Developing a world-class bourbon requires an individual who possesses tremendous skill, a sommelier-like palate and plenty of patience. In addition the whiskey maker needs the ability to blend various barrels of whiskey to create something that's more than the sum of its parts. It's not a job for the faint at heart.
Which brings us to the subject of this review, artisanal Breaker Bourbon Whisky. It's an Olympic-caliber whisky created by Stephen Gertman, founder of Ascendant Spirits, which is the first licensed distillery since Prohibition to legally produce whiskey at their micro-distillery located in Santa Barbara, California.
Stephen Gertman has always been transparent that the bourbon currently being bottled has been sourced from a few different distilleries while he continues to distill and age bourbon in Santa Barbara. The bourbon is twice distilled from a mash bill comprised of a majority of Midwestern corn, and lesser percentages of rye and malted barley. The spirits are barreled in new American white oak barrels for a minimum of 5 years. Once back at Ascendant Spirits the unique diurnal temperature fluctuating environment helps accelerate the aging and mellowing process until the master distiller hand sorts through the many casks taking note of each barrel's unique characteristics. Eventually the master distiller narrows the lot to a small batch of no more than 8 barrels. The barrels are then blended and the whiskey bottled at 45% alcohol (90 proof).
The Breaker Bourbon is a genuinely beautiful whiskey, one certainly deserving its double gold medal awarded by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The bourbon has a burnished copper color, a medium-weight, satiny textured body and an enticing bouquet of caramel, vanilla bean, honey, anise and spice. Its entry is warm and hospitable, followed closely by a burst of flavor, a divinely inspired array of dessert-like flavors that seem to come to the forefront, and then slowly fade away only to be replaced with another equally enchanting confection. Its palate is thoroughly satisfying and the lingering fade is spicy and delicious. The judges at the SFWSC made the right call.
The ultra-classy brand recently expanded its range with the introduction of two limited release expressions. The first is Breaker Wheated Bourbon Whisky, which is crafted by replacing the rye in its mash bill with wheat. It, too, is pot distilled twice and aged in new, deeply charred American white oak barrels for a minimum of 5 years. The wheat's impact on the whiskey is immediate and profound.
Breaker Wheated Bourbon, 90-proof, has a reddish/amber appearance, a medium, velvety smooth body and a floral, slightly smoky bouquet. The longer the whiskey is allowed to breathe, the more of its alluring aromatics come to the forefront. Its broad palate features the flavors of toffee, anise, mocha, caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg. The lingering finish is soft and thoroughly satisfying. Overall, it's an accessible and delectable whiskey.
The third and final player in the Breaker trio is Breaker Bourbon Whisky Port Barrel Finished. It's a lovely, sophisticated spirit with an astonishing breadth of character. Be prepared to be seriously impressed. Technically, this expression is the same bourbon whisky described above made with the added step of being finished in port wine barrels sourced from nearby wineries. The secondary aging provides more layers of flavor and considerably deepens its aromatic signature.
The port-finished whiskey has a rich, reddish tinged appearance, a luscious, medium-weight body and a generous bouquet of vanilla bean, toffee and port-induced aromas. Its aromatics make it well worth the price of admission. The entry is gentle and inviting. On the palate the whiskey is a sumptuous offering of bakery-like flavors and a splash of port wine on the remarkably long finish.
Located in the Santa Rita Hills, the Ascendant Spirits Distillery counts among its neighbors Terravant Winery on one side and the Figueroa Mountain Brewery on the other. The distillery's roster of innovative spirits premise also includes a traditional 100% corn whiskey dubbed Semper Fi (111 proof), American Star Vodka, a sleek, suave spirit which is 5X distilled rigorously filtered for ultimate purity and Calyx Gin, which earned a double gold and "Best Gin of Show" honors at the 2016 SFWSC.
All of our futures should be so bright.