If there’s one thing that there’s always more room for in the bourbon market, it’s affordable, midshelf whiskey brands. In an era of runaway price gouging, hype chasing and premiumization, those moderately aged $20-40 bottles of yore have become an increasingly endangered species. Sure, there are still the old reliable workhorse brands of the bigger distilleries on the shelf, but it’s become especially rare to see NEW brands released in this price range from younger and more nimble craft distilleries. Instead, these distilleries have often fallen back on pitching their whiskey as a more premium product, in order to reflect the greater costs inherent to a small company that can’t really take advantage of economies of scale. The result is a lot of $50 and higher bottles from young distilleries, which can be harder for a consumer to roll the dice on in comparison with old, reliable stalwarts.
That’s why it’s certainly nice to see a $35 MSRP on Green River Bourbon, just as it’s likewise nice to see a respectable 5-year age statement on the new flagship bourbon from the titular Green River Distilling Co. A whiskey with these kinds of specs, at this price point, would make sense from one of the bigger players in the industry, such as Heaven Hill. To get it from a smaller operation like this one, on the other hand, is pretty notable and refreshing.
Not that Green River Distilling Co. is a brand new name. This is a revived historic brand of Owensboro, Kentucky, operating in the formerly crumbling facility on the banks of the Ohio River that holds the designation of DSP-10. That means that this site was just the tenth location in the state of Kentucky to receive a distilling license, which is quite a feather in their cap. The facility was purchased by South Carolina-based Terressentia in 2016, who renovated it and brought it back to its glory as an operating distillery. The newly christened company was known as the O.Z. Tyler Distillery and specialized in contract distilling for others while they aged their own house bourbon. In 2020, the name of the company changed to Green River Distilling Co. as they eyed the launch of this particular product, produced by eighth generation master distiller Jacob Call. Now it’s here, and Green River Distilling Co. is ready to make a name for itself with its own house spirits.
As for the full product specs, they are as follows: This is a high-rye bourbon, with a mashbill of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley. It has an age statement somewhere a smidge over five years, and is bottled at a respectable 45% ABV (90 proof) for the aforementioned MSRP of $35. The target demographic seems obvious: This is pitched as a mainline, “every day” bourbon, designed to be versatile for neat drinking, cocktails and mixed drinks. So let’s get to tasting and see how they did.
On the nose, Green River Bourbon hits some classic high notes: Caramel corn, vanilla bean, a hint of chocolate reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls. Beyond them, there are accents of oak, slightly sawdust-like in an acknowledgement of an age statement that is still relatively low, along with traces of dark berry jam and toasted clove. All in all it’s a nice, well-balanced nose that does indeed seem to say “this is moderately aged Kentucky bourbon,” though the ethanol seems slightly aggressive to me here for the 90 proof point.
On the palate, this bourbon is awash in brown sugar, caramel corn and a surprisingly big charge of spice—both rye spice and baking spices are well represented, which I guess makes sense given the high-rye mash bill. Still, I wasn’t expecting this one to read as quite so assertive, and it’s by no means a bad thing. I’m getting some pepper and a bit of mint here, as well as moderate levels of oak that are also perhaps a bit more robust than the average drinker might be expecting. What follows is a pretty classic progression, from a sweet entry to the palate to a finish that grows slightly more dry and tannic. All in all, it’s a pretty high volume of flavor for this humble package—not the most unique, necessarily, but it’s not exactly calculated to be.
I have a feeling that this whiskey is well on its way to becoming something really excellent, and in fact it’s almost there already. Perhaps a few more years of maturation, or a few more proof points, will see Green River’s spirit ascend to a really coveted level. For a first release, you can hardly ask for more than that. This is a very promising debut, and for once it’s a solid value as well. If you’re in the market for a new high-value bourbon brand that doesn’t skimp on character, give Green River Bourbon a look.
Distillery: Green River Distillery
City: Owensboro, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $35 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.