Welcome to another edition in the series called “A Journey Down the Whiskey Trail”. My goal in this series is to bring to life the people, places, and history of the families behind the brands that we love to drink. Last time, we took at look at the historic Makers Mark. Earlier this month my wife and I had the opportunity to visit New Riff Distilling in Newport, Kentucky – where more than $3,000,000 in renovations has just been completed. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip!
A Little About New Riff
In the world of craft distilleries, few names have attracted as much notoriety and attention as New Riff Distillery. Situated Just a few miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, this small but amazing independent distillery has quickly made a name for itself by producing award-winning bourbons and other exceptional spirits. From its commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, to its meticulous dedication to making sure all of their whiskey meets the requirement of the Bottled in Bond act, New Riff has become synonymous with exceptional quality, amazing taste and has become a shining star in the world of craft distilling.
Kentucky natives Ken Lewis, owner of one of the largest liquor stores in the US, Party Source, and Jay Erisman, a friend and employee, envisioned a distillery that would not only pay homage and respect to the rich bourbon heritage of the state they loved, but would also push the boundaries of that tradition by embracing modern technology. There was one problem. Owning The Party Source Cigars presented no issues, but due to prohibition era rules requiring separate companies to control the production, sales, and distribution of spirits, being the owner of a liquor store meant that Ken couldn’t also be the owner of a distillery. So, in 2014, Ken decided to do something that was rare even at the time. Instead of selling the company outright to the highest bidder and walking away from the store and the team he’d built, he sold the business to its employees. Over time, this allowed the people who once worked for him to become owners, an idea that would help him and Jay follow through on their next business concept, New Riff.
Using a copper column still, spicy high-rye mashbills, water from their own private aquifer, and no chill filtration, New Riff produces high quality whiskey that does its best to keep you coming back for more. Every step is carried out with precision and care. They believe that time is an essential ingredient in crafting exceptional spirits, and as such, they age their whiskeys for significantly longer than the minimum requirements. Each barrel is carefully monitored throughout the aging process but regularly sampled to assess the maturation progress.
Unlike a lot of heritage distilleries that are either off the beaten path or our in the country, New Riff is located in slightly more urban atmosphere. When pulling up to the property, the first thing you notice is the massive floor to ceiling windows surrounding a 60-foot-tall copper still. As first impressions go, wow. Instantly impressed.
When it came time for the tour, we found out that Grover was our guide, and what a guide he would end up being. Grover was the brand ambassador for New Riff and had been with the company since the start. He was funny, entertaining, and had us laughing the whole time. To say he was the best part of the tour would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, the distillery was great, but Grover was by far one of the best guides we have ever had.
We started the tour in the tasting area where we got lots of information on how the company got started with lots of Grover jokes thrown in. We then moved out onto the roof top seating area where we got to look down on the 60-foot copper still.
Next, we went downstairs to the Fermentation room where we learned how the whiskey was made, and got to enjoy more stories and jokes from Grover. The best part of that room was the smell of the yeast bubbling and cooking. It was like fresh, warm, sourdough bread being made… Fantastic. We were told normally we would have been able to see the bottling room next, but due to construction, we couldn’t.
Once we’d been shown everything, we made our way back up to where the tour started, the tasting area. There. we got to try a few of their expressions while once again being entertained by our amazing guide. Let me reiterate, Grover was the Man! I will say that this wasn’t one of the most in-depth or longest tours I’ve been one, but it was one of the most fun. I got a lot of information, we were entertained the whole time, and we got to try some amazing whiskey. Before we left, we did have to stop by the gift shops to buy a few bottles. We picked up the Rye and one of the new distillery’s only barrel picks, as well as a few other items.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
According to the distillery, “New Riff Distilling’s core Bourbon expression is a genuinely high-rye, full bodied whiskey offering savory, spicy character. New Riff Bourbon is Bottled In Bond Without Chill Filtration. Featuring a mash bill of non-GMO grains at 65% corn,30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Aged four years in 53-gallon toasted and charred new oak barrels, there are no shortcuts taken in our production.”
On the nose: I get notes of apple peal, vanilla, oak, and rye spice
On the Palate: I get flavors of cinnamon and vanilla up front with a long oily finish of red fruit and pepper.
Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
New Riff states on the website, “ New Riff Distilling’s core Rye whiskey is full-bodied, offering hugely spicy character. Featuring a unique mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted rye, it represents a new riff on our hallowed local Rye whiskey traditions. Our distillers learned the black arts of the hardest whiskey in the world to make—the famed 95% Rye—under the direct tutelage of the distiller who mastered it in Indiana, Larry Ebersold of Seagram’s. Taking Master Larry’s instruction in hand, we put a riff on it to the tune of adding 5% malted rye, a unique twist that aids in pulling additional flavors out of the rye and adds a touch of the elegance of malted rye.
On the nose: I get notes of orange zest, vanilla, and mint.
On the Palate: I get bold flavors of Carmel, oak, vanilla, and spice. I was surprised at how easy this whiskey was to drink. It could easily become one of my favorite Ryes.
Overall, I would say that if you haven’t visited this distillery yet, you should. It’s definitely worth the price of admission. Already becoming a popular stop, you can reserve your space ahead of time for any of the 4 immersive tour and tasting experiences they offer. If you do make it to New Riff, please tell Grover we all say hi!
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you have enjoyed our little journey down the whisky trail to New Riff. I absolutely love learning the history behind the brands that I enjoy and love. If you have any suggestion on where the next journey takes us, please leave it in the comment below. Also, if you have visited the New Riff Distillery, please leave a comment, and let us know what you think about it. Until the next Whiskey Wednesday, if you’re going to enjoy a little smoke & oak just remember, “Life’s too short, enjoy the good stuff”…. and do it responsibly!