Musicians and booze have long gone together, and in the last few years acts from the Pogues to Drake have put their names on whiskey bottles. This year, Bob Dylan joins them with his own brand, Heaven’s Door, beginning with a seven-year-old bourbon, a “double-barreled” American whiskey and a rye finished in French Vosges oak barrels.
Mr. Dylan and his team don’t make the whiskey; they buy it from undisclosed producers and add their own twists before bottling. When I recently sampled the three variations of Heaven’s Door, I was curious about what, if anything, set it apart from other notable whiskeys. Here’s what I found.
Straight Tennessee Bourbon
On the nose, this is a classic, no-fuss bourbon, though with more oak-derived notes — think caramel, vanilla and wood char — than you’d expect from a seven-year-old. I also smelled sandalwood, leather and linseed oil. And there’s a creamy cola note that suggests a good bit of rye in the mash bill. (Mr. Dylan and his team say they use just 70 percent corn, leaving a lot of room for other grains to show their influence.) The palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball. My favorite of the bunch.
Double Barrel Whiskey
More restrained than its stable mates, the Double Barrel — in which different whiskeys have been blended and further aged together in another cask — smells of cake batter, fresh berries and children’s cough syrup; as it develops in the glass, its nose turns darker and woodier, with a hint of sweet fortified wine lurking in the background. It tastes surprisingly astringent and medicinal, given the nose, with a thin mouthfeel and notes of tobacco, allspice and wood smoke, resolving in ground pepper. The wood influence on this one is strong, perhaps too much, but it would make a nice substitute for a rye in a manhattan.
Straight Rye Whiskey
Most rye whiskey on the market these days is made at a distillery in southern Indiana called Midwest Grain Products, then sold to brands like George Dickel and Bulleit. Some brands then “finish” the whiskey by placing it in a used or new barrel to give it a twist — in this case, the rye goes into toasted Vosges oak barrels, which are often used to age pinot noir. Heaven’s Door doesn’t reveal where its rye comes from, but its nose is rich with MGP’s trademark dill and herbal notes. There’s also a sweet grassiness, cocoa powder, tobacco and a slap of leather. It opens deceptively smooth on the palate, but builds to a sweet spiciness before finishing with a burst of spicy, bittersweet chocolate.
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