Whiskey

Detroit City Distillery: Smoke and Oak Series

A trio of toasted barrel expressions - each with their own identity.

The Story

It seems that toasted barrel expressions are all the rage these days – and for good reason. They tend to impart some really great flavors: Toasted oak and light smoke, reminiscent of a campfire, and can even sometimes giving off a marshmallow-like note (maybe this is just a mental connection, who knows). For us, toasted barrel expressions seem light on the palate and delicately enjoyable, so we tend to grab them when we can. We’ve had the pleasure of trying the Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel before trying this set, which gave us a good frame of reference going into the Smoke and Oak Series.

We’re not going to try and hide it…we love Detroit City Distillery. As a Michigan-based company we always like to root for the home team(s) and so we love to support the distilleries that call ‘the Mitten’ home. That all said, we always stick to our guns in creating a fair and impartial review because our first loyalty is to our audience and making sure we spread the word about great bourbon by telling you our honest opinions.

DCD recently came out with a ‘Shutdown Barrel Bourbon’, which was a barrel-proof expression and it was really, really good. The caliber of whiskey / bourbon leaving their building is increasingly getting more and more innovative and we’ve been lucky in the past year to see them focusing so much on whiskey specifically, when they have so many other spirits they’re producing as well. I think the Smoke and Oak Series is a way for them to plant themselves deeper into the bourbon scene and start to show the whiskey community in general what they can produce.

For the Smoke and Oak Bourbon Series, there are three 375ml bottles, each 100 proof, and they have been given the following personas and notes from the distillery:

The Meat Man

Distillery story:

Meet the Meat Man… He’s a living legend who slings beef by the ton and drinks bourbon by the barrel. He only plays when the stakes are high and he always takes the biggest cut. This ain’t no basic butcher, this bad boy is prime.

Distillery tasting notes:

The perfect cut of bourbon that balances sweet, smoke and spice. The aroma of smoked cherry wood highlights a big-time sweetness of candied apple, raspberry and tamarind on the nose. A classic buttery body of caramel, almond and oak leads to a long, spicy finish with subtle smoke. High rye heat elevates notes of nutmeg and pink peppercorn while dried tobacco leaves burn slow and deep in your chest.

Distillery barrel notes:

A blend of sweet, smoky and spicy toasted white oak barrels from Independent Stave Company of Kentucky with a heavy dose of high toast cherry wood smoked barrels from Croze Nest Cooperage of Michigan.

The Thief

Distillery story:

Femme fatale, Isma Martin was particularly skilled at stealing large quantities of Detroit diamonds. Sticky fingers say you better watch your stash before it goes up in smoke.

Distillery tasting notes:

A bourbon with an intoxicating aroma and a silky, spicy body that disappears before you know it. An exotic nose entices with notes of plum, buckwheat honey and floral red rose. High rye character reveals a spice-forward body with notes of cinnamon, lemon zest and cardamom. The finish strikes fast and leaves you high and dry, with big oak and leather that goes straight to your head.

Distillery barrel notes:

A six-barrel blend of extra high-rye bourbon with a focus on smoke and spicy oak cut barrels from Kentucky and Michigan.

The Gangster

Distillery story:

Meet the Gangster… The notorious Eddie Fletcher was the Purple Gang’s most feared gunman and skilled bootlegger. The boxer turned gangster delivered bold hits and made booze big business. Just remember who calls the shots.

Distillery tasting notes:

If a bourbon was a boxer, you’d place your bet on this big, bold hitter. It leads with a dark, smoky nose of black cherry, kettle corn and swisher sweets. The ultra-rich body highlights chocolate caramel, macadamia nut and brown butter. It closes with a complex finish of smoked sea salt, new Italian leather and a bold strike of legendary rye.

Distillery barrel notes:

A special introduction of lightly wheated, high rye bourbon aged in a custom “wavy” cut barrel from Independent Stave Company of Kentucky that introduces whiskey to the spectrum of oak characteristics from raw oak to heavy toast.

