When someone recently mentioned a Nashville distillery I hadn’t heard of, I was worried that I wasn’t keeping up with the local spirits news. Then I discovered that Hard Truth Distillery Co. is actually based in Nashville, Ind. — not Tennessee. Phew!
Founded in 2015, Hard Truth released its first brown liquor in late 2020 with a straight whiskey, a bourbon and a wheated whiskey, so they’re still relatively new to the market. So far, rye seems to be the distillery’s sweet spot, literally, since they produce it with a sweet mash method instead of the popular sour mash option.
Distilling rye in the state of Indiana is a bold move, because industry giant MGP is well known for the thousands of barrels of excellent rye that they produce in Lawrenceburg, Ind., and it’s pretty much the industry standard. To help themselves stand out, Hard Truth has decided to experiment a bit with the malted barley and rye grains in their latest limited release products, and the results are noteworthy,
The 2022 Hard Truth Master Distiller’s Reserve Collection consists of three products, a Chocolate Malt, a Caramel Malt and a Malted Rye version of their rye whiskey. “Chocolate” and “caramel” describe how long the malted barley has been roasted to bring out new notes in the grain. Chocolate gets the longest time in the kiln, roasting until very dark and releasing the sort of coffee and cocoa character you might see in a porter beer. Caramel malt spends about half as much time in the roaster as chocolate, imparting subtler toffee flavors to the grain. The malted rye product is unique in that it uses a combination of regular rye and rye that has been allowed to sprout (this is what “malted” means), and then dried in a kiln. The grains are blended to become part of the mash bill of the final spirit.
Each of these spirits was blended from an extremely small batch of barrels — only enough to offer a couple thousand bottles in all their markets. Fortunately, Tennessee is one of those lucky markets.
The two roasted barley ryes both get a lovely, dark, sherry-red color from the malted grains, and the espresso and dark chocolate notes come through on both the nose and the tongue. Of the two, I preferred the Caramel over the Chocolate by just a skosh, but the darker Chocolate rye does make for an incredible Manhattan when combined with Carpano Antica and a few shakes of Angostura bitters.
The Malted Rye Sweet Mash Rye Whiskey stands out as a 100 percent rye whiskey, showcasing the grain in a way that few distilleries would ever try to attempt. Even in a high-rye product, distilleries usually have to add at least 5 percent of barley to the recipe to provide the enzymes that get the yeast going to start the fermentation process. The good news is that sprouting the rye grain also allows for some of those enzymes to come into play, but I imagine they might also add extra enzymes, a common practice in distilling.
The result of this experimentation is a lovely, fruity rye whiskey with spice and hints of buttery toffee. Normally, a rye whiskey with such a high rye content would be dominated by winter spices like nutmeg and anise, but the addition of the malted rye and time spent in barrels has softened this product to make it eminently sippable. As it opens up in a snifter, the spice gives way to soft vanilla and butterscotch, which I found delightful.
All three of these ryes retail for about $90 a bottle, but for something rare that demonstrates the ingenuity of a young distillery, these are definitely worth snagging if you happen to see them on the shelf at your favorite spirits store.