Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New Tennessee Whiskey, Cumberland Cask, Hits the Market

Posted By on Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 8:22 AM

Tennessee whiskey is hotter than a two-dollar pistol right now. Jack Daniel's has recently announced a major expansion to their production facility in Lynchburg and Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Bourbon has begun to show up on liquor store shelves and bar menus. Although Carey Bringle will vehemently remind you that it is a Tennessee straight bourbon, not a whiskey, his new product is quickly earning fans all over town.

Now Nashvillian Jason Eskind has released his own new Tennessee whiskey in the form of two new products under the brand Cumberland Cask. While he's being a little cagey as to the exact source of his mash, Eskind's new whiskey is a fine addition to the stable. In truth, outside of some small artisan micro-distilleries, there are only about five companies that produce most of the whiskey you see in liquor stores, so a lot of the differentiation between brands revolves around packaging, marketing, maturation processes and blending. Eskind has done a good job on all accounts.

Cumberland Cask comes in two different versions, an 80 proof Modern Expression that is slightly sweet thanks to a high percentage of corn in its mash bill, but still with some nice spicy rye notes. At around $30 per bottle, Modern Expression is a fine choice for cocktails or sipping by itself. Even more interesting to me is the 120 proof Barrel Cut, an unfiltered blend of the same six-and-a-half- and eight-and-a-half-year old whiskeys that are used to make up the Modern Expression.

Cask strength whiskeys are not necessarily everyone's cup of tea; 110-plus proof products like Booker's and Wild Turkey Rare Breed can be a little bit hot for most folks' palates, but fans say the lack of dilution showcases more of the effects of the barrel maturation and are a truer expression of the distiller's talent. Personally, I usually find myself cutting these high-alcohol whiskeys with a little more water when I drink them, so I probably end up with a glass that is closer to the standard 80-90 proof than what the producer might have intended.

But Cumberland Cask is a surprisingly smooth drinking whiskey for 120 proof. At roughly $40 per bottle, it's actually priced without a premium when you analyze alcohol by volume, which is unusual for a high-proof offering. In fact, it drinks so smoothly that it should probably come with a warning label to remind you that you're getting a third more buzz per glass — pace yourself accordingly.

Packaging is important in the retail world, and Eskind has designed a very and attractive striking bottle. The wine bottle shape echoes the packaging of the popular Eagle Rare, and a bold graphic of a map of Tennessee reminds you exactly where this whiskey is distilled, aged and bottled. Nashville's SPEAKeasy Spirits is handling the bottling, so it seems like just about all of the revenue involved in production, bottling and distribution will stay here in the Volunteer State.

Several bars have already picked up Cumberland Cask (you can find the growing list here), and liquor store owners lined up to try it out and place orders at the recent Best Brands trade show. If you've had the opportunity to taste Cumberland Cask, share your impressions here in the comments.

While some may question why we need more products from essentially the same producers, I would counter that if the auto manufacturers hadn't continued to innovate and release new models with unique designs over the years, we'd all still be driving Model T's. It's through experimentation and marketing efforts like Belle Meade Bourbon, Peg Leg and Cumberland Cask that the market will continue to grow, with the bonus that these products help to point the spotlight on Tennessee. As Martha would say, "That's a good thing."

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