Very interesting descriptions here, so let’s crack these open and see how they stack up!

The three 375ml expressions of the Smoke and Oak Series: The Butcher, The Thief and The Gangster.

The Review

The Meat Man

Nose:

Right away you get sweet notes – caramel and cherry and white sugar, which gives way to deeper and bolder scents of leather and oak.

Palate:

This one definitely feels bolder than the other two expressions, hitting you first with white sugar sweetness and quickly transitioning to pepper spice and oaky dryness. It’s certainly higher on the rye and that shines through. On the finish, the smokiness shows up most prominently with the lingering spice, tobacco and leather notes.

Overall:

For an 100-proof expression this does have a nice, bold flavor. Mid-palate we detected some grain notes which we usually attribute to younger expressions, but that was quickly replaced with the spiciness and smoke, leather and tobacco notes. It’s definitely a unique expression that packs a decent amount of flavor.

The Thief

Nose:

We got a lot of sweet notes throughout on this one – starting on the nose. We got buttercream frosting, corn notes and caramel.

Palate:

Definitely one of those bottles that tastes how it smells! It was really sweet but we liked that transition from the Meat Man bottle which was a blast of spicy after the initial sweetness. That’s not to say that this didn’t have spicy notes; we detected some very light baking spices and cardamom. But for being a high-rye, we were surprised at how much sweetness seemed to come through as opposed to spice. Upfront, it’s frosting and Funfetti cake (which was really delicious and surprising) with caramel. In the mid-palate, it’s baking spice and cardamom and the end has that touch of smoke, oak and leather but with a nice surprise – a floral note that seems to linger as well.

Overall:

Wow, this one is certainly unique and because of that, maybe our favorite of the three expressions. It’s so richly sweet which is a great transition from the high-rye expression we had in The Meatman. We personally have not had an expression that tastes like cake (and if someone has some OF Birthday Bourbon, please share) so this was a delightful surprise for us.

 

The Gangster

Nose:

A bit grain-forward on the nose – mostly corn, but with notes of cherry, syrupy sweetness and toasted marshmallow.

Palate:

Just like The Thief, we found a lot of the notes we had detected on the nose for this expression. Marshmallow sweetness, toasted oak, and leather. Black cherry hits mid-palate with some dry rye notes. The finish is actually really nice as it maintains those leather, smoky and toasty notes and adding pepper spice and soy sauce to the mix.

Overall:

This bottle was more on the sweeter side than the spicy side. I kinda feel like the set went kind of in a ‘Goldilocks’ fashion – this one being right smack dab in the middle. It had the rye spiciness along with a fair amount of sweetness but not as much as The Thief, and not as spice-forward as The Meatman. It was a bit ‘softer’ than the other two, which we would attribute to having some wheat in the mashbill, which rounded it out nicely.

Verdict

Bottom line is, this is a cool set.

With all three bottles, you’ll be getting those great toasted notes along with leather and smoke. I really liked the way they gave ‘personas’ to each bottle which reflected the notes of each particular expression. It just kicks up the interest factor that much more. While we are not going to give these bottles each their own unique rating, we will say that we liked ‘The Thief’ the most, followed by ‘The Gangster’ and finally, ‘The Meatman’. Because the first two had more unique flavors, we tended to enjoy them more, while The Meatman had more straightforward notes but with a more bold flavor overall.

This set runs $100 for three-375ml bottles, so it’s not the cheapest set you can grab. That said, we felt like it was money well spent and is a really cool item that we will want to share with family and friends to properly introduce them to Detroit City Distillery.

Meet the author
Homebar staff member
Kevin
Kevin is the founder of Homebar.io. His enduring love for trying out different cocktail recipes and home bartending for friends is what led him to create Homebar. In addition to being a (very) amateur mixologist, he’s also a huge whiskey enthusiast and bottle collector. When he’s not voraciously learning about spirits and cocktail-making techniques, you can find him spending time with his family and his Golden Retriever, Molson.

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