Update: Jeffrey has updated this post as of 2/6/16 with some additional details regarding where this bourbon is distilled, barreled, aged and bottled. Thanks to everyone that asked great questions and wanted to more about the source of the juice.
Is J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is the best bourbon you’ve never heard of?
Most bourbon fans have noticed an explosion in the craft distillery market these last few years with an influx of pricey bourbons with tall tales as backstories. Some of these craft bourbons offer something legitimately new, while others simply purchased bourbon from other sources with a new label slapped on it.
Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is one of those legitimate, new craft bourbons and may, just perhaps, be the best Bourbon you’ve never heard of.
Yes, I said Wisconsin, and yes, I realize Wisconsin is known for cheese, not bourbon. Interestingly enough, dairy has something to do with this whiskey.
Always excited to try something new, I stumbled upon J. Henry & Sons at a local bar in June 2015. I recognized something incredible in that glass and was hooked. Noticing this was a locally-made Bourbon, my goal was to contact the owners, Joe and Liz Henry, to learn more. They invited me to tour family farm in Dane, WI, where the ingredients are grown and Bourbon is aged. There is also a gorgeous tasting room.
I discovered the corn, which makes up 60% of the mash, is very special. It is a red heirloom corn developed by the University of Wisconsin in the 1930s. The larger kernels have fatter germ that provides for more starch, giving J. Henry & Sons a sweet, delicious aroma and palate. The farm not only grows the corn, but also the rye and wheat.
After harvesting, the ingredients are sent to New Richmond, WI, where the distillation process takes place by Paul Werni of 45th Parallel using a dry, Belgian origin yeast. Once distilled, the whiskey makes the return trip to Dane. Using #3 char barrels sent directly to the farm by cooperages in Kentucky and Missouri, it is barreled on site for aging.
Remember when I clued dairy had something to do with this Bourbon? The old, uninsulated family dairy barn has been converted into a rickhouse, which currently contains over 500 barrels. The only climate control is what Mother Nature provides. Wisconsin’s hot summers and brutal winters translates to intense interaction with the whiskey and wood over a period of five years. After aging, the barrels take a short trip to Yahara Bay’s bottling facility in Madison for packaging. When Batch 1 released, it was completely J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon, not anyone else’s relabeled product.
Enough of the backstory… it is time for the review.
Bourbon Name: J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon
Age: 5 years
Year: 2015, which was the inaugural year. For the record, my bottle is from Batch 4.
How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whisky glass.
My Nose Noticed:* Crème Brulee | Vanilla | Sweet Corn | Oak | Nut | Milk Chocolate
First Sip: Creamy Custard | Brioche | Toffee | Soft Spice | Dried Fruit
The Burn:** After the first sip, that creamy custard races around for another hit and then lingers for a long time. The finish itself is smooth as silk. This bourbon is warm, but does not burn.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: To be perfectly honest, I am not a rocks drinker. I drink bourbon neat (even at cask strength), and will sometimes add a few drops of water to bring out hidden flavors. This bourbon is just beautiful enjoyed neat. In the case of J. Henry & Sons, water added additional creaminess to the texture and elongated the finish.
Share With: Anyone who wants to appreciate great bourbon. Those new to bourbon will find the lack of any harshness enticing, and bourbon aficionados will recognize the time, effort and patience that goes into a quality whiskey.
Worth The Price: J. Henry & Sons retails between $47 and $54 depending on where you shop. You may wonder why anyone would drop this kind of cash on a completely unknown bourbon, and the answer is because this bourbon is just that good. If you normally spend over $40 on bourbon, J. Henry & Sons should definitely be added to your collection.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Oops! I gave it away in the previous statement. Buy the bottle, then enjoy this at home whenever you want. If the price still has you hesitant, this bourbon is showing up and more and more watering holes. Try a pour, and then on your way home swing by the liquor store and get the bottle.
Currently, J. Henry & Sons is widely available throughout Wisconsin. However, plans are underway to expand distribution across state lines and beyond.
*I like to let my whiskey sit in the glass for at least 5 minutes before I start to smell it or have a drink. I personally find that it’s better to let some of the alcohol waft off before diving in. If I’m drinking bourbon on the rocks I skip the waiting and dive in both feet first. In this case thought, the whiskey really required more like 20 minutes to balance out.
**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?