Corsair Triple Smoke, 40%, $45
Darek Bell and his partners at the Corsair Artisan distillery in Nashville have been swinging hard since they opened, rolling out one new whiskey after another. There are craft brewers who put out fewer beers in a year than Corsair does whiskeys. Rasputin, Nashville, Quinoa, Wry Moon, Pumpkin Spice Moonshine, Ryemageddon, 100% Rye…and our Artisan Whiskey of the Year, Triple Smoke.
Bell will try just about anything when it comes to distilling: “Creativity is free,” he says. He’s written a book about it, Alt Whiskeys, that covers the gamut of that creativity: alternative grains, yeasts, hops, spices, and smoke, the whole bag of brewers’ tricks, really. Bell touches on several ways to get smoke into whiskey in the book, and uses multiple smoked grains in Triple Smoke.
Triple Smoke uses three batches of malt: one each smoked with peat, cherrywood, and beech. The peat is the Scottish tradition, the beechwood-smoking will be familiar to fans of smoky German rauchbier, and the cherry is just for fun.
They all come through in the whiskey. The nose is layered, with the rich island peat filling the middle, bacony beechwood curling out from underneath, and more delicate cherry top notes. After a quick rush of juicy malt, you’ll get the peat front and center again, the beech around the edges of the mouth, and the cherry floating above it. Imagine having a sip of Islay whisky with a smoky Bamberg-brewed chaser…and then a light pull on a fine pipe tobacco.
None of that would work if it weren’t for a solidly made malt whiskey providing the framework. That’s what makes Corsair more than a freak show of variety. Anyone can throw grains, smoke, hops, or spices in a fermenter or a still. It takes skill, restraint, and a good palate to make an award-winner out of it. —Lew Bryson
The American Whisky of the Year will be announced tomorrow.