In writing about whiskey and spirits, “unique” is a word that we probably throw around far too easily. A slightly different flavor profile in that particular bourbon? “Unique.” Finished in a spirits or wine barrel that most aren’t? “Unique.” For as often as we say it, rarely is that word actually earned.
Lazy Guy Distillery deserves that word for their 5th Article 1887 Rye Whiskey, because no other word would be accurate. This small, Kennesaw, GA distillery has created a rye whiskey that is like nothing else I’ve ever tasted, or even heard of. It’s a spirit that is intriguing, bizarre and more or less confounding … but also potentially game-changing. I’ve never written a whiskey review like this before, but that’s only because I’ve never tasted a whiskey like this before.
The main thing that makes 5th Article so strange comes from the mash bill. The majority is naturally rye, but it’s the other grain that is liable to make the heads of distillers (and brewmasters) explode: Chocolate malt. As in, malted barley, roasted to 350 lovibond, to use a bit of brewer’s terminology. What you need to understand here, if you don’t know much about distilling and brewing, is that this type of malted barley is not a distilling grain. No one makes whiskey out of dark roasted malts, not least because they have far fewer fermentable sugars in them. I’ve never even heard of another whiskey using one before, nor had I ever considered the possibility. This is a variety of malt typically used to make dark beer styles such as porter and stout. I’ve used it myself over the years in my own homebrewing to add a dry, nutty, roasted character to those beer styles. But in rye whiskey? That’s craziness.
And indeed, there’s clearly something weird going on as soon as you put your nose near the glass of this 1-year-aged, 100 proof rye. My first tastes were before I knew anything about the chocolate malt, and I admit that it completely threw me for a loop. The nose is intensely nutty, with a coffee-like roast that dominates the proceedings. I was first tasting this in the context of a whiskey festival (yes, there are whiskey festivals) in Atlanta, and I immediately asked the person behind the counter: “Is it just me … or is this roasty?” It’s very much like the character of genuine cacao nibs, if you’ve ever sampled them: Bittersweet, nutty and intense. If you keep going back and smelling it, you also get a bit of caramel and vanilla, but it’s hard to notice when you’re so perplexed by the roastiness.
Naturally, my first immediate thought was that this whiskey HAD TO BE flawed in some way I’d never experienced in a whiskey before. But then I was lucky enough to end up in a conversation with the distiller, who began explaining the presence of the chocolate malt. And I was fascinated: These guys are going for a rye whiskey profile that no one has ever attempted before. It makes this product exceptionally hard to judge, because there’s almost nothing that one might compare it to.
In the glass, 5th Article 1887 pours a dark amber, although it’s not quite as dark as you might expect for something made with these dark roasted malts. That is of course the result of distillation—one needs to remember that the liquid was still clear when going into barrels, despite the darker malt.
On the palate, chocolate reigns. It hits you with a very pure, very bittersweet, unmistakable chocolate character, in a way that is different even from beers that use the same variety of malt. I expect this is because 5th Article uses a much higher percentage of chocolate malt than one could successfully use in any porter or stout, making the varietal character of that malt variety that much stronger. You could call it the “whiskey for chocolate lovers,” but it simultaneously comes with a high degree of booze, bitterness and acridness that makes drinking a significant quantity of it somewhat challenging. It might be more effective if the degree of roast was dialed back a little bit to let more traditional rye whiskey elements of spice and fruit emerge, or perhaps if the proof was a bit lower, but once again it’s hard to judge. Like it or not, you at least have to admit that this whiskey is a trailblazer.
Lazy Guy’s 5th Article is a whiskey I’d like to have in my home for a couple of reasons. I’m not likely to drink large amounts of it neat, but an occasional nip is interesting. It’s the kind of thing I’d really like to share with my friends to get more feedback, and I’d also be really interested to see how it could be applied to cocktails and mixology. With a flavor profile unlike anything else in the whiskey arcana, you could probably build entirely new cocktails around 5th Article 1887, and hopefully I’ll get to try them some day.
Distillery: Lazy Guy Distillery
City: Kennesaw, GA
Style: Rye whiskey
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, Atlanta area
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer and whiskey guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more booze content.