Whiskey Review: Doc Swinson’s Garryana 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.

This whiskey being tasted today, the Doc Swinson’s Garryana Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon, is one of several from the “Exploratory Cask” series. The house base, a blend of two different rye-heavy bourbons distilled by MGP, was finished in 350L Garryana oak casks for two and a half months.

Garryana oak is a white oak native to the Pacific Northwest along the coastal area. Working with local wood is of growing interest in the wine trade, too, as producers explore alternative techniques and focus on sustainability by sourcing locally. It’s exciting to see its use in whiskey.

In the glass, the local oak finishing is described by the company as showcasing “the richness of the Pacific Northwest terroir offering deep, dark, and complex notes ranging from molasses, toffee, clove, BBQ plums, and a subtle wood smoke.” If you’re looking to explore some PNW terroir, Doc Swinson’s is distributed in 26 states and Canada.

Doc Swinson’s Garryana Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon review

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

Tasting Notes: Doc Swinson’s Garryana Exploratory Cask Straight Bourbon

Vital Stats: Aged for over five years in new American oak and finished in Garryana oak casks, 54.4% 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 whiskey is amber in appearance with a yellow undertone.

Nose: This initially comes across as muted and subtle on the nose. With time, hints of chocolate, wood polish, and ripe apricots emerge. As the whiskey sat in the glass, it began to show notes of mineral-rich sea salt, malted puffed cereal, cocoa powder, and Samoas Girl Scout cookies. This quickly became my favorite aromatically of the line up with its appetizing and mineral nose that changed significantly over time.

Palate: This is one of the more aromatic whiskeys in the summer line up. I taste notes of raw honey with a rich sense of whole vanilla beans and sassafras root beer. The body is light and zippy with a linen-like crispness to the alcohol. Am I sipping on a chocolate ice cream root beer float? There’s a note of yeast here like a whole grain bread dough fermenting while dense rye bread is being pulling steaming from the oven.

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