The Neeley family has been distilling whiskey since the mid-1700s. Royce Neeley’s family tree can be traced back to Ireland until the time they immigrated to the United States. That family tree can account for 11 generations in the distilling business that goes all the way back to his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, James John Neeley.
You might think that after all these years the family would have figured out a better way to make whiskey but in fact the Neeley’s continue many of the methods that have made their whiskey great over the years. The Neeley family prides itself on tradition and stubbornness. Some of the family’s old world secrets include sweet mash, wild yeast harvested by hand, wooden cypress tanks, five-day fermentation runs, as well as double and triple copper pot distillation. It may not be the most efficient way to do things, but the focus is on flavor, not time to market.
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Neeley and his three co-founders Master Blender Jackie Zykan, and Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner of Colorado’s 5280 Whiskey Society make up the team the world now knows as Hidden Barn Whiskey.
The name Hidden Barn pays homage to the black barns that dot the Kentucky countryside. At a time when distilling was a punishable offense, the black stained barns, caused by a naturally occurring microflora that feeds on airborne alcohol, were a giveaway to anyone looking to bust up an illegal distilling operation. In a sign of solidarity and community, Kentuckians would paint all barns black to make the still barns indistinguishable from others.
“It’s something you don’t notice necessarily until someone points it out to you but then you can’t unsee it,” says Master Blender Jackie Zykan. “Historically, there are these sorts of clusters of black barns across Kentucky where they would be hiding distillation operations. Because of the black mold that forms that eats all the ethanol spots form on the outside. It’s very easy to see where booze operations are going on. It’s a dead giveaway. So, they painted their barns black. But then of course if you painted the whole barn black, they know what barns are making whiskey. So, everyone painted their barns black to help protect their whiskey source.”
The four co-founders have announced the release of Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. They say it was made with a spirit of “doing things the hard way” with their first series release – putting process and quality above all else.
“We wanted to produce the kind of whiskey we would be proud to share, we wanted to lift the guardrails and pursue boundless creativity and unmatched quality in our process,” added Zykan. “Hidden Barn whiskies are full of subtlety and nuance, emphasizing quality at every turn and crafted to be shared in the celebration of good friends and good whiskey.”
Before taking on the roll of Master Blender for Hidden Barn, Zykan, known for having one of the most respected palates in American Whiskey, was the Master Taster at Old Forester Distillery for the last seven years. She’s a native of St. Louis, and now calls Louisville, Kentucky home. She has more than 16 years of beverage alcohol industry experience as well as degrees in both biology and chemistry.
Whiskey Made the Hard Way – Small Batch Bourbon
Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey’s first series is comprised of distillate produced at the Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta, Kentucky. In the spirit of doing things the hard way, The Whiskey Made the Hard Way series was fermented using wild yeast and is double pot distilled. It was collected at 127 proof and entered the barrel at 110 proof. The seven barrels represent some of the first lots to mature under the watchful eye of Neeley. To maintain the integrity and viscosity of the liquid, the bourbon is screened for sediment and sees no additional filtration.
Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Small Batch #001 Production & Tasting Notes
Although hidden may be in the name Hidden Barn is trying to be transparent with the way they make their whiskey. Here are the production details and tasting notes as provided by the distillery.
Producer: Neeley Family Distillery, DSP-KY-20039
Number of barrels: 7
Mash Bill: 70% Corn, 20% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Yeast: Wild-caught Kentucky yeast
Fermentation: 5 days in open top cypress tanks using and Northern Kentucky aquifer water
Distillation: Double pot distilled, collected at 127 proof
Barrel Entry Proof: 110 proof
Bottle Proof: 106 Proof
Maturation: Between 4-5 years
Barrel: Two-year seasoned American white oak
Filtration: Sediment filter only
Tasting Notes (in order of prominence): Almond, Butterscotch, Sweet Cherry, Dried Fig, Black Tea, Spearmint, Allspice, Black Pepper, Grapefruit Peel, Cardamom.
Though this first release from Hidden Barn Whiskey was distilled and blended at Neeley Family Distillery future releases could come from other distilleries.
Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch #001 is presented at an undiluted batch proof of 106 proof (53% ABV) and offered at a suggested retail price of $74.99 for a 750mL bottle. The initial offering will be available in Kentucky, Colorado, Florida, and California, with more distribution expected before the end of the year.