Bringing a new whiskey to market is never quick, but in the case of J. Rieger & Co.’s Monogram Whiskey, the process took almost a century.
The label was once sold nationwide by distillery co-founder Andy Rieger’s forebears, but like countless brands, it disappeared abruptly with the onset of Prohibition. Rieger and his partners have long wanted to bring it back, and now they have — albeit in a thoroughly modern form.
“Being able to continue the authentic resurrection of this historic company by once again offering Jacob Rieger’s old Monogram label is incredibly special to all of us,” Rieger says.
Just 1,000 bottles of Rieger’s Monogram Whiskey (2017 Oloroso Bota) will be released this week, for the first time making available the distillery’s blend of corn and rye whiskies aged in sherry botas. Yes, botas (barrels). Not the sherry-conditioned casks often used for finishing whiskies, but actual 600-liter American oak botas that have for 100 years or so held sherry made by Spain’s Bodegas Williams & Humbert.
Truly, you can’t buy these things. J. Rieger got four of them only because Steve Olson, a partner in the distillery and one of the world’s foremost sherry experts, asked his friends at Williams & Humbert for them. Happily, they said yes.
The botas came out of the same solera that yields the 15-year-old Oloroso sherry that J. Rieger blends with light corn and rye whiskies to make its Kansas City Whiskey. So it made sense to age those two spirits in the botas. They filled three with an 8-year-old corn whiskey and the fourth with a 10-year-old rye, aged it all for 18 months and then began blending. It’s not your usual approach, though. J. Rieger’s also implemented a solera-style fractional bending system, which means every time older whiskey is removed from a bota, it’s replaced by younger spirit, so flavors are constantly evolving.
This blend comes in at 104 proof, and J. Rieger’s tasting notes (I haven’t sampled it yet) are replete with descriptors like dark fruit, caramel, chocolate, spice and nuts and promise a balanced sherry and whiskey character. How long will the botas be able to produce such results? Olson can’t say for certain, only that he’s been using a 135-year-old sherry barrel in a mezcal solera for about six years, and “it just keeps on giving.”
As for Rieger’s Monogram Whiskey, “there has never been a whiskey that tastes like this, or was made like this … ever,” Olson says.
J. Rieger isn’t the only distillery pushing creative boundaries. Tom’s Town Distilling Co. recently unveiled The Pendergast Machine series of quarterly, limited releases showcasing both experiments and collaborations with local breweries, distilleries, winemakers, bartenders, coffee roasters and others.
First up is its Machine No 1: Antique Gin, a batch of McElroy’s Corruption Gin finished in barrels previously filled with its Pendergast’s Royal Gold Bourbon. Distiller Rob Vossmeyer calls those barrels his 15th ingredient, adding sweetness, a bit of vanilla and whiskey richness to the flavorful, spicy gin, which is made with 14 botanicals. Vossmeyer wasn’t at first sure what to expect from the process, or how long it would take, but six months in the barrel proved perfect.
“It totally comes out with a different character. It’s a little sweeter,” Vossmeyer told me in February. “It ended up where I wanted it.”
Tom’s Town will follow with Machine No. 2: Brewer’s Series/Torn Label, a whiskey distilled from Torn Label’s seasonal Quad-Jillo Belgian Quad and aged in new American oak barrels for 11 months; Machine No. 3: Navy Strength Gin; and Machine No. 4: Bourbon Whiskey Finished in White Port Casks. Next year will see collaborations with Crane Brewing in Raytown, Double Shift Brewing in Kansas City, 4 Hands Brewing in St. Louis, and Cinder Block Brewery in North Kansas City.
“If one of these spirits takes off in the tasting room, we know we’ve got a hit on our hands,” Tom’s Town co-founder David Epstein said in a press release.
Seasonality is the key to Restless Spirits Distilling Co.’s Padraig’s Rebellion Poitín, which was released just ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s essentially a 115-proof Irish moonshine made with 100 percent malted barley for a richer mouth feel and triple distilled for smoothness, distiller Benay Shannon says.
“We took that extra step of triple distilling to smooth out and refine the flavor even more,” she says.
The distillery only made 240 bottles, so it might have already disappeared from shelves by now. But there’s more to come — S.D. Strong Distilling plans to release a bourbon once it receives label approval, and Lifted Spirits Distillery is developing a whiskey and absinthe. I’m sure they’ll all be worth the wait.
To reach spirits and cocktail columnist Anne Brockhoff, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rieger’s Monogram Whiskey, 2017 Oloroso Bota
J. Rieger & Co. (jriegerco.com)
$99.99 / 750-mL bottle, limited availability at select retailers beginning March 29
Padraig’s Rebellion Poitín
Restless Spirits Distilling Co. (restlessspiritsdistilling.com)
$23.50 / 750-mL bottle, limited availability at area retailers
Machine No. 1: Antique Gin
Tom’s Town Distilling Co. (www.toms-town.com)
$19 / 375-mL bottle, sold only at the distillery