Sam Medley: How geeky about this stuff are you?
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Medley at Sidecar here in Portland, Ore. It was a full house in a long, narrow space, but I was able to sample the full Medley portfolio and talk somewhat in-depth with Medley about his family’s products.
Charles Medley Distilling is an non-distiller producer (NDP) who contracts their whiskey from a Kentucky distillery. Sam’s father Charles Medley has been a distiller for decades, so this isn’t the same as a start-up microdistillery sourcing their juice without experience and pretending it’s something it’s not. Part of their contract agreement states that the barrels must age in different areas of the warehouse to ensure different characteristics in the bourbon. Medley told me they avoided the “nots” or barrels that were not on the top or near the outer walls.
The above exchange regarding my bourbon geekiness occurred when I asked about the Medley bourbon recipe. All three bourbons use the Medley family mash bill of 77% corn, 10% rye, 13% barley.
The Medleys reacquired the Wathen’s brand about 15 years ago. Wathen’s Single Barrel is 7 to 8 years old and has a good balance of corn to wood. It’s smooth and very drinkable, but I do not find it mind-blowing.
A couple of years ago Old Medley was introduced to expand the portfolio. Though only 12 years old (relatively young compared to some bourbons), the wood is definitely stronger and puts the recipe somewhat out of balance to my palate. Charles Medley thinks bourbons containing rye peak around 7 years, and compared to Wathen’s I’m inclined to agree with him.
At 4 years old and a reasonable $23, Medley Bros. is set to become the company’s flagship whiskey. The recipe and bottle design are nearly identical to the 1950s version. The original was bottled-in-bond (100-proof) while the new bottling is 102-proof. As the mash bill shows, it’s very corn-forward with vanilla and caramel notes. The high barley smooths out what might otherwise be a fierce burn from the alcohol.
I could easily see Medley Bros. taking a spot in my liquor cabinet next to standbys like Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey 101. It’s a good dram and sturdy enough to stand up in cocktails, as the Manhattan made by bartender Aaron Howard showed me.
Oh and that “Heart-of-the-Run” still graphic on the neck of the bottle? I’d get that as a tattoo if you’re paying, Sam. Let me know.