Back in 2018, when I first had an opportunity to sample the rye whiskey being distilled by Peerless Distilling Co., I ran into a bit of an internal debate that revolved around the difficult to quantify idea of “value.” At that time, Peerless Rye was a two-year-old product, retailing for a rather excessive (I thought) $125, leaning on some of the other unique aspects of its production/aging process to drive consumer interest. In the batches that have followed, however, a few things have happened. First, the average age of Peerless Rye has increased, while its MSRP seems to have decreased to a slightly more reasonable $95. That’s still an outlier in the industry, but it’s heartening to see things moving in that direction as Peerless presumably gets its feet under it as a distillery.
At the same time, though, Peerless has also generated a fresh wave of press with the release of the brand’s first bourbon, a roughly four-year, barrel-proof product (although it has no official age statement), which retails for an even more accessible $75. As with the rye, Peerless’ idea here seems to be, on some level, to challenge the average whiskey drinker’s idea of what makes for “premium” spirit, by shifting the emphasis of importance away from age and final proof for a “cask strength” release, and instead focusing on unique aspects of the distilling and aging process. These include such trendy aspects as:
— The whiskey being non-chill filtered
— The whiskey being made with “sweet mash” rather than the traditional sour mash process.
— The whiskey having a very low barrel entry proof, which means it doesn’t need to be cut with water in the end, making its “cask strength” in the bottle a relatively low 109 proof. This practice also means that each barrel ultimately yields fewer bottles of whiskey for Peerless, which is part of the reason for the higher pricing in both of the brand’s products.
So, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, Peerless Bourbon abounds with plenty of red fruit, which really stands out with notes of cherry and plum. Toffee and caramel corn round things out—it gives off an impression of being fruit forward and rich, and also a bit hot, even beyond what you’d expect for 109 proof.
On the palate this is a rich and quite sweet bourbon, which revels in some big flavors. There’s a grainy, cereal malt character here that hints at the younger average age of the spirit than many of the other, comparable bottles on the market, with unusual corn-driven characteristics that I would compare to cornbread/creamed corn. Those notes pass in a rush, seguing into toasted wheat bread, tons of honey and salted caramel, then lots of dark fruit, solid oak presence and loads of cinnamon candies as well. On repeated sips, some more unexpected floral/grassy notes emerge, as well as a slightly unpleasant astringency on the back end, although it’s nothing too bad.
All in all, this is a distinctly unusual and individualistic bourbon, and one that sometimes reads to my palate as being more in line with a wheated bourbon than one with rye as the secondary grain, particularly because of the unexpected floral notes. All of the flavors are big, ethanol presence included, and the end result strikes me as boisterous and enthusiastic, but perhaps not quite as composed as it will be with some more age on it.
Still, I do admire Peerless’ interest in pursuing emerging and avant garde techniques. The question is whether the general public will find these types of things too technical to be true selling points, but with an MSRP of $75 rather than the original rye’s $125, it’s at least considerably less of an investment to pick up a bottle and check it out for yourself.
Distillery: Peerless Distilling Co.
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Straight bourbon
ABV: 54.5% (109 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $75 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.