The Mayerson JCC sponsored a virtual whiskey-tasting on Thursday, Mar. 4, with New Riff Distilling, a craft distillery located in Newport, KY. The program featured Mollie Lewis, sales director of New Riff, and Jay Dickerson, New Riff’s cocktail expert.

Approximately fifty registered participants had been supplied with a bag containing a 200ml bottle each of New Riff’s Bottled in Bond Bourbon  and Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey, two Glencairn glasses, and two recipe cards for cocktails

 The program began with information about the distillery and its products, proceeded to a guided tasting, followed by demonstration and instructions for making the cocktails, and ended with a lively question and answer period.

New Riff Distilling was founded in 2014 by Ken Lewis, former owner of The Party Source, which he sold to the employees to fund his passion project of distilling Kentucky spirits. The name of the company refers to their desire to respect the traditions of Kentucky distilling while doing “a new riff” — their interpretations and innovations within those traditions.

Some of New Riff’s unusual choices include the use of the aquifer over which the facility is built of mineral-rich alluvial water from the limestone hills of Kentucky. “Hard” water makes whiskey with greater depth of flavor.

New Riff also bottles their spirits without chill filtration, which they believe reduces the mouth feel and flavor of the whiskey. They buy their corn from a single Kentucky farmer, and both their corn and rye are non-GMO. They also disclose their “mash bill” — the mix of grains in each spirit — on the bottles, in the interest of transparency. New Riff uses rye rather than wheat, for a spicier flavor, in the mash bill for their bottled in bond bourbon, which was the first whiskey in the tasting

Mollie Lewis (no relation to the owner/founder) guided the tasting. Participants were instructed in how to taste whiskey: one does not put one’s nose as close to the glass as with wine, as it would be overpowering at that distance; the whiskey should be tasted neat first, and then with a drop of water to open up the flavors.

Bourbon and Rye whiskeys sold as “bottled in bond” are by regulation aged four years in barrels; Bourbon must be aged in new American oak barrels, in contrast to Scotch that is aged in used sherry barrels. “Bottled in bond” must also be exactly 100 proof; the barrels mixed to form a “bottled in bond” blend must all be from a single season, and all bottled in (another) single season; New Riff, again in the interest of transparency, puts both dates on their bottles.

The tasting of the rye followed the same procedures as the bourbon: a sniff, then a straight sip, then with a drop of water. Rye is inherently more aggressive than bourbon; Lewis characterized it as an acquired taste for many people. New Riff’s rye whiskey is a hundred percent rye (five percent malted rye), in contrast to many distilleries that mix corn and/or malted barley in their mash bills for rye whiskeys.

Dickerson then guided participants in making two cocktails. The basic definition is a combination of a spirit, some form of sugar, and bitters. For the first, which he called a New Fashioned (the New Riff’s variation on an Old Fashioned), he prefers bourbon, although it can also be made with rye. Dickerson also prefers simple syrup to muddled sugar, the other choice for sweetening this cocktail, He uses orange bitters, and discussed garnishes — citrus peel and/or a Luxardo cherry, and taught the participants how to make an orange-peel rose.

For the second cocktail, which Dickerson characterized as a Perfect Manhattan, he chose the rye whiskey. He again guided the participants through every step of the process, commenting on each of his choices and preferences in the procedure.

An extended question and answer session closed the program. New Riff products are available for curbside pickup and can also be delivered to addresses in Ohio. 

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