Coalition is a relatively new brand in the whiskey world, although the founders of this literal coalition have a wealth of experience with whiskey and spirits in general. Leonid Yandgarber, the former CEO of a major spirits company, Steve Thompson, the owner of Kentucky Artisan Distillery, and Ludwig Vanneron, a Bordeaux-based winemaker, started this brand with the goal of creating ultra-premium whiskey that would be elevated through a finishing process using only the best wine barrels from the Bordeaux region.
It is distilled in copper pots at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery from a mash bill of 100% malted and un-malted rye (10% malt to be exact). It is aged in American white oak barrels for 5 years and then finished in Bordeaux barrels (Margaux, Pauillac, or Sauternes) for up to 9 months. The Margaux release is bottled at 90.8 proof (45.4% abv) and retails for approximately $90.
Appearance – deep amber with a slightly red hue.
Nose – When I first opened this bottle I was concerned because the aroma was dominated by heavy notes of dark fruit preserves. I wasn’t able to pick up much from the rye whiskey itself through these dense fruity aromas. However, I am happy to report that this changed quickly after a little time to breathe. The nose opens up to reveal a somewhat floral rye spice, some green oak, vanilla, and a bouquet of plum and red berries.
Palate – On the palate this whiskey has a relatively thick presentation that reveals a prominent rye character, as a fair amount of spice develops very quickly mid-palate and intensifies throughout the sip. I also found a slightly nutty taste (coffee beans) that developed with the rye spice. The Margaux finish imparts plenty of stewed berries and a creamy sweetness that balances the heavy rye spice nicely.
Finish – The finish is medium with lingering spice that becomes quite sharp and more of that floral rye character gives way to hints of violet and dark fruit. The finish is slightly oaky and tannic and frankly, somewhat underwhelming.
Overall – I struggle with finished whiskey. I have tried many and I appreciate the creativity and ingenuity, but I just prefer my whiskey right out of that charred oak. Not to mention, I personally think that many brands have gotten carried away with finishing products and often times I forget that I am drinking whiskey after a few sips because the finish is so overpowering. This is especially painful when you know there is a quality whiskey somewhere in the bottle.
Having said all of that, I had a lot of fun with this whiskey. While the finishing did jump out initially on the nose, it definitely calmed down with time and I was able to taste a quality rye whiskey base as I worked through the pour. I also thought that the Margaux finishing worked well with the floral rye character of this whiskey.
For those that like finished whiskey, I think this bottle should be on your short list of whiskies to try. The price tag may be a little high, but I think this whiskey offers a fun and challenging experience.