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Best New Way to Make Bourbon

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Solera-Aged Bourbon at Hillrock Estate Distillery

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When Hillrock Estate Distillery owner Jeff Baker and his master distiller, Dave Pickerell, sat down to discuss ways to set their new bourbon apart from the growing crowd of small-batch whiskeys, Pickerell knew just the thing: Solera aging. This ancient system has been used in Europe for centuries to produce sherry, some cognacs, and even olive oil, but this is the first time it has been used for whiskey in the United States. “It’s called a cascading maturation system,” says Pickerell, who has decades of experience in the whiskey trade, including 14 years at the helm of Makers Mark. The whiskey ages in a series of four barrels. The first, made of new charred oak, is what defines bourbon as bourbon. The distillate then moves to a second and third tier of older barrels. And that’s where it gets interesting. From there, no more than half of the batch is drawn and aged in 20-year-old Olorosso sherry casks for exactly 36 days. “As long as you don’t draw more than half, there will always be molecules of every batch ever made,” he says. “This gives it an extra measure of consistency and depth of character.”

Along with the classic bourbon notes of caramel, oak, and vanilla, that depth includes hints of brown sugar, molasses, toffee, clove, cinnamon, and sherry notes of walnut, fig, and butterscotch. The price point, $80 for 750 ml, is high, but with a Wine Enthusiast rating of 96, one sip tells you it’s money well-spent. 518-329-1023; www.hillrockdistillery.com 

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