So many whiskies, so little time. If you’ve perused your favorite bottle shop recently, you’ve probably noticed that the bourbon section is overflowing with bottles of brown stuff. I suppose the sheer volume of bourbon choices today could be overwhelming. Luckily, I have a thirst for America’s signature spirit that rivals my thirst for IPAs; I never get tired of trying new ones, you know, in the name of journalism. Sometimes, all of that backbreaking “research” leads to a gem like Featherbone Bourbon, a complex whiskey that’s hand-crafted in Michigan.
In 2015, that term “hand-crafted” has lost some of its meaning. There are literally lawsuits pending over the definition of the term. I’m not going to delve into the nuances of craft versus crafty here; I’m just gonna say Featherbone definitely falls on the “craft” side of the spectrum. The bourbon is distilled, aged and bottled by Journeyman Distillery, which operates out of an old factory in Three Oaks, Michigan. The hooch is certified organic, using Midwest-grown corn for the majority of the malt bill, along with a bit of Michigan-grown wheat, rye and barley. The bottle is cool, and comes with all of the comforting hallmarks of a handmade product, including a hand-written batch number and bottle number, and a hand-dipped wax cap.
The bourbon itself pours dark, hinting at an advanced age even though there’s no age statement on the bottle. Journeyman’s master distiller, Keith Yoder, has railed against the reliance on age statements for determining quality on his blog. So I don’t know how old this bourbon is, but I’d say it’s old enough.
There’s not much to the nose beyond the sting of alcohol. Thankfully, the taste is far more complex and satisfying. It’s a balanced bourbon, with the requisite notes of caramel and vanilla, but there’s also plenty of spice and pepper, even a little bit of tobacco in there. Featherbone has a nice, round mouthfeel, which you can probably attribute to the use of that Michigan-grown wheat.
And this is all when taken neat. I poured a second glass over a chunk of ice and discovered a completely different whiskey. That thick, round mouthfeel dissipated, as did some of the more enticing characteristics—the caramel was subdued and the tobacco was gone. An entirely different flavor profile stepped forward, dominated by smoky notes (like a single malt whiskey) as well as stone fruit—none of which I detected before adding ice. Like I said, “complex,” like that super hot art major you dated in college that would only eat curry dishes, had nightmares about horses, but loved retro episodes of My Little Pony. Yep. Complex. And fun.
Journeyman produces a bunch of different spirits, from rum to vodka. They put out a couple of different whiskies beyond this bourbon, too—a white whiskey, a couple of single malts and a rye. They even revived George Washington’s original whiskey recipe for their Federalist 12 Whiskey. If Featherbone Bourbon is any indication of the quality that Journeyman is producing, I’m going to make a point to find their other spirits.
Check out this video about Journeyman below.
City: Three Oaks, Michigan