Darek Bell, his wife Amy and longtime friend Andrew Webber founded Corsair Artisan Distillers in Bowling Green, KY in 2007 and opened a second distillery in 2010 in Nashville, TN where they relocated most of their whiskey production. Corsair has made a name for themselves making experimental whiskey and other spirits using inventive combos of common and exotic grains and thinking outside the bottle er…. box. Their “normal” offerings include Vanilla bean vodka, Red Absinthe, an un-aged 100% rye whiskey called Wry-Moon, a spiced rum and a gin-head style American Gin. Some of their more adventurous creations include a pumpkin spiced Moonshine, a barrel-aged gin, a hoppy whiskey made from distilled Russian Imperial Stout called Rasputin (I’m ordering a bottle of this asap), another one from distilled oatmeal stout and moonshine made from millet. Interesting stuff for sure but that’s just the spirits we’ve seen, who knows what other mad creations haven’t made it out of their KY and TN laboratories (yes I’m imagining them in some spooky castle on a hill, with bats and a moat maybe a few monsters). Making “alt whiskies” with experimental malt bills containing rarely used traditional and rare grains in new combinations seems to be the favorite playground for their co-founder and distiller Derek Bell, a graduate from the Bruichladdich Distilling Academy in Islay, Scotland. Lew Bryson from Whisky Advocate described Corsair and Bell like this:
“If you’re not familiar with Corsair, believe me: you will be. He’s the Dogfish Head to the Stone Brewing of Balcones Distilling founder Chip Tate. Tate is brash and outspoken, and cranks the flavors in his whiskey up to 11, where Bell will try just about anything. “Creativity,” he says, “is free.””
All that hard work, unique perspective and quality products have gotten Corsair noticed. They were recently named one of the top 100 distilleries to visit by Whisky Magazine and they’ve been big winners when it comes to awards taking home a number of them from the American Distilling Institute’s Sixth Annual Artisan American Spirits Awards including: Gold Medal Best in Category for their Grainiac 9 grain bourbon, a Silver for their Nashville bourbon, a pair of Silvers for their Oak Smoked Wheat Whiskey and Cherry Smoked whiskey and a Bronze for the Triple Smoked American Malt whiskey.
Lucky for us some of Bell’s study in Islay involved the effect of smoke on grain which undoubtedly lead to Corsair’s first big hit, the Triple Smoked American Malt Whiskey. They use beechwood, cherry wood and peat to smoke the malt, and it shows. The Cherry is very forward throughout the whiskey but is always backed by peat smoke. This isn’t overbearing, it’s actually very balanced but the thing you’ll keep hearing from your mouth is cherry cherry cherry.
Nose: Cherry candy and light cough syrup, peat and cherry smoke, honey, malt sweetness.
Taste: All about the cherry and smoke. Smooth, honey, malt, more cough syrup, little alcohol burn,
Finish: more smoke with a little BBQ showing up and of course more cherry with some malt sweetness
Overall impressions: It honestly took me a few rounds with this before I “got it”. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that the various notes of smoke and cherry play differently than anything I’ve had. Eventually the peat smoke comes through and really provides a backbone for the cherry almost cough syrup flavors and aromas to shine. And when I say cough syrup it’s just the best thing I could use to describe it. It is not nearly as syrupy as that sounds but it has some of the character. After getting my head and taste buds around the whiskey I’m a huge fan. The smoke and malt definitely give the whiskey some scotch characteristics but don’t dive in thinking you’ve picked up a bottle of American Tennessee ”scotch”. You haven’t. I’m not a big cocktail drinker but in my mind this is a perfect whiskey for an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. The Cherry smoke flavor would really blow either of them away. But if you prefer neat, as I do, it is fantastic as well. I did not try it on the rocks or with water but I have a feeling with it only being 80 proof that it might dull the flavors. Oh and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the funky Reservoir Dogs looking label. Funky. If you’re into whiskey, which if you are reading this I’m guessing you are, prepare to hear a lot more from Corsair.
80 proof – Recommended