Whiskey Review: Wilderness Trail Distillery Settlers Select Rye Whiskey

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Wilderness Trail Distillery. 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.

Yeast is everywhere. Some of it can kill you (I’ll spare you a link, but look up deadly yeast if you want to), some of it makes life saving medicine, and some of it gives us the drinks we all love. Alcohol would not exist without yeast. And many distilleries put a lot of value on the particulars of their yeast. Wilderness Trail Distillery is one of those that really talk up the importance of their yeast and the role it plays in flavor.  

Wilderness Trail Distillery, located in Danville, Kentucky, got started in 2006. It was founded by Shane Baker and Pat Heist. Wilderness Trail starts with a sweet mash, which you can read about that here, that is fermented with a proprietary yeast. They have three stills in total: those are a 250-gallon hybrid pot still with 16-plate rectification columns, and 18-inch and 36-inch continuous column stills. They then age their spirits in 53-gallon barrels from Independent Stave Company that are toasted and given a #4 char. 

I’m going to get a bit into the technical side of yeast. Yeast is necessary for the production of alcohol. It breaks down sugars and creates heat, CO2, and alcohol. While yeast is everywhere, most alcohol is made with a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. And while most commercial yeast is manufactured in a lab, there are some exceptions that are harvested from the “wild.”

What does yeast do for flavor? Well, there is some debate on that topic. Most distilleries in Scotland and Ireland would tell you it doesn’t matter, while many American and Japanese distillers go to great lengths to control their use of yeast and what strain they have. They often even have backups in offsite storage. To settle the debate of what yeast provides, look no further than Four Roses Distillery. They utilize multiple yeast strains that provide different base flavor notes. They then use those to blend their signature bottles, or create unique releases for their single barrel pick program. 

So what about Wilderness Trail Distillery’s yeast? While they don’t get into specifics of source or what specific flavor notes they believe their yeast provides, they do talk a bit about its history. They make a point of calling back Shane’s family history with his grandparents meeting at the Kentucky River Distillery in their youth and later retiring from Stitzel-Weller after 50 years in the industry. They claim this history provides them with some special yeast strains, but that they also cultivated their own over several years that were combined to create their proprietary strain used in their whiskey today. 

Wilderness Trail Distillery Settlers Select Rye Whiskey review

Wilderness Trail Distillery Settlers Select Rye Whiskey (image via Ian Arnold/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Wilderness Trail Distillery Settlers Select Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: This is a Kentucky straight rye whiskey, it is single barrel and barrel proof. It was put in the barrel at 50% ABV and bottled at 52.77% ABV. Distilled from 56% rye, 33% corn, and 11% malted barley. Barrel number 16L21Q.

Appearance: This is amber and burnt orange in color and has slow long legs.

Nose: I smell banana, caramel, and black pepper with subtle notes of allspice and clove.

Palate: There is an overall sweetness throughout this. I get a lot of caramel and toasted oak on the front. This transitions to a leathery spice at the mid-palate. The finish leaves my mouth dry with a slight astringency. The addition of water brings out a number of flavors I didn’t get straight out of the bottle. I get a hint of menthol right before the finish, which has lemon balm accompanied with a slight vegetal quality.

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