Classification: Straight Rye Finished in Margaux Barriques Casks
Company: Coalition Whiskey, Inc.
Distillery: Kentucky Artisan Distillery
Release Date: January 2021
Age: NAS (Press release states 5 years with additional up to 9 months of finishing)
Mashbill: 90% Rye, 10% Malted Rye
Color: Deep Amber
MSRP: $90 (2021)
Coalition Whiskey was formed by three whiskey fans, with the idea to marry whiskey and wine by finishing whiskey in the best wine barrels they could find in Bordeaux, France. They hand-selected 25 casks and sourced whiskey from Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Kentucky. The rye was distilled in a copper pot still and made from grain a mile from the distillery. Coalition Whiskey’s first three finished whiskeys include 100% rye whiskey finished in Margaux barriques, Pauillac barriques, and Sauternes barriques.
Currently the bottles are available in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Colorado, and also can be found on the company’s website.
A lavish perfume of dark berries, plum, grapefruit, and a hint of mint act as the welcome party. Rich oak then takes over, which grounds the aroma before a light floral scent moves in. There’s a slight degree of mustiness that is probably the result of the tannins the wine imparted into the barrel. It’s fleeting but noticeable, and probably comes with the territory. Overall, it’s an enjoyable fruit-filled aroma that has more in common with wine than rye.
Dark berries and potent oak get the sip off to an elegant and grounded start. This solid foundation allows ample fruit notes to rise above it. This amalgam of overly ripe strawberry, dark raspberry, black cherry, and Concord grape works quite well, especially against the spice of the rye. Slight creaminess, along with a touch of malt combine to create a great sipping whiskey.
The funky aftertaste that is common in many wine finished whiskeys is unfortunately present here too. It drags down the fruity wit of the palate and leaves a drab taste in your mouth. Neither dry nor sweet, it instead lingers and just is. Focused on black pepper, mild spice, light tobacco, and tannic oak, it’s a disappointing way to end a rather exciting whiskey up to this point.
In the ever-crowded cask finished American whiskey scene, everyone is looking to find a way to stand out. One of the most obvious ways to do this, is to finish in a cask no one has done before (or one very few have). This process seems to have rapidly become a rat race, as a flood of first time finished whiskey have recently come to market, everything from rosé-finished and Nocino-finished, to rum-finished and coffee-finished.
Coalition is claiming they are the first to finish a 100% rye whiskey in Bordeaux casks. Unless you know much about wine, the wealth of different wine finished whiskeys can sometimes blend together and hold little meaning. The fact that Coalition is finished in Margaux casks - a French region that specializes in cabernet sauvignon wines - isn’t what makes it unique, instead the fact that it is a 100% rye whiskey does. This kind of uniqueness is starting to feel a bit granular, but of course you never know if you’ve found a perfect combination of whiskey and finishing cask without diving down the rabbit hole.
What Coalition offers with their Margaux Barriques Finish Rye is a rather elegant whiskey with a keen dark fruit flavor profile that immediately makes an impact. Thanks to its 100% rye mashbill, it forgoes sweetness for spice, and the result is a very fruit-forward whiskey that is far less sweet than many wine finished whiskeys on the market. Coalition has a few unique traits in place with their Margaux Barriques Finish Rye that will help it stand out in a crowded field.
Wine finished whiskeys generally are priced at a premium based on the additional labor, aging time, and cost of procuring the wine barrels. High West set a precedent when they priced their A Midwinter Night’s Dram at $90 in 2014 and many have followed suit since then. Recently, Barton released Thomas H. Moore finished whiskeys for $70, but that was also coming from one of the largest American whiskey companies, and quite frankly one that tends to shoot for a low MSRP relative to the market. With Coalition’s upscale bespoke bottle, sourcing their whiskey, a 100% rye mashbill, and hand-selecting Bordeaux wine barrels from France, these attributes all add to the total cost. Taking all of these at face value, I would have expected this bottle to cost more than their $90 MSRP. But after diving into what the whiskey itself offers and more pointedly, the sip’s flawed finish, it's hard to say this is a great value, let alone an average one. If the whiskey could have stuck its landing, its value proposition would be completely flipped-flopped.
Using 100% rye whiskey finished in Margaux casks is an intriguing idea that adds a great deal of flavor and elegance to Coalition’s base whiskey, unfortunately the sip’s finish lacks the same polish.
There’s a lot that Coalition Straight Rye Margaux Barriques Finish does right, and one thing it falters at. Its 100% rye mashbill is a bold decision that works well and is one of many things that helps this whiskey stand out. Its five year age for its base whiskey is right on the money too. The decision to use Margaux casks not only is a unique selling point for them right now, but the casks also impart a dark fruit-forward flavor profile that works well with its base rye whiskey. It’s also hard not to point out the upscale decanter-style bottle it comes in if you’re into that sort of thing. But the way the whiskey’s sip finishes is the elephant in the room.
Its (up to) nine months finishing time makes its wine cask influence rather commanding, which is all too common for many American finished whiskeys these days. Producers must fear that if someone is purchasing a finished whiskey, there should be no ambiguity in its effect on the base whiskey. As with far too many other wine finished whiskeys, the sip’s finish suffers because of it. It simply falls flat and unfortunately the rye whiskey doesn’t help pick up the slack left by the wine cask finish. It’s not a dealbreaker, but because this whiskey has so much going for it up to that point, the disappointment it creates is amplified. Despite this, Coalition Straight Rye Margaux Barriques Finish still works well as a sipping whiskey regardless of its blemish that is simply hard to ignore.