One of my favorite under-the-radar bourbon bottles from 2022 proved to be a brand from Eugene, Oregon’s Wolf Spirit Distillery, under the brand name Puncher’s Chance. Although their flagship bourbon is solid enough, the brand’s first special release, The D12TANCE, was a real stand out—a 12-year-old sourced whiskey from Tennessee (almost certainly George Dickel), finished in California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. It was a lovely, spicy-sweet dram that made me curious to see what other kinds of special releases the Puncher’s Chance brand might be used for in the future, and now I have my answer in the form of Puncher’s Chance The Left Cross.
As with The D12TANCE, this is Tennessee-distilled whiskey (an impressive 14 years old) that was sourced from IJW Whiskey Co. in Louisville, and it’s presumably this second company that gave the sourced bourbon its secondary finish, for two to six months in freshly dumped 12-year-old Jamaican rum casks. Suffice to say, that’s not really something you see every day, as 14-year-old whiskey rarely makes its way into a rum barrel for a secondary maturation. The resulting finished bourbon is bottled at 48% ABV (96 proof). Roughly 2,000 bottles were produced, at an MSRP of $150. In the words of Wolf Spirit’s founder Umberto Luchini:
Like its predecessor THE D12TANCE, our journey with THE LEFT CROSS is about taking an older whiskey and experimenting with unique finishing techniques – in this case dark Jamaican Rum casks. Our objective was to use the rum finishing to coax out more of the existing characteristics from the whiskey while adding a unique hint of sweetness. It’s a special craft to finish such a mature bourbon, but the masters at IJW Distillery have done an exceptional job finding the right balance.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this whiskey melds with its rum barrel finish.
On the nose, The Left Cross has a decidedly boozy suggestion of fruitcake about it, especially for the relatively lower proof. The rum barrels really seem to have amplified the fruitiness of the spirit, and it’s also quite sweet, with notes of plum/blackberry, brown sugar and gingerbread cookies. There’s some antique oak woodiness, a little clove, and more toasted bread and caramel that develops over time.
On the palate, things venture out a bit further into uncharted territory. Again, there’s syrupy and overripe fruit tones up front and center, with more of the dark fruit notes from before, but they’re also joined by heavy banana. I’m getting gingerbread and brown sugar, combining with the bananas (which keep getting stronger) to suggest banana pudding or bananas foster. It certainly has translated the fruitiness often found in Jamaican rum, and there’s some twang of tart oak here as well, along with some slightly savory herbal tones that hint at the characteristic Jamaican “rum funk” without really embracing it. Those who aren’t super well versed in the rum world may find it quite interesting, although you certainly wouldn’t mistake this dram as rum by any means—nor would devoted Caribbean rum drinkers likely feel as if it captures a ton of the hogo funk associated with high-ester Jamaican rums. The fruitiness, on the other hand, really comes through, and bourbon drinkers who love a strong banana note will really find this one up their alley.
All in all, I think I’m perhaps a bit more attracted to the spice of The D12TANCE, but these Puncher’s Chance special releases have shown in general that they’re finding fertile ground in the market for well-aged bourbon with secondary cask finishes.
Distillery: Puncher’s Chance (Wolf Spirit Distillery)
City: Eugene, OR
Style: Straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 48% (96 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.