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  • Writer's picturePeter Miles

The Reverend. A Norfolk bourbon

R.D. Wilhelm Distillery: Reverend Spirits Bourbon.

Kicking off their plans for a distillery way back in 2011, restaurateurs Karl Dornemann and Eric Stevens headed down the road towards owning and operating a distillery. Karl worked on obtaining master distiller certifications and after what appears to be much trial and tribulation, Karl received the Federal TTB permit in 2019 and VA ABC approval in 2020. The distillery is in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk, in an area that has a somewhat similar feel to the early days of the now well-established ‘Scott’s Addition’ area of Richmond.

While all this was transpiring, and to create some cash flow, he invested in barrels of contract distilled spirit (made in Florida?) that he originally planned to release as a 2-year-old straight bourbon. But with Covid hitting and hand sanitizer to make, and the ongoing regulatory delays this eventually became 4-year-old whisky before its release, and this is the whisky reviewed here.

As I understand it, their own distilled product should be coming out of the still soon (if it is not already up and running?) and we may be looking at available Norfolk distilled bottlings in about 2 years!

One thing I have found out from following the rise of whisky making in Virginia is that starting a distillery is a challenging adventure and not for the faint of heart. I plan to get down to Norfolk and check it out personally ASAP.

Mash bill: 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley

Batch: Batch # A14, Bottle #108. ABV = 43%.

Matured: Believed to be 48+ months in mixed size American oak barrels, char level 3?.

Cost: $35 / 750ml bottle

(Tasting done against a reference of Four Roses Small Batch, which has a similar mash bill and sells at around the same price)

Color: Yellow Gold: 0.5 (Whisky Magazine scale).

Swirl: Modest but persistent rim with multiple medium sized ‘legs’ dripping quickly down the glass.

Nose: Classic bourbon nose. Very clean, mellow, slightly sweet, some vanilla. In the background there is caramel and hints of apple peel. Just the lightest touch of spice. Pleasant and unassertive.

Taste: Medium viscosity, slightly on the dry side at first, but a strong corn style sweetness develops quickly. Smooth with hints of orchard fruit in the background. The heat builds very gradually in combination with the rye spice and some oak, and reaches a satisfying peak, without getting too sharp or fiery.

Finish: Pretty quick finish with hints of caramel and sweet sponge cake.

Verdict: For a four-year-old this is a very smooth, balanced and refined high rye bourbon. Easy to drink, with nothing there not to like. Do I prefer this over the Four Roses? Yes I do. It is both smoother and cleaner, albeit with somewhat less of that rye spice kick.

(Want to do a tasting of some Virginia Bourbons? Contact me through this website!)

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