Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Hidden Barn Whiskey. 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 towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
It made headlines in the whiskey world earlier this year when Jackie Zykan, the public face of the Old Forester brand, announced plans to leave and start her own label. It didn’t take long for the first release from her Hidden Barn Whiskey to follow, through a partnership with Kentucky’s Neeley Family Distillery.
Hidden Barn’s initial effort is a small batch blended from seven Neeley barrels, available only in Kentucky, Colorado, Florida, and California. Zykan didn’t leave one of the top jobs in American whiskey production in order to stay small, however. You can expect Hidden Barn to start rolling out more broadly before long.
In the meantime, perhaps, the limited release gives whiskey drinkers a sneak peek into the personality of the new brand.
A lot of the mythology around the modern whiskey industry comes from the moonshine era, and Hidden Barn is no exception. Apparently, bacteria that feeds on airborne alcohol had a tendency to discolor the wood on barns that had illegal stills inside them. To protect friends and neighbors, and ensure their own supply of hooch, rural Kentuckians sometimes painted their own barns black so that law enforcement wouldn’t be able to distinguish ones with stills from ones without.
“In this spirit of community and fellowship,” Zykan announced a partnership with Royce Neeley, master distiller at Neeley Family Distillery, and Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner from Denver’s 5280 Whiskey Society. Future releases might involve partnerships with different small producers.
When it comes to this release, the Neeley Family Distillery claims its own moonshiner history, saying it went legit in 2015 after 11 generations of making spirits illegally. It claims to use the family mash bills and processes for an old Kentucky-holler drinking experience.
This first Hidden Barn batch, then, was distilled and aged by Neeley and selected and blended with the help of Zykan, Winegar, and Dankner.
Tasting Notes: Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Vital stats: Mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye, 10% malted barley; 106 proof/53% alcohol by volume; blend of seven barrels from the Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta, Kentucky; aged 4-5 years; MSRP of $74.99 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber, solid legs on the side of the glass.
Nose: Younger-smelling than I would have guessed for something aged 4-5 years; a lot of ethanol. Underneath that I find candied cherries, toast with fig jam, and Early Gray tea. Very little of the oak scents you often find in Kentucky bourbon.
Palate: The moonshine pedigree is evident right away. It’s as if there’s a strain of white dog in this, like it just came off the still recently. But that’s not quite fair; there is a layered complexity and a finish that lingers. I get brown sugar, maple syrup, Fig Newtons, and ginger spice. It finishes better than it starts, long and warm and pleasant.