Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
Every distillery in Kentucky has a legend about how their founder, or original family, or buddy’s cousin invented Bourbon. The Reverend Elijah Craig used the timbers from a burned down barn to store his corn whiskey, thus inventing Bourbon. Evan Williams used charred oak barrels to transport his whiskey down the Ohio to the Mississippi to reach New Orleans only to discover the clear corn whiskey had become caramel colored – that’s why you have Bourbon and Bourbon Street.
In the end, no one is 100% positive, at least at this writing, exactly how America’s Native Spirit came to be. The stories are a lot of fun though. Every good whiskey has a great story behind it. Something to add a bit of mystique to the glass of whiskey. No one really wants to hear, “sounded like a good idea at the time, so I made whiskey.”
In all my reviews, in all my time in whiskey, Brother Justus might have my favorite story.
Founder and Theology major Phil Steger wanted to tell a story that was unique to his home of Minnesota. He wanted to make a whiskey that was uniquely Minnesotan. So, he did his research and created Brother Justus, after a Catholic monk.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Catholics enjoy making alcohol. Especially the order of the Benedictines. Catholic monks in general use alcohol production as way to supplement the monetary support of their orders. They are famous for the creation of Chartreuse and a host of other libations, including Trappist Beer.
As it would turn out during prohibition in the United States a Benedictine monk would be directly or indirectly responsible for almost 1,600 distilleries in Minnesota. Originally a blacksmith, Brother Justus of the Benedictine Saint John’s Abbey (now University) began making copper stills from the available material around him. The abbey already made brandy. He would give away his stills and teach how to produce whiskey.
“It was the only moonshine in America that had a trade name on the bottle,” Steger says. Steger, as it happens, is a graduate of Saint John’s University in Minnesota.
Steger’s goal with his distillery is to make something worthy of Brother Justus’ legacy. The distillery is in Minneapolis, with a distribution exclusive to Minnesota. Many of the bottles are distillery exclusives and can only be purchased on site.
This release I’m reviewing here is the Founders Reserve, a unique version of the brand’s American Single Malt offering. The barrels Steger selected, he said, express his “founding desire to make a single malt whiskey that contains Minnesota’s grand landscapes in a glass. Each sip blooms with the toasted malt and tallgrass herb of our prairies, the vanilla oak and caramelized stone fruit of our leafy woods, and the dark, resinous spice of our boreal forest, with a finish as fresh and clean as our sky-blue waters. And at full proof, it has even more of the spirit of Minnesota’s rebellious monk, Brother Justus.”
With that, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Brother Justus Founder’s Reserve
Vital Stats: American single malt; 117 proof, 58.5% abv.
Nose: Gently nosing this you are greeted with cherry wood, fresh oak, brandy and wine sweetness, plumbs and some toffee/brittle. Surprisingly the abv is muted, it’s present, but not as strong as I was anticipating.
Taste: No denying it, this is a cherry and spice bomb! Robust and full of flavor, this whiskey shows up. The mouthfeel is surprisingly watery, I would have imagined a bit more viscous feel. After a minute it opens up to backing spices and tart cherry juice. Breathing out for the “second sip” you find a little saltiness.
The finish has a few tannic notes but those dissipate into cherries and pepper. You cannot escape the proof towards the end of the sip and into the finish, the nearly 60% abv warms the body.