Before I dive into this review, I want to talk about cheese! “Wait… but that’s not how bourbon reviews are supposed to start!” That’s alright, keep reading, you’ll be fine. It’s common knowledge that cheese pairs really well with a nice
glass bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, only, as soon as I discovered the release of Sonoma County Distilling Co’s Black Truffle Rye I knew that cheese had a new best friend. For today’s whiskey review, extra-aged imported Parmesan cheese from Modena, Italy will partake in that friendship.
Sonoma County Distilling is one of California’s rising distilleries nested in good ol’ wine country of Sonoma County. Through the eyes of this California native, it’s great to see craft distilleries in the Golden State cementing their place in the whiskey game. I’ve had the chance to taste both the first batch and the current second batch and I’m quite pleased in the direction this distillery is heading.
For this experiment, they use their direct-fire alembic pot still and 2 types of rye to create the whiskey the truffles will rest with for 4.5 months. The Primary grain consists of 80% unmalted rye from Canada eh, and 20% malted rye from the UK. Batch 1 of BTR had 3 months to make love with the truffle, but with batch #2 they carefully let it go a month and a half longer.
I had a chance to speak with Master Distiller and owner, Adam Spiegal at Whiskey’s of the World in San Francisco this year where he said “with batch number two of the Black Truffle Rye we wanted to keep the truffles in the barrel with the whiskey a little while longer to see how far we could push the infusion of the funky, overpowering flavor of truffle.”
You may ask, “well well who’s the lucky truffle?” Answer: French black Périgord truffles from… some country in Europe. These truffles are highly coveted culinary truffles grown in the Périgord region of France. They’re expensive and hard to acquire… which is probably why they only produced 20 cases for batch 1 and 81 cases for batch 2 at $80 per 375ml bottle. Truffles release a bold, rich flavor with a funky aftertaste, and a little goes a long way. When I got the first batch of this bottle, I half-worried it would be overpowering with the truffle flavor and ultimately drown out the flavor of the whiskey itself. The thought of hype also crosses the mind when you see an 8 inch tall bottle with the word truffle next a $80 price sticker, but i’ll put the whiskey where my mouth is first.
“Wait! Don’t forget the cheese!” Ah yes, the cheese. What better cheese to pair with a truffle flavored whiskey than an extra-aged parmesan imported directly from Italy. The earthy, nutty and dry fruit profile of the parmesan complements the BTR whiskey like none other. The truffle is detectable during the whiskey’s journey down the throat, however taking a small bite of the parmesan before chewing on the hard water awakens the truffle from start to finish. A true pairing forms as the result of perfect marriage between two products, and this is one of those weddings.
Tasting Notes: Sonoma County Distilling Black Truffle Rye Batch #2
Contents: 100 proof, at least 2 year old rye whiskey, 100% rye with black truffle, Bottle date 3/31/17, yield of 81 cases
Truffle Season and aging: Winter 2016, Infusion of 4.5 months
MSRP: $80 for a 375ml bottle
Appearance: Medium amber
Nose: Earthy with oak, tobacco, dark chocolate. That funky, mushroom truffle scent is slightly present along with a lingering clove aroma.
Palate: The rye is noticeably forward with the earthy spice, mushroom, sweet apricot and honey. The sweetness from the apricot and honey transforms into a faint chestnut and burnt sugar.
Finish: The black truffle comes out at it’s most noticeable with a dry, lingering spice funk.
To be completely honest, I had mixed emotions as I contemplated the purchase of an $80, 375ml bottle of something I’ve never had before, especially with the knowledge and love of truffle’s extremely powerful flavor. After sitting with this whiskey for a while I’ve made 2 big observations: the truffle character was actually softer than I’d anticipated, and that it’s a worthy experiment of continuing. With that said, the youth of whiskey is holding it back from true greatness. I can’t really be anymore critical than that because they’re on to something. They’re playing with an expensive ingredient, but doing it in the cheapest way possible to determine whether it’s profitable in the future and has the potential to age well. They are of course the first distillery to try a truffle infusion, or so they say. I say keep trying the infusion at small increments of aging durations between batches to see where the sweet spot is for the truffle profile to lift the enjoyability of the whiskey. Then combine that perfect infusion with higher aged sourced rye whiskey and blend with SCD’s younger juice to further the experiment. All in all, a great experiment. Lastly, as I stated that the extra-aged parmesan cheese pairs REALLY well with the BTR, I tried pairing the whiskey with a medium rare New York Strip steak and it ended up as a worthy mention in this review. The steak not only brought out the truffle as well as the cheese did, but revealed an herbal thyme note in the whiskey that is quite enjoyable. Don’t you just love experimenting? I know I do…
Good or bad? Good
Worth buying again? No for now, but yes in the future with further refinement (age & length of truffle infusion).
Editor’s Note: This whiskey was purchased by Superfly Bourbon Club at a discounted rate. As this is greatly appreciated by us, in no way does this impact the direction or outcome of the review.