When we launched the Toronto Whisky Society, one of the goals was to try new whiskies and provide honest, unbiased feedback on them. Our members have been doing this for quite a while now on Reddit, with over 2000 reviews posted collectively on the network. We soon found that distilleries are eager to get word out about their products and that our group is a means for them to do that, and we’re eager to help in that regard, with the caveat that we’ll only ever be honest and not allow free samples or bottles to influence our evaluations. Liberty Pole Spirits is one of those distilleries that wanted to spread the word, and to date, hadn’t gotten any third party feedback on their spirits, save for those who came to taste them at the distillery. They sent us these samples which we distributed to our most seasoned reviewers. They do triple distillation on most of their whisky using a 300gal copper pot still (non-hybrid), and use locally sourced grains. Most of these have been aged in very small barrels with a #3 char for only a few months, though they’re planning to increase the size of barrels and the time spent in them very soon. They indicated their heart cuts are very conservative to offset the lack of aging time.
Disclosure: We received these samples for free from the distillery with the understanding that we’d be posting reviews without regard for where the samples came from. Liberty Pole Spirits agreed to these terms.
Six members reviewed the Peated Bourbon. Bottled at 46%, this whiskey uses an open pollinated corn called Bloody Butcher, which is a low yield corn that’s rarely used for bourbon, so it could be quite different than a standard yellow corn bourbon. It also uses a heavily peated malt from Scotland in the mashbill. That mashbill is 59% corn, and 41% malted barley. The proportion of peated vs non-peated malt isn’t specified. As a peaty scotch lover, I’m very interested to try this.
- Appearance: similar to the rye.
- Nose: Whoa, that’s pretty ridiculous. Tons of smoke, and doused campfire ash. That’s all you get on first whiff. After letting it sit for a while and inhaling deeply with mouth open, I get a bit of the bourbon nose you’d expect with some caramel and sweet corn.
- Palate: the peat is dominant… overpoweringly so. I love a peaty scotch, and don’t find this unpleasant, it’s just so surprising coming from something called bourbon. The peat flavours are very ashy and smoky, again like a doused campfire. I’m having a lot of trouble getting bourbon notes out of this, but there is a bit of sweet corn and oak flavours in it. a heavy earthiness late in the palate, but sort of bitter too. Given it is aged for only months, I guess it’s not surprising the peat is so dominant, and they did say it’s heavily peated malt. I do wish the unique choice of corn had a chance to shine through, and it’s unfortunate that their regular bourbon was sold out and we couldn’t compare the two.
- Finish: long, peaty, smoky, and a slight chocolate note that’s interesting. As I’m typing this up on Reddit, I can still taste the peat, but it tastes more like the soil I used to use when I worked in a greenhouse here in Canada… very weird, but is setting off some nostalgia. I added a point because of it.
- Score: 77/100
I had a really hard time scoring this, as it really defied my expectations and you just can’t compare it to other bourbons. So I decided to score it relative to peated scotch instead, and it stands up well vs some of the off label Islay malts like Smokehead or Islay Storm. I gave a couple of bonus points for innovation. My wife didn’t like it very much, so this one seems to be pretty polarizing. If I was going to give some advise for future batches it would be to reduce the proportion of peated malt in the mash to let the corn shine through, and age it longer to mellow out the peat further. When I hear peated bourbon, I’m expecting the peat to be an accent on the bourbon, not the dominant element in the whisky. Overall, I appreciate the innovation and enjoyed this line-up. I’d recommend going to the distillery and trying these, as trying before you buy here is a good idea given how polarizing it seems to be!
- Nose: Dry smoke, tar, oak, vanilla, sawdust, brown sugar, youthful, vegetables
- Palate: Little muted, you can tell it is not cask strength. Weird and unique. BBQ, peat, brown sugar, lots of young oak. Remind me of felt. Not overly aggressive, though a little more kick would be nice.
- Finish: Smoke peat and smoke on the finish. Dry, lots of oak, Vanilla, brown sugar, reminds me of some virgin oak casks I have had. Good length on the finish.
