Aging a botanical spirit isn’t anything new – the Dutch have been aging their genever for hundreds of years. In the US, the practice of aging botanical spirits is much less common (a handful of craft distillers have been aging their gins, including Few Spirits Barrel Aged Gin and Ransom Distilling’s Old Tom Gin). One of the reasons we don’t see more of these spirits is that the oak notes from aging a spirit in wood can dramatically clash with some of the classic gin botanicals. The Georgetown Trading Company came at this issue from an entirely different perspective. Instead of distilling a botanical spirit like gin, they took merchant rye whiskey (whiskey produced by a company like MGP in Indiana) and infused it with whole botanicals like saffron and orange peel. The result, Pow-Wow Botanical Rye, is a spirit that literally defines a new category of spirit – botanical or spiced whiskey. Pow-Wow is different from flavored whiskey as the rye whiskey is steeped with whole botanicals rather than flavored with oils, extracts, or flavorings. Pow-Wow is also different from an aged gin, as the botanicals in gin are steeped in a neutral spirit and then distilled before being aged.
Pow-Wow Botanical Rye (45% ABV / 90 Proof, $41) – coppery in color, it clearly gets as much of its color from the botanicals as it has from its time in the barrel (with the gold from the saffron mixing with the orange from the orange peels). The nose on Pow-Wow Botanical Rye is orange-forward with the rye whiskey notes of rye and caramel in the middle, and an undertone of spicy notes including oak, clove, anise, and orris root. It’s a nice balance of aromas and the mix of rye, oak, clove, and orange reminds us of an Old Fashioned cocktail. The entry for Pow-Wow Botanical Rye is very clearly rye whiskey with light rye and soft orange. Things ramp up quickly in the midpalate with a blast of spice that includes cinnamon, clove, orris root, saffron, tobacco, and oak. In addition to the spice, there’s some heat at the end of the midpalate indicating that the rye used here is a little on the young side. The contrast between the mellow entry and the explosive midpalate is a little disorienting and a pretty clear indication that Pow-Wow Botanical Rye is not best sipped neat. The spice blast from the midpalate quickly subsides for a soft and light herbal finish that showcases the saffron and clove in the botanical mix. Interestingly, the one botanical you don’t see in the Pow-Wow mix is juniper, the core ingredient in any London Dry gin.
We found that Pow-Wow Botanical Rye was at its best when we used it to make cocktails. Pow-Wow makes a fantastic Old Fashioned cocktail, provided you omit or reduce the bitters to maintain the drink’s balance. Pow-Wow also adds an interesting dimensionality to the Manhattan and is nice in a John Collins. Unfortunately, at $41 a bottle, Pow-Wow is a little on the pricey side for making cocktails (it would be much easier to swallow about $6 or $7 less a bottle). Georgetown Trading Company has done a good job of bringing together some interesting flavors that complement the base rye whiskey, but we would have liked to see better flavor integration. We suspect that Pow-Wow could benefit from spending more time in a finishing barrel to mellow, integrate, and even out. We do quite enjoy the mix of orange peel and rye – it’s a fantastic combination that we’re sure will be imitated. We have to give Georgetown Trading Company some serious points for innovating in this space. Botanical whiskey is an intriguing new branch of the whiskey category and we’re sure others will soon follow.