About six weeks ago, this box showed up at my door. Inside were four perfume bottles. I was flummoxed. I’ve been sent a lot of stuff for review that had nothing to do with beverages – books, gadgets, once even an invitation to a free spa weekend in Sonoma, which I finally decided I was just a hair shy of metrosexual enough to actually attend – but this was a new one. Then I noticed something: The liquid within looked a lot like Whiskey.
And, in fact, that what it was. Cranky bastard that I am, I set them aside, muttering, “…Sending me Whiskey in perfume bottles…why those…can’t be any good.” But, about ten days later, there they sat and I thought, “Well…” and sat down with the four and a glass…and was shocked down to my chromosomes.
Hillrock Estate Distillery is the creation of owner Jeffrey Baker and Master Distiller David Pickerell, who shared a common vision of an all-estate whiskey, made from components grown on their own property in New York’s Hudson Valley. A grain farm that was first planted in 1806, Hillrock had the buildings on site and the wonderful, sweet barley still under cultivation to make a distillery not only possible but almost inevitable. From the beginning, their ambition was as lofty as it gets: great, world-class Whiskey that’s not made in Scotland or Kentucky. And I’m here to tell you that they’ve already hit that target and what could evolve out of those misty Berkshire-foothills acres is nothing short of breath-taking.
The first thing that caught my eye was the Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon. Solera is a process – originated in the wine world – in which different vintages of whiskeys are blended with newer whiskeys and, figuring in reduction and wood effects, arrive at a deep, soulful, almost chewy texture and profoundly complex character. Almost no one in the US uses Solera method because it takes a lot of time, infinite patience, and immaculate skills, not the least of which is Knowing When To Quit…which David Pickerell seems to have mastered. This is a stunning Whiskey; in fact, the world’s first ever Solera-Aged Bourbon. The depth and intrigue contained in each tiny sip of this is mind-boggling. It is among the most purely hedonistic drinking experiences of my long life in the beverage trade. Bold, emphatic flavors of roasted nuts, fruitcake, Brandied raisins, figs, dates, grilled corn, baking spices, lavish oak, vanilla, and chewy rye suffuse every sip, and the texture is like liquid sin; slightly viscous and wickedly smoooooth. The only thing keeping this from standing toe-to-toe with the absolute finest Whiskeys ever made in America is its lack of widespread exposure. It actually is THAT good. 100 Points
Not more than two hairs behind is the Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey, a gorgeous, malty, rich nectar that recalls a great Highland Scotch, married to the caramel sweetness and broad palate of a Reserve Bourbon. This stuff sings on the palate; a vivid wash of caramel corn, roasted grains, pear butter, pea vines, anise, cinnamon, cloves, burnt sugar, an unexpected hint of smoke, and dark vanilla. It’s a big Whiskey but oozes a surprising elegance and balance that conjures up, for me, Oban and Bunnahabhain, two of my favorite Scotches. The finish is the real Rock Star aspect of this Whiskey, lingering sweetly for literal minutes and devolving slowly into a pretty mix of toffee and citrus peels. Just a magnificent piece of work and every bit worthy of the name “Single Malt” and all that conjures up. 98 Points
The Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye is a silken, candied, near-flawless Whiskey that celebrates the once-forgotten glories of what rye can impart to a distilled spirit. With its recent emergence as a brewing grain, rye is well on its way to becoming a cliché again but here it gilds this lovely stuff with a tangy Edge of savory spices, cinnamon sweetness, whole-grain toast, and a whole range of caramel/candied fruit/treacle notes, along with a wildly appealing barrel character; a virtual fiesta of wood tones. Just plain lovely. 94 Points
I freely admit that I am not a White Dog fan; that is to say, unaged Whiskeys that are bottled sans any exposure to oak and none of the color that comes with barrel aging. That said, if I was ever to find one I can drink and enjoy, it would be the Hillrock Estate George Washington Estate Edition Rye Whiskey, a recipe that originated with the actual George Washington, our president Numero Uno, who was also a devout amateur whiskey-maker. Far from the pallid, alcoholish simplicity of most of the White Dog I taste, this rye-based youngster shows some complexity and engagingly substantial texture. Flavors of rye spices, vanilla, anise, and pear butter surface immediately, leading through to a finish of buttermint and something like teaberry gum. It’s fresh and lively and as engrossing as this style can ever be and will amply reward the true Whiskey lover who cares to spend the time getting to know its subtle charms. No, it is NOT the same kind of “interesting” as a well-aged Whiskey but it’s not supposed to be. It is its own animal and that animal is a lot more friendly and eager to please than I had previously thought it could be. 92 Points
If you love Whiskey, you’re going to want – make that NEED – to seek out Hillrock and try these whiskeys. For me, a Whiskey lover for over forty-five years, Hillrock is nothing short of a Revelation.