I’ve long admired Appalachian Gap Distillery and their non-traditional approach to spirit production. I love their striking rectangular bottles, which I save and repurpose for some of my at-home projects.
I like that Appalachian Gap has some unusual products in their repertoire, like a Swedish-inspired coffee liqueur and a maple-agave spirit. And I love that their Middlebury, Vermont, distillery is solar-powered. I’m all about sustainability.
Appalachian Gap again takes an unconventional path with its Ridgeline Vermont whiskey. With a mash bill comprising barley (45%), corn (30%), and rye (25%), the whiskey is twice distilled and aged in three different barrels: ex-bourbon, new American oak, and port wine. Each barrel produces a distinct flavor profile, and the distillers prepare batches based on their tastes. Every batch is slightly different.
I find myself feeling conflicted about that approach. In one sense, the production sounds like an ongoing experiment. It’s fascinating that the whiskey touches three different barrels, and that the distillers eschew consistency in favor of the changing shades of an ever-evolving spirit. Another part of me thinks the process sounds like a slapdash affair, mixing and matching different batches and barrels and hoping something good ultimately comes from it.
Ridgeline is aged for two years and bottled at 98 proof, so it’s hot and can be a little rough around the edges.
On the nose: Notes of apple, leather, tobacco, and autumnal spices. A hint of citrus.
On the palate: More spice, along with oak and vanilla.
The Finish: A sharp burn, with big notes of cinnamon.
This is one of the more unusual whiskies I’ve tried. If I encountered Ridgeline in a blind taste test, I’d instantly identify it as a rye, on account of its spicy notes; and yet rye is the smallest component of the mash bill.
Between the three grains and the three barrels, the flavor profile is too busy for me. I had trouble picking out secondary and tertiary flavors, and the finish was a bit much. But an ice cube quickly diminishes the intensity and brings out some tasty caramel notes in the finish.
Deploying Ridgeline in cocktails is a joy, particularly if you relish the trial-and-error process of tweaking a classic recipe or devising your own.
One of the first drinks that came to mind for me was a Boulevardier, a bourbon-based twist on the Negroni. But something in either the Campari or the vermouth brought the Ridgeline’s cinnamon notes to the fore, resulting in a somewhat aggressive cocktail.
But after a few modifications, including swapping Campari for Aperol and adding some orange liqueur, I found myself with a cocktail that’s perfect for easing out of summer and into the cool, comfortable nights of fall. Orange liqueur adds some sweetness and brings out the whiskey’s mild citrus notes, while the Aperol and sweet vermouth make the drink bitter and bold. The name is a nod to the cocktail that inspired it.
— 1 ounce Ridgeline Vermont whiskey
— 1 ounce Aperol
— ½ ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
— ½ ounce orange liqueur (I used the aforementioned house version, but a good triple sec would work well)
— Garnish: Orange twist
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Vieux Carré is one of my favorite cocktails, and while it’s not particularly difficult to make, I’ve never managed to do a truly satisfactory version of it at home. Trust me – I’m perfectly capable of following a cocktail recipe; but for whatever reason, this is one drink that always tastes better when I order it in a bar.
So you can imagine my delight when Ridgeline revealed itself to be something of a missing puzzle piece. The Vieux Carré is traditionally made with rye, so the spicy elements of the Ridgeline serve as an excellent substitute.
— 1 ounce Ridgeline Vermont whiskey
— 1 ounce Remy Martin cognac
— 1 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
— ¼ ounce Bénédictine
— 2 dashes Angostura bitters
— 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
— Garnish: Lemon twist
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over one large ice cube. Express lemon oil over drink and garnish with lemon twist.
There’s a lot going on in Ridgeline Vermont whiskey. I don’t care for it neat, but it’s certainly pleasant on the rocks. With its high proof and unusual flavor profile, Ridgeline can add unexpected dimensions to classic whiskey cocktails, though it may take some trial and error to get the best result. But that seems appropriate for a spirit made by a distillery that values experimentation.
Note: I received a complimentary bottle of Ridgeline Vermont whiskey and opted to use it in a product review. No one from or associated with Appalachian Gap Distillery influenced this content. (Although founder/distiller Lars Hubbard quickly emailed to ensure me that nothing about their process is “slapdash.”)
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