In Japan, rice whiskey has been a style that distilleries have been making for years, but in America this category is still relatively unknown. Despite that, Louisiana distillery J.T. Meleck is hoping you’ll put down the bourbon for a second and give rice whiskey a try.
According to the TTB (the branch of the federal government responsible for overseeing alcohol), whiskey is a spirit distilled from a fermented mash of grain. So despite the fact that most whiskey made in America is bourbon, which must be made from at least 51 percent corn, rice whiskey certainly meets the legal definition. J.T. Meleck specializes in rice spirits, which makes sense considering the amount of rice that is grown in Louisiana. The distillery first started making rice vodka back in 2018, but now there’s a 100 percent American Rice Whiskey that’s entirely a grain-to-bottle Louisiana product.
“With our new American Rice Whiskey, we are offering our best, ready for you to share with family and friends this holiday season,” said Mike Frugé, founder and owner of Frugé Spirits, in a statement. “We were patient in our process to release a rice whiskey that was the best it could be, authentic to our Louisiana brand and true to our family’s story. We’re giving what we have directly to you; we hope you enjoy it.” The whiskey is distilled in a copper column still, aged for nearly five years in full-size, 53-gallon American oak barrels and bottled at 96 proof. Tasting notes describe butterscotch, caramel and dark chocolate on the palate with a hint of spice along for the ride as well.
Although Japanese rice whisky has been around for some time, it does have its detractors. There are some who look at it as basically a high-proof shochu, which it arguably is. But brands and distilleries like Kikori, Ohishi and Fukano have been elevating the production and barrel aging process to really give it the characteristics a discerning whiskey drinker is looking for in terms of complexity, mouthfeel, palate and nose. There are a few other American brands making rice whiskey, such as Burlock and Barrel in Florida, but overall this is still a very new category and it remains to be seen how the general whiskey drinking public will respond.
J.T. Meleck previously released a version of Founder’s Edition that was aged for four years in smaller 30-gallon barrels. This whiskey, in a run of less than 1,000 bottles, sold out in December of 2021. The new version will be available in Louisiana and Arkansas at select retailers for $47, and should be available year-round going forward.