take a chance on this bottle – I don’t think you will be disappointed.