Maple flavored whiskey has become a fast growing segment of the flavored whiskey market and we’ve seen some solid entries from Crown Royal, Jim Beam, Tap 357, and Knob Creek. There are a number of ways a spirit company can go about adding maple flavor into the whiskey, including maple chips, maple flavoring, or finishing in a maple wood barrel. Hudson Whiskey has followed a different path to adding a maple flavor to their rye whiskey by finishing it in used whiskey casks that previously held fresh maple syrup. It’s an interesting way of going about it and perhaps could work for a whiskey that wasn’t already so heavily oaked. Tuthilltown Spirits, makers of Hudson Whiskey, are known for using smaller barrels to push the aging of their spirits. The pitfalls of this are well documented, and it takes tremendous craft to be able to avoid the negative impact of small barrels.
Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey (46% ABV / 92 proof, $55.99 per 375ml) – from the nose it’s clear that this whiskey has too much oak, with dried cedar plank, dusty cigar box, and conventional oak spice all dominating the nose. Yes, there is maple in the mix and some rye spice, but both get fairly lost under the wood. The entry for the Hudson Maple Cask Rye is solid young oak. The oak is overly tannic, and eclipses both the rye spice, cinnamon, and even the maple notes underneath. The midpalate is like trying to lick maple syrup off a broken chair – there’s just no pleasure in it. The Hudson Maple Cask Rye then gets hot at the end of the midpalate and goes for a long, oaky and tannic, dry finish. There is also a lingering and unpleasant tannic wood note that sustains on the palate for a very long time after this whiskey has finished. Small barrel aging not only tends to over-oak a whiskey, it can sometimes impart wood compounds and chemicals you just don’t see with properly seasoned and coopered full size barrels. Small barrels are a short cut, not only for the distiller but for the cooper who makes them, and it’s clear in some of the final product that small barrels don’t get the same kind of care and seasoning that full 55 gallon barrels get.
Aside from being over-oaked, Hudson Maple Cask Rye just isn’t a very good showcase for maple. Perhaps in this case there simply isn’t enough sweet maple to be able to do battle with the oak and rye spice. There’s absolutely no balance here – you’re getting oak, oak, and more oak. We thought that Knob Creek was pushing at the pricing boundaries of a maple flavored whiskey with their Knob Creek Smoked Maple, which is sold at $30.99. The Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey is $55 per 375ml (half bottle) which nets out to a jaw dropping $110 per 750 ml. Even if this was the best tasting maple whiskey we’d ever had, $110 per full bottle is so beyond the scope of reasonable, it’s just plain crazy. Unfortunately, Hudson Maple Cask Rye is the worst of the maple flavored whiskeys we’ve tried and another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of using small barrels.
Update November 2014: Tuthilltown Spirits is making this whiskey an annual release. We got a sample of 2014, Batch 1, Bottle 2338. Indeed this year’s whiskey is different from the previous year. The nose is still oak forward with unseasoned tannic oak and you have to dig quite considerably to find the maple. The nose is notably sharper this year. In the entry it would seem like we were in for something improved from the 2013 batch, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
The initial light maple and caramel opening is hit again with that broken chair note and an unleashed fury of oak. There’s rye and cinnamon spice in the mix, but combined with the cornucopia of oak, it’s all just too much. Just when you’re ready to cry “uncle”, there’s a heat blast that dries out the oak and makes the taste experience even more unpleasant. The finish is downright awful with clear distillation errors which read as scorching on the roof of the mouth and gums.
What is Tuthilltown thinking? We thought they put a bullet through this expression last year; if they were going to resurrect it, it should have been after addressing the release’s glaring issues, not making it worse. 66 points.