- Score: 79/100
Kudos to them for making this unique bourbon. Never had a peated bourbon before, and would enjoy having this again. Also, this would make one heck of an Old Fashioned, especially during the cold winter months.
- Nose: Smoke, ash, tobacco smoke, alcohol, honey, oak.
- Palate: Vegetal notes, smoke, peat, vanilla, honey, roasted ham, wine, slight sourness.
- Finish: Vanilla, peat smoke (now Scottish), grain, grass, cinnamon, cardamom, celery.
- Score: 79/100
I wish the traditional bourbon flavours were a bit stronger here, but the body has more depth to it than the rye. This is really interesting, I wouldn’t even guess bourbon here, but I really like where it’s going. I hope Liberty Pole continues to develop this bourbon and try new things with it. Even as it is, it stands as something much more than just a gimmick that a peated bourbon could easily be. Overall both the rye and bourbon are earthy spirits that also have a lightness to them. Bottling them at 46% was a wise choice, I think any less would be a real detriment to these interesting whiskies.
- Appearance: 1.4, Tawny
- Nose: Ash. Like an ash tray. Normally peat comes across as vegetal, or damp, or woodsy (in the case of something like a Highland Park). Not so here. I can’t get anything beyond that.
- Taste: Again, very ashy. I know my way around peat, and this just doesn’t taste like peat. It tastes like someone burnt a million phonebooks underneath the damp grain. I get a little bit of sweetness and caramel, but it is so overwhelmed by the ashyness.
- Finish: Ash, somewhat more like proper vegetal peat on the tail end.
- Score: 45/100
Notes: I’m not positive where they are sourcing their peated malt from, or where the peat itself is from, but this does not taste anything like Scottish peat. If this is peat from America, or is peated in America, it could be the biggest argument for terroir I’ve ever seen. I’m just not sure I can find anything redeeming to say about this whisky… smokers would enjoy it I guess?
- Colour: 10YR 7/8
- Nose: Smoke, oak, pork with black peppercorn, roast coconut, dust, soured milk. Interesting. At first this has an interesting smoke and oak area. It goes to a dry, then it becomes a little dusty… So I keep nosing this. And then… a really rough note shows up. I think the young spirit exerts itself and nose-bangs me.
- Taste: Cocoa, popcorn, vegetable broth. The peated element here shows up on cocoa, some light corn, and vegetables. It’s all interesting, however simple and light.
- Finish: Sour peat, brine, lemon, chemical, cotton. Honestly thought this was Canadian peat at the end. Smelled quite young, really chemical like, and briney. The finish needs more time.
Conclusion: I really do appreciate this for what it is. It’s not cheap peat, it’s an interesting barley to use, and really quite tasty. It’s different than the rye, and while it has more and more rough notes, it’s doing something. I want this to age more. I want to see what happens when a bourbon has a ton of peated barley malt. I don’t think it’s doing the right stuff now.
This is the one that had me most curious. A different mashbill from the rest of the lineup (including their traditional bourbon), this was aged in 10 gallon barrels for 5 months.
- Nose: Sweet corn, caramel, smoke, anise, soured milk, oak, hint of hay
- Taste: Oak, milk chocolate, daikon, licorice, brown sugar
- Finish: Vegetable broth, ash, oak, brown sugar, lactic note
- Score: 78/100
The nose starts off on sweet traditional bourbon notes, turning sour (presumably from the base spirit influence) all wrapped in a light smoke. With time I get faint hints of farmyard and something that reminds me of Dr Pepper. The taste is oaky and sweet up front, with some base spirit quirks coming through in the middle and some more sweetness behind that. The finish adds some mild ashiness, a vegetal note and a hint of lactic sourness.
Not surprising that I’ve taken to this one the easiest. It’s like a cross between bourbon on the nose and palate and virgin oak peated scotch on the palate and finish. The base spirit seemed to add more to this than it did with the rye. Very drinkable now… out of the three samples, this is definitely my preference by far.