Whiskey Review: Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon

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. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs. 

Doc Swinson’s released some new whiskeys for the summer, so now is a perfect time to learn about this under the radar producer and to explore the range of offerings.

The company, founded in 2017, is an independent bottler and the house brand of Distillers Way LLC. As an independent bottler, they source barrels of whiskey to bottle under their own label, often blending them to create a signature style, finishing them in a wide variety of wood types, and cutting to proof, though, here, the whiskey tends to be released close to cask proof.

Doc Swinson’s calls Ferndale, WA home. This tiny town is located near Vancouver, BC about 100 miles north of Seattle along the bay. Here, a team of four runs the entire operation: Jesse Parker, the Head Spirits Master; Steve Main, the Sales Director; Chris Cearns, the Chief Financial Officer; and Keith Seidel, the Director of Operations.

Parker is young with no formal training, but he cut his teeth at a small, family-owned distillery where he began racking up primo awards for his creations. He’s gone on to win several dozen more for his blends for Doc Swinson’s, including winning best in class for finished bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

As an independent bottler, the brand sources all of their whiskies—nothing is distilled in house. The current line up all hails from Midwest Grain Products Distillery in Lawrenceburg, IN, aka MGP. Sourcing from this large distillery in Indiana can be a prickly subject for some, but the team at Doc Swinson’s makes no attempts to hide and certainly excels with their selections (see the aforementioned awards).

The lineup reminds me of some releases from Buzzard’s Roost I tasted last year, another producer that releases finished whiskies from rye-heavy MGP mash bills in a similar price range, though with a radically different char for the finishing barrels. Doc Swinson’s lineup tends not show the lushness, pillowy sweetness, and aromatic intensity I often associate with MGP bourbons. Instead they manage an unusual twist of reserved yet complex aromatics. Perhaps it’s just that salty Vancouver bay air.

Of the whiskeys I received to review, two are part of the “Exploratory Cask” series, where their house blend of two MGP mash bills is finished in different wood types. This particular whiskey is the Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon. The French oak is sourced from Taransaud Cooperages, which uses oak from the Tronçaise forest. The forest is famous in spirit and wine circles as the source for oak barrels used in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Cognac, and for its harvest management plan that is measured in centuries.

Doc Swinson’s writes that the French oak adds “rich textures, deep sweetness, and exotic baking spices” to the bourbon. This French oak treatment promises to add layers of aromatics to the bourbon.

Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon review

We review Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon, aged for over five years in new American white oak barrels and finished in toasted French oak casks. (image via Doc Swinson’s)

Tasting Notes: Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon

Vital Stats: Aged for over five years in new American white oak barrels and finished in toasted French oak casks for 5.5 months and 9.5 months, 55.4% ABV, mash bill: 1: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley and 2: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley, SRP $80/ 750ml bottle.

Appearance: This is amber in color with a golden undertone.

Nose: Doc Swinson’s French Toasted Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon was many things on the nose: sweet, spicy, fruity, and warm. The classic vanilla note is present, but more spice-influenced like aged rum. There are notes of ripe bananas, cola, and caramel. There is a whisper of chocolate and a hint of matcha green tea. I found the heavy toasted spice notes to be a little overwhelming, making me think of whiskeys finished in Sherry barrels.

Palate: In the mouth, the bourbon is sweet and viscous with a moderate astringency from grippy tannins. The flavors are rich and bordering on cloying. On the grain side, I pick up notes of corn flakes and toasted oatmeal bread. For fruit, I taste notes of ripe watermelon and baked cherry pie. There are evident notes of vanilla and melted milk chocolate that seem to bounce between the forefront and background as the flavors linger on the tongue. It comes off a touch hot and a little cloying when neat.

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