Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sonoma Whiskey Part II: Hooker's House Bourbon

Yesterday I sampled Masterson's Rye from my home town of Sonoma (well, from Canada really, but sold by a company based in Sonoma - hey, it's something). Today, I look at Kentucky bourbon bottled by another Sonoma company and finished in Sonoma wine casks: Hooker's House Bourbon, bottled by Sonoma limoncello makers HelloCello under the name Prohibition Spirits.

Since they use a somewhat provocative name, I should explain that Hooker's House is a Sonoma landmark, the home of Civil War general Joseph Hooker whose fondness for prostitutes led to his name becoming a general term for those practicing the oldest profession. The bottle pays tribute both to the general but also to those namesakes with a female silhouette on the label.

The whiskey is a four year old Kentucky bourbon with a mashbill of 54% corn and 46% rye grain. This is a huge rye content (the highest I've heard of for a bourbon) and not one I've ever heard coming out of one of the Kentucky distilleries. According to the folks at HelloCello, the barrels they bought were part of a pilot project that didn't go forward so the barrels were sold off. The Sonoma angle is that once HelloCello bought the whiskey, they finished it for nine months in pinot noir barrels.

Hooker's House "Sonoma-Style" Bourbon, 50% abv. ($36)

The nose on this is very nice starting sweet and fruity with quickly emerging vegetal rye notes. The palate is quite fruity, with sweet fruit punch as well as some sweet plum. Later in the palate, rye peaks out from underneath and it turns minty, which is typical of strong rye on the younger side.

This is a very nice bourbon. I'm guessing that some of the fruit forward notes are due to the pinot noir casks ageing but you also really pick up on the high rye mashbill; the fruit and spice give it a nice balance. I've been skeptical of wine finished bourbons but this is very drinkable and very nice for the price.

Lately, there have been a lot of affordably priced, very drinkable bourbons being put out by independent bottlers, which is a great trend. So far, this is my favorite of that genre that includes bourbons like Redemption High Rye Bourbon and Breaking & Entering.

Hooker's House is currently only available in California, but they are hoping to expand distribution.


Lazer said...

I won't buy whiskey with an undignified label. Maybe I'm a snob, but I have a wife and children and dignity.

Anyway, I like the blog sku.

sku said...

Lazer, I don't know if you can see from the picture, but the label is actually quite subtle. I didn't mean to overplay it in my post.

Anonymous said...

Odd mash malt in it? Just don't see a distiller doing a 46% rye bourbon - why not add 5% more and call it a rye whiskey? Don't know anyone doing a mash bill higher than 38%. I did have it and it tastes great that just struck me as odd as well as the use of spring water.

Lazer said...

I just mean I won't buy a whiskey with that name, even if it sounds good, which this one does. I just feel that as the most important person in the whiskey industry, me, the consumer, I want my opinion known.

I really like your blog I've been a reader for more than a year, keep up the good work.

p.s, I also won't buy fighting cock because of the name.

Wine Harlots said...

Well, for me the name seals the deal.
But as The Harlot, I guess that's to be expected, no? (I guess Lazarus won't be reading my work any time soon, but I'm of the opinion the Puritans and the not-so-pure can co-exist.)



EricH said...

I just bought a bottle from the K&L store in Redwood City and they told me the whiskey is from LDI. In fact the bottlers weren't aware that LDI is NOT in Kentucky when they printed the labels so the next release will have a revised label.

Fred and Amy Groth said...

Hello, I think there may be some disconnect and inaccuracy floating around that I wanted to address. We are a really small spirits producer (DSP) in Sonoma. I wanted to assure you that we have followed all Federal regulations and requirements for formula and label approval and that "Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Pinot Noir Barrels" is an accurate TTB class\type description on the front panel of what is in the bottle. All other legal references are accurate. I can assure you that we purchased it from a respectable Kentucky distiller but have agreed to non-disclosure which is now part of the story and hype. Please note that the label is somewhat generic. We took this approach because we wanted our brand to be tied to a quality tasting spirit and not an industry name or stereotype. We will be making label changes for future lots only to reflect the specifics of each lot we have been aging. Bottom line is that the product tastes good, is well priced, getting great feedback and following for a small 1200 bottle first lot. Thank you for all the positive feedback!
If you want additional information please contact me through our website Cheers.

Anonymous said...

If you want your name tied to a quality product, make a quality product. This isn't making a quality product, it's taking Bourbon and dumping it into a wine barrel.

If you want to make wine-flavored whiskey, fine. But leave the word Bourbon out of this because it has nothing to do with Bourbon.

Anonymous said...

Christ, here we go again. Another attempt to cash in on the bourbon name without doing the work.

If you're going to make "Wine-barrel-aged whiskey" by all means do so, but leave Bourbon off the label.

The above person from the company goes on about how they want to be tied to a quality product and not stereotyped or gimmicked... and yet they stamp the proud Bourbon tag on something that is clearly NOT Bourbon.

sku said...

d_cypher13, have you tried it? Wine finished bourbons are becoming more common (Big Bottom, Angel's Envy, etc.) and I think we will see more of them.