The First Ice Wine Finished American Whiskey
Finger Lakes Distilling is in an area known for wine production. Over the last 10-years, they've made a mark by producing their flagship line of McKenzie Whiskeys. They were a pioneer in the New York State distilling movement. The company crafts whiskeys from local grain, controlling all aspects of production.
This marks the second private barrel Seelbach's has selected from Finger Lakes Distilling. For this barrel, we wanted to do something special. In a whiskey-fueled brainstorming session with Aaron Goldfarb (author of Hacking Whiskey), I suggested trying to recreate recipes from his book. If you're unfamiliar with the book you need to check it out. It's a how-to guide for whiskey nerds. The finish we kept coming back to was an ice wine finished whiskey. To date (and to our knowledge), there has been no other ice wine finished American Whiskey. My first question was "what is ice wine?"
Ice wine is produced from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The grape is then pressed while frozen. The water is frozen but the sugar and other solids don't freeze. This creates a concentrated and sweeter wine. There's a problem with creating an ice wine finished American Whiskey. There are only a few producers of ice wine in the US. Luckily, some of the best ice wine in the US comes from the Finger Lakes region of New York! Ice wine can be difficult to source and it's also very costly.
I approached Brian at Finger Lakes Distilling and they were onboard. Thankfully, they had an ice wine contact from a previous project. We ended up sourcing 5-gallons of ice win from Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards. The process was simple. We dump a 3-year rye whiskey and replaced it with the ice wine. The ice wine sat in the freshly dumped whiskey barrel for 4 weeks. Then, we dumped the ice wine and put the rye whiskey back into the barrel for an extra 5 weeks of aging. This is probably more of a barrel "rinse" than a "finish". But, either way, the finished product turned out amazing.
Mash Bill: 80/20 Rye/Malted Barley
Proof: 98.3 proof - Yes, it is barrel proof. Finger Lakes whiskey enters the barrel at 100 proof. I love seeing lower proof cask strength expressions.
Age: 3-years & 1-month (5 weeks in an ice wine barrel)
Tasting Notes: The initial nose is vanilla frosting and lemon curd. It 's sweet with notes of raspberry, pepper, mint, and caramel. The taste is bright and syrupy. There are more fruit notes of dried cranberries and golden raisins. The finish is long with notes of peach tea and almonds. It's incredible to drink a lower proof that's so well rounded and complex. There's no doubt it's sweet but the rye spice still holds its own.