Once again, Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, I have another bourbon-y review for your reading pleasure.
Hilhaven Lodge is a new American whiskey release from Diageo, who have been making a huge push to expand their presence in the booming American whiskey market. This whiskey draws its name from the Hilhaven Lodge in Beverly Hills, a private residence that has been the home and refuge of a number of celebrities and Hollywood personalities since the 1920s. Currently, it’s owned by director Brett Ratner, who licensed its name to Diageo for this whiskey.
The spirit itself is a blend of straight bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskies from varying eras. I suspect that the impetus for this was that Diageo had some stock lying around in their various warehouses that they were hesitant to bottle straight, and wanted to find a good use for it. If so, I don’t have any issue with it – it’s a common enough practice, and can result in some really tasty products.
So how does this whiskey stack up? Well, I found it enjoyable enough, if rather light and inoffensive. It’s only bottled at 40% ABV, so I went into it expecting a gentle dram, and my expectations were certainly met on that front.
Nose: Overall, it’s a very light nose, with hints of tropical fruit. Not really what I typically expect from an American whiskey, but certainly not unpleasant. I get plenty of oranges and almond, along with a little vanilla. There’s also a substantial bit of banana in there, as well as some peach and pineapple. It rounds off with a slight hint of wildflowers and a little honey. The closest closest comparison I can think of would be a light Irish whiskey, or maybe a young Lowland single malt – definitely unexpected from a whiskey that combines the three quintessentially American brown spirits.
Taste: It comes across relatively thin on the tongue, and very gentle. I really don’t get nearly as much vanilla as I do in many straight bourbons or ryes, and almost no caramel, which was surprising. Although this could be a product of the unusual combination of component spirits, to me it suggests very little wood influence, and that the character of the spirit itself is coming through. Supposedly the Tennessee whiskey is from the 1990s and the rye is from the 1980s, so I would expect that the 2000s-era bourbon component is probably pretty young.
Anyway, oranges and orange zest are front and center, coupled with honey and a little ginger. There’s a bit of vanilla toward the middle, but it’s far from dominant. I also get a pronounced amaretto note, along with some banana and peach. There’s a bit of black pepper in there as well. The finish is moderately long, and is filled with toasted almonds all the way down.
I’m always cautious about the effects of adding water to whiskies bottled at 40% ABV, and with how gentle the nose and taste is with this one, I was even more hesitant. But still, for the sake of completeness, I had to try. Sure enough, I came away with the firm impression that this is better sipped neat. Adding even a few drops of water diluted almost all of the tasty floral and fruity notes on the nose, leaving a bit of lemony astringency and some toasted almonds. It also absolutely destroyed the subtle flavors that emerged on the palate, washing away just about everything I found interesting. Yup, this is a dram I think is best served neat.
With the light, floral flavors, I could see this whiskey playing nicely in some refreshing summer cocktails. Unfortunately, being so light, I would be concerned that many of its most interesting notes would disappear among the other, more strongly flavored ingredients (to say nothing of what chilling would do to its already gentle and subtle nature!).
Overall, I found this to be a pleasant enough straightforward sipper. It could be a good dram for someone just starting to get interested in American whiskies, but who’s still hung up on the heavy flavors and alcohol burn common to so many bourbons. I’d also be interested to see what this would be like at a higher strength. It may still not provide the flavors I’m most inclined to look for in a day-to-day sipper, but it has potential, both as something a little different, as a base cocktail ingredient.
Question of the Day: Have you tried Hilhaven Lodge? What are your thoughts on it?
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Hilhaven Lodge, generously provided by Taylor Strategy and Diageo with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.