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On the 17th of April, I attended the Rock Town tasting at Royal Mile Whiskies. I was really looking forward to it because I had never been to a tasting hosted by an American before and there was a bit of buzz because it was the distillery founder, Phil Brandon, hosting the tasting!
Rock Town is located in Little Rock, Arkansas and it was the first legal distillery of any kind there. Founded in 2010 they sell a variety of products from the distillery including Vodka, Rum, Gin and variations of Whiskey. Miss Whisky did a great wee article in 2013 which gives a deeper insight into the Rock Town product portfolio at that time and the beginnings of the business which I failed to pick up on at the tasting. The casks and varieties of ingredients used for the Whiskey are all sourced locally so you really are getting a taste of Arkansas with Rock Town - Phil even said that the farmer who provides the grains allowed him on the tractor at one point.
For those familiar with Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible you will know that Rock Town exploded (not literally) onto the scene with The Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey, awarded a 96.5 which earned them the ‘2015 US Mirco Whiskey of the year’, Jim Murray claimed that it was an“…absolutely enormous whiskey. Unquestionably one of the greatest micro-distillery bourbons of all time”. An incredible review!
Phil, the founder of Rock Town, is a very easy going guy and he led the tasting with the sort of laid back panache of a confident American who clearly knew his stuff because as it turns out, when people say 'every day is school day', with regards this tasting it was very much like a lecture; temperatures, legal definitions and trade knowledge I was engrossed. It was the sort of tasting where a notepad rather than a lucid memory of events was essential but I forgot the notepad…
I’m only going to cover three of the beverages we tried at the tasting. However, the tasting included the Brandon’s Barrel Reserve Gin, The Arkansas Hickory Smoked Whiskey, The Arkansas Rye Whiskey, The Arkansas Bourbon Whiskey, The Sour Mash Whiskey and The Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey all of which were very varied and very enjoyable.
We started with the Gin, called Brandon’s Barrel Reserve Gin, named after the man himself Phil Brandon. It was so interesting, I would highly recommend it as gin fan myself, it is definitely one of those rare gins you could have neat. It had a wonderful light gold hue to its colour and it contained many of the traits associated with Rock Town Whiskey because it was stored in their Whiskey casks.
Next we tried the Hickory Smoked Whiskey which although very different from any spirit I have tasted before was still a very palatable and enjoyable. Hickory, you would typically associate with a good BBQ and this Whiskey is really ideal for that, offering a light refreshing experience; citrus fruit nose and that sweet taste of wheaty grain along with the lingering smokiness – well balanced and morish. Be sure to look at the bottle’s label as along with the handwritten cask number and bottle number their is a unique signature present on each bottle. However, what's more interesting is who the signature belongs to.
Rock Town have an interesting system where members of the public are contacted when they are bottling their Whiskey to come in and help. Along with other incentives the members of the public get to sign their bottles themselves, so you get see some unique names; the bottle at the tasting was done by StinkMan!
The Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey, is the one Jim Murray raved about (just checking online I’ve found it is tricky to find). The first thing you notice about the Whiskey is the gorgeous autumnal red colour. The Whiskey itself was well balanced and very lovely. It had lovely summary fruits on the nose like melon and while on the palate I got a raisins and honey with a little heat, a must try if you can find it.
The authenticity of Rock Town is genuine – the ingredients for the spirit are milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, bottled and packaged at the distillery in Rock Town. I think it is that authenticity which makes Rock Town special. It was a real privilege to be at the tasting hosted by the founder himself because Phil offers a brilliantly sincere approach to each of the spirits he has crafted; he divulges a wealth of techinical knowledge that makes the tasting a geniune learning experience - good spirit all round!
You can find out more about Rock Town at their website here and most of their stock is readily available - notably at Royal Mile Whiskies or online.