Whiskey Review: Yellow Bird Tennessee Whiskey

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by St. Killian Importing. 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.

Canaries, a famously bright and colorful songbird native to Macaronesian Islands (Azores, Madeira, and of course the Canary Islands) were used as sensitive alarms to encroaching poison in coal mines. Before oxygen purification or electronic sensors, minors relied on the small sensitive bird to alert the miners to danger. The life of a canary was generally brutish and short; living in a small cage Canaries would go deep into the mines and chirp as the miners dug. If the chirping stopped, the miners knew to evacuate as poison was likely seeping into the mining area. An important, albeit tragic, life for the little bird.

The last canary retired from coal mining service in 1986, replaced by the “electronic nose.” Ronald Reagan was president, the New York Mets would win the world series, and miners lost an icon. Tennessee has a rich and vibrant history. In the “Volunteer” state, whiskey is a legacy that runs about as deep as the coal. In Appalachia, there has always been whiskey and coal.

We turn to explore a new domestic whiskey from St. Killian importing; a four-year-old Tennessee whiskey aptly named Yellow Bird. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the Imports Manager for St. Killian, Sarah Sercia. As a company, St. Killian has a large portfolio of beer, tequila, and Scotch. Sarah said she believes that “to be a well-rounded organization, St. Killian needed a domestic whiskey, which would provide greater access to talk domestic brands with suppliers and retailers.”

Working with the VP of Wine and Spirits, Sarah says, “we created our own blend with a proprietary mash bill from Tennessee Distilling Group. With Yellow Bird I got to put ‘my stamp’ on the portfolio.” TDG allows their customers to really get into the weeds with their whiskey by the barrels, mash bills, age, and even level of char. This allowed Sarah and St. Killian greater control over the final product.

Ultimately a four-year-old, charcoal filtered straight Tennessee whiskey aged in #4 char casks was selected as Yellow Bird. The easy part was over. They had a whiskey to sell, but St. Killian did not have domestic whiskey market recognition. Sara asked, “how do you tie history to a label that only just began?” With a Tennessee whiskey and a desire to pay homage to the owner, Yellow Bird was born.

As it happens St. Killian is owned by Gerald Sheehan, an avid bird lover according to Sarah. Tying their whiskey to the history of coal mining in Tennessee, Sarah was able to create a name and label which felt connected to hundreds of years of history, despite being a new concept.

The last, albeit crucial step, was to generate a label. Working with a designer for another St. Killian brand, Reyes Agave, Sarah and her team developed the Yellow Bird label. An unusually bright label with sky blues, canary yellows, deep greens, and reds, the Yellow Bird bottle stands out from other items on the shelf. “We wanted to draw your eye around the bottle, to see all the key elements: 90 proof, 4 years old, Tennessee Straight Whiskey. In fact, if you look in the green leaves just to the right of the medallion that says ‘45%’ you can see the initials of the owner, GVS”

Yellow Bird did one more thing with this new product. “We want to give back.” St. Killian donates $1 for every bottle sold to the National Audubon Society. Yellow Bird as a bottle only hit retail shelves within the last year with distribution that is not nationwide — yet. But Sarah and her team have big plans for the small bird. “We want to release private barrels, single and barrel proofs, higher age statements, really expand its range. As the brand grows, we also hope to increase how much we can give, that’s an important goal as well.”

St. Killian knows this whiskey is young and knows it isn’t perfect, yet. They recommend trying the whiskey neat to start before opening it with an ice cube or some water. They have several whiskey cocktails on their website. Sarah recommends the Espresso Martini or Arnold Palmer.

I had a great time talking about Yellow Bird with Sara and St. Killian. I found the charitable purpose to the whiskey admirable, and something that sets them apart. In February (backyard bird feeder month) St. Killian hosted several bars to create cocktails with their whiskey, and those proceeds were donated to local avian charities.

Whether or not Yellow Bird has staying power or will go the way of the canary in the coal mine is anyone’s guess. They have a tie to history and they have a beautiful bottle; however, what will keep them around is what’s in the bottle, and with that we turn to the glass.

Yellow Bird Tennessee Straight Whiskey review

Yellow Bird Tennessee Straight Whiskey (image via Charles Steele/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Yellow Bird Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Vital Stats: Tennessee Straight Whiskey. 90 proof. MSRP $34.99.

Appearance: Copper.

Nose: At first blush we have alcohol vapor greeting our sinuses; it’s young, so this is to be expected. However, once our senses adjust, we are welcomed to orange citrus, bright wildflowers, clover, and white sugar. The #4 char and oak barrels make a subtle backdrop to the floral notes as the smells fade. It is pleasant given the age of this whiskey.

Taste: The whiskey is smooth across the tongue, although a little watery for my taste. The mouthfeel is more sophisticated than it should be given the age, but still consistent for a new whiskey. We begin the banquet with baking spices and coffee acidity, before mellowing into black cherries and the citrus from the nose.

Towards the finish we have the oak char and lingering caramel sweetness from the sugar maple charcoal filtering iconic to Tennessee whiskey. There is a sharp warmth to the chest, nothing worthy of a bad country song, but a reminder this is whiskey. On the exhale a wisp of cigar smoke emerges before disappearing. The finish is short and light.

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