John on Wine – Redwood Valley’s Low Gap Bourbon
This ran originally as a weekly wine column on Thursday, December 3, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper
On a beautiful fall day in Redwood Valley, with burnt red maple leaves, golden green-yellow grape leaves on head pruned grape vines, and a gorgeously blue sky, I met two of my favorite people, Jack Crispin Cain and his wife Tamar Kaye, at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery for my first taste of their newly bottled Low Gap Bourbon.
“When we started making whiskey with Ansley Coale, the plan was to make four,” Crispin told me. “We started with wheat, then the malted corn & barley blend, and the rye was next. As I got more and more experience with whiskey, I found there wasn’t a bourbon I liked, and by the time I got to our bourbon, we really had everything down.”
Congress sets the identity for spirits and at the Federal level it was decided that a spirit can be called straight bourbon if it is a blend of three or more of corn, barley, wheat, and rye, with one of the grains accounting for at least 51% of the blend, and spends two years in 200 liter new white oak barrels at 60% alcohol by volume.
Crispin and Tamar’s Low Gap Bourbon is 55% corn, 30% malted barley, and 15% malted rye; all three get combined in the mash, fermented to dryness into what is essentially a dense malt wine.
This bourbon is outstandingly good, so much better than the bulk produced crap that you find in stores, making Mendocino County, California the home of bourbon superior to that made in Bourbon County Kentucky, to my taste, and I asked why it is so good. Crispin shared that “one of the reasons this is so good is my son climbed into the pot between every run and scrubbed it clean.”
The bourbon finished at 43.2% alcohol by volume, and Crispin would probably tell me that the purest collected rain water was used to bring it down from 60%, but this bourbon is so magically delicious that I believe the collected tears of joy from a dozen leprechauns were used instead.
Crispin shared a lovely family anecdote, “my maternal grandfather, Ted Ultsch, wouldn’t drink [the amazingly delicious] Germain-Robin brandy [Cognac, in all but name] because riverboat gamblers drink brandy; he’s a bourbon man. This is Ted’s bourbon.”
Here are my first tasting impressions: richly multi noted and just lovely, exciting, caramel-vanillin wrapped malted grain. Smooth beyond any Bourbon previously tasted. Simply the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted.
All of Crispin and Tamar’s spirits, from the vodkas and gins to the whiskeys, including his new bourbon, have candied notes. The bourbon tastes of candied malted grain, smooth, rich and pure. I asked why candy throughout, and Crispin explained that his, “sour mash goes into a copper pot still and when it gets hot catalytic action transforms complex organic molecules into smaller molecules including alcohol sugars,” that present themselves in a way that is different from spirits using different stills, and he thought his bourbon was, “one of just two, maybe three, copper pot still bourbons in the country.”
“The copper pot still and the way we are using it, very careful with the fire, the temperature, the method…a combination of the two,” is why Crispin and Tamar’s bourbon (and other spirits) are, “naturally sweet,” Crispin said, and offering reasons for why I found it vastly superior to other bourbons, “all in house, far more cleaning, no outside bulk grain distilled bought and added, the method, no additives, no caramel coloring, no simple syrup, no glycerin, no citric acid – just grain, water, yeast and enzymes.”
Crispin and Tamar sent me home with a review sample bottle for “additional research” and I’ve diligently done my research. I have a wonderful glass, specifically designed to enhance the tasting experience for whiskeys, and as good as the first taste was, an ounce in my glass, swirl and nose, swirl and nose, just the tiniest sip, repeated slowly and savoringly, over about forty minutes, at home on my couch, is the way to enjoy this beautiful bourbon. Two one-ounce tastes, and I have already purchased another bottle. When she visited, I offered my girlfriend a sip, because I am a good man, but she detests bourbon, so I will get every sip in each bottle, which means I am a lucky man as well.
In addition to Crispin and Tamar’s new bourbon, I have tasted and reviewed their 2011 Malted Corn & Malted Barley Blended Whiskey, 2011 Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 100 Proof Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 2 Year Malted Rye Whiskey, Single Barrel #1 Whiskey, Malted Rye (Clear) Whiskey, Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, Russell Henry London Dry Gin, Russell Henry Dark Gin, DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka, DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine (tangerines and tangelos), DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis (Buddha’s-hand citrons), and DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Hystrix (Malaysian limes and their leaves), and Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, as well as son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac. Visit JohnonWine.com and enter “Crispin” in the search bar to find and read those archived reviews.
To make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, call (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions. You – or the recipients of amazing Christmas gifts – will be immensely glad you did.