Finished Bourbon is a Gamechanger
As the bourbon renaissance continues to grow, small craft distilleries are bringing some of the most interesting and creative expressions to market. A case in point is RD1 Spirits, a.k.a. Registered Distillery One, in Lexington, Kentucky.
The company behind it all, RD1 Spirits, started in 2020 and joined the Kentucky Bourbon Tour Craft Trail (KBTCT) last month. The entrepreneurs (including University of Kentucky Head Football Coach Mark Stoops) behind RD1 Spirits first rolled out Old William Tarr bourbon. That expression soon sold out. Now the focus is on the new RD1 brand, which includes a high-rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and three versions of that same bourbon finished with different virgin wood.
I stopped in recently for a tour and a tasting at the RD1 Spirits Tasting Room and Gift Shop in Lexington’s old distillery district on Manchester Street, on the edge of downtown. My hosts were Chris Tetterton, Vice President, Marketing; Barry Brinegar, National Brand Ambassador; and Elizabeth Cornelius, Brand Advisor.
So, what’s with the name? Tetterton said that after the Civil War, the U.S. government needed to raise funds and broke Kentucky into different taxing districts. Lexington was one of those districts and they made everyone register the distilleries. “We’re kind of paying honor and an homage to that first distillery,” Tetterton said. “So, it’s kind of a tribute to Lexington’s birth into bourbon.”
The RD numbers were a bit analogous to the DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) numbers that came later.
RD1 Spirits is sourcing its bourbon from 8th generation Master Distiller Jacob Call at the recently opened Western Kentucky Distilling Co. in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. Call also holds the title Master Distiller for RD1 Spirits, which owns a 49 percent share of Western Kentucky Distilling.
“Everyone wants to be super traditional,” Tetterton said, “but they also want to know what’s new. One way we’re looking at that is the finishing process.”
RD1 has a unique system where a string of virgin stave pieces goes into the original mature barrel through the bunghole, where it spends anywhere from one to eight months. Taste is the true determining factor for how long the finishing staves stay in the barrel.
“We’re really interested in the influence that wood has on bourbon. People say 50 to 75 percent of the flavor comes from the (wood in the barrel). We’re just adding another level of influence on the bourbon,” Tetterton said.
The finishing woods on the main three expressions are French oak, Brazilian amburana, and French oak steeped in maple syrup and dry aged.
Photos Courtesy of RD 1 Spirits
The proof is in the tasting
If you ever get a chance to do a bourbon tasting with someone whose title is National Brand Ambassador, don’t pass it up. Barry Brinegar guided us through one of the most thorough, educational, and enjoyable tastings I’ve ever done.
We started with the small batch Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey. It’s a solid non-chill filtered bourbon blended from 4-to-6-year-old age-stated barrels. This same bourbon is the basis for the three finished options we tried.
Next, we sampled the expression finished in French Oak. “It drinks really easy,” Brinegar said. “That French oak gives it a rich, developed baking chocolate and cherry (on my palate).”
Brinegar nosed the straight bourbon and then the French Oak version. “You can really appreciate the difference of what the French Oak brings to that rye,” Brinegar said. “It softens the rye, but richly develops the flavor profile.”
Then we tried the Brazilian amburana wood finish. It offered such a unique flavor (think gingerbread man) that this was the bottle I chose to go home with.
“The amazing thing to me is that you smell the French oak and it’s dark chocolate and cherry; you smell the amburana and it’s light and airy and cinnamon and apple,” Brinegar said. “They’re the exact same thing, except for the different wood.”
Our last sample was finished in oak and maple barrels. Brinegar wasn’t wrong when he issued this description: “A stack of pancakes.”
As we wrapped up our tasting, Tetterton waved his hand across the bottles and proudly said, “All of this came from us experimenting.”
Once we stood up, I thought our day was over. But then Cornelius said the second favorite thing a bourbon writer wants to hear: “Before you leave you have to thieve some whiskey.”
Thieving whiskey straight from the barrel into a tasting glass is one of the truly sublime experiences in the world for a bourbon lover. There are only a select few distillery tours and tastings where you can take a copper whiskey thief in hand and plunge it into a barrel. It’s a unique experience you must put on your “barrel list.”
The future is bright for RD 1 Spirits
In addition to moving to a new home, the future is bright for RD1 Spirits. Joining the KBTCT as such a young operation is impressive. “That’s when you know you’ve made it — when you’re on the Trail,” Tetterton said. “We’re excited to be included with these other cool brands in Kentucky and to show what we can do as well.”
RD1 Spirits added five news states to its distribution network last month (Nevada, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana). Products were already available for purchase in ten states (including Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri).
Despite its brief time in business, RD1 Spirits bourbons have already won more than their share of awards, including the 2023 ASCOT Awards, 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2023 Denver International Spirits Competition, and the 2023 American Distilling Institute’s International Spirits Competition.
Speaking of awards, the packaging outside the bourbon is winning awards as well. Raised lettering on the bottle proudly proclaims, “Kentucky Born and Raised.” The unusually-shaped bottle also features a four-slat horse farm fence in the bottle’s design. The label includes a nod to the Ashland Distillery, Lexington’s first registered distillery in 1865.
Pro tip: These used stave pieces are available for sale in the gift shop to use for extra flavor in your grill.
RD1 Sprits will open and move to a new 8,000 square-foot distillery, tasting room, and gift shop in the nearby Turner Commons area in late spring/early summer next year. The increased space will allow for even more experimental bourbon finishing.
“When everyone goes on a tour, that’s great,” Brinegar said. “But everyone really wants to taste the bourbon. We focus on the tasting. We want to broaden that experience…how does finishing work, how does blending work, how can I get deep in this world that people don’t normally get to see?”
As if on cue, Cornelius said the words every bourbon writer longs to hear, “I think we should taste some whiskey.”
Mashbill: 70 percent corn, 21 percent rye, 9 percent malted barley
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
49% Alc/vol, 98 proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:
Finished with French Oak
50.5 Alc/vol, 101 proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:
Finished with Brazilian Amburana Wood
55% Alc/vol, 110 proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:
Double Finished in Oak and Maple Barrels
49.95% Alc/vol, 99.9 proof
Put this on your “to taste” list
Final verdict? Make sure you give Kentucky’s craft distillers a chance to show you some of the creative things happing in the bourbon world. If you’re going to be in the Lexington area, a visit to RD1 Spirits should be on your “to taste” list. You’ll combine a chance to sample some memorable finished bourbons, add to your bourbon knowledge, and then take a whisky thief in hand for your “last call.” What are you waiting for?
When You Go To The RD 1 Tasting Room & Gift Shop
1170 Manchester St.,
Lexington, KY 40508
Mon.– Sat., 10 am – 5 pm ET
Sun., Noon – 5 pm ET
Tastings are $12.72 per person