What business does California winemaker Austin Hope have making whiskey? Given the surge of craft whiskies on the market, Hope thought he could bring his palate and ideas to the world of whiskey.
Highspire is a very old brand of Pennsylvania rye whiskey dating back to the early 1800s. Like countless others, the distillery was shut down for Prohibition and the brand simply died. Enter Austin Hope.
After spending a couple of years nailing down a mashbill, Hope finally settled on a 100% rye mashbill, sourced from a farm close to his distillery. In an interview with The Whiskey Jug’s Josh Peters, Hope said he ages his whiskey in used-wine barrels for 130 days hoping to preserve its young, fruity rye characteristics. According to the brand’s website, a blend of oak staves are added to barrels to help accelerate or enhance the short aging process.
This young whiskey isn’t intended to replicate the original Highspire. Instead, Hope pays homage to the 100% rye mashbill of the original Pennsylvania Highspire whiskey. This new Highspire whiskey is bottled at 80 proof and runs around $35 for a 750 mL bottle. So, how does it taste?
The first thing on the nose is a young, strong rye grain aroma. Very expected given the mashbill and brief aging. An oak-aged white wine note (chardonnay?) plays right underneath the rye. There’s also a bit of young-ish oak and a slight fruity note in the background. The entry starts a little thin and watery. The young oak and wine note mingle with the rye grain right up front, as suggested by the nose. A touch of candy sweetness, vanilla and fruit add to the tasting experience. Towards the end and going into the finish is a bit of rye spice. The finish is of medium length, with white wine fruitiness lingering.
I don’t hate this whiskey, but I also don’t love it. All in all, Highspire Rye is not a bad whiskey. It’s fruitier than any other rye-based whiskey I’ve tasted up to this point. It’s simply a different experience, I do applaud Austin Hope for giving us something interesting. However, I can’t help but wonder what a year or two in the barrel would do to this whiskey. In addition, I’d love to see this bottled at a higher proof. It would help the slight thin mouthfeel and add more punch to the flavors.
That said, if you’re a big fan of white wine and whiskey, this may be right up your alley. Try a pour at your local watering hole (Highspire’s website lists locations that carries their product).