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J. Henry & Sons Bourbon Tasting Room & Farm

Dane, Wisconsin

 

Crusin’ Rating: C+

Booze Rating: A-

 
Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- J Henry and Sons Distillery

This week we are checking out a distillery not far outside of Madison that, unlike many of the distilleries we have visited, focuses on putting out variations on a single type of spirit - bourbon. Developed from an heirloom red corn strain developed at UW Madison in 1939. J. Henry and Sons has used that corn - the only distillery in the world that uses it - in their mashbill to produce bourbon since 2008. Hannah, the Residents of Cabin 8, and I headed out on an overcast August Saturday that heralded some fall weather to take a tour and do a tasting. While the property, farm, and house that serves as a tasting room are steeped in plenty of history, and though they’ve been making bourbon since the early 2000’s, it wasn’t until about 2015 that the bourbon started to hit the market and quickly has made a name for itself as a Wisconsin-made top-shelf offering around the state. Hannah and I made our first trip, before the inception of Crusin’ for Booze, with some friends around 2018, and here we are, five years later, back on the farm to review!


J. Henry & Sons is located a short 30-minute drive from Madison, just outside of Waunakee in the Village of Dane, Wisconsin. An operating 700 acre farm, with much of it dedicated to corn and spaces saved for rye and wheat, J. Henry has all the charm of that Midwest pastoral vibe mixed with new construction of a 2,500 barrel rickhouse and an addition to an existing rickhouse (a storage space for housing full whiskey barrels for aging) that will contain a bottling line in the near future. After a drive down a semi-wooded gravel driveway, you are immediately greeted by a white farmhouse. This farmhouse, serves to house the bar, gift shop, and tasting room that is used in tours.



The bar itself, as one member of Cabin 8 put it resembles “Aunt Gale’s kitchen”. It is very much a small kitchen that has been turned into a bar, with the cabinetry housing bourbon bottles. What perhaps was once a dining and living space now composes the bar area which seats maybe 25 with a handful of additional tables outside. It makes for an intimate space and I will say that we all agreed - J. Henry is a spot that you come to tour, it’s not really set up as a place to sit around and drink. This might be due to a mixture of things. The frequent tours, smaller space, and mostly daytime hours (12pm to 7:00pm most days) gives a vibe of a destination-tour spot more than somewhere where you kill an afternoon sipping cocktails. Since there are constantly tours coming and going and limited space, we couldn’t help but feel the midwest nice in us saying to not dawdle too long as others would like to sit. Now, I’ll be clear, we were never once asked to move and there were never people waiting for our table. It was just a feeling we could not seem to shake. Maybe it was the close proximity, or perhaps the fact that it’s located in what was once very much a home, but there was sort of this feeling of - “I’m in someone’s house and they want to be in bed by 7:00 so I don’t want to overstay my welcome”. I’ll note, the staff was gracious and good-humored and polite, I think there was just something about the space itself that gave off the vibe.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- J Henry and Sons Distilling
One of the Residents of Cabin 8; helping us taste.

All of this is not to say it’s a bad space. Auntie Librarian and Hannah noted that the decor was a little masculine, what with a mounted deer head, fireplace, and dark wood, but I don’t know if you can fault that too much. I suppose that makes sense since bourbon is a spirit traditionally marketed toward men - not that I haven’t seen my fair share of ladies at J. Henry or pounding bourbon. The bar offered 9 cocktails ($8.50 each) and pours of all three of J. Henry’s bourbon offerings as well as soda and water. The tasting room serves as the meeting spot for tours of the farm, which last about an hour - this includes the walking tour and tasting. J. Henry offers VIP tours as well, allowing a more in depth look at their spirits. Our tour guide was engaging, knowledgeable, and humorous and there is always something delicious about getting a sniff of the angel’s share (whiskey vapor from evaporation) when walking into a rickhouse. This level of the tour does not include any barrel sampling but does offer plenty of free sniffs, laughs, and photo opportunities and runs $15 per person. It should be noted that the distillery does its distilling on a contract basis out of 45th Parallel Distillery, but does all the aging at the farm. I’ve always been bummed by this but the consolation is the distilling is still in Wisconsin, and all ingredients in their mash bill come from Wisconsin as well!



After the tour, a basic nosing and guided tasting is given. I did not find I had enough time to take notes during this guided part, but I was welcomed to bring my snifters out to the tasting room to finish my tasting. While I buried myself in my notes, Hannah and Auntie Librarian tried a Blackberry Smash, and another that was essentially a whiskey sour with ample Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters. The cocktails were serviceable for the price point and Auntie Librarian was pleased with hers. Hannah loved hers - when I informed her that I could easily recreate it at home - and having done so, I surmised that she actually just likes ample cherry bark vanilla bitters in a sour. I would say their complexity matches their price point and I could easily understand that there are only so many different cocktails and riffs you can create off of a single spirit.



As for the bourbon itself, there are three distinct iterations that we were able to try while there:


J. Henry Small Batch Bourbon (46% ABV) - What I consider to be their flagship offering, and one that you will see the most of if you look for it, this blend of 20 barrels has a little higher abv than your standard bourbon, but still I’d like to see it just a tad higher in order to really stand out for itself in a boozy stirred drink. I picked up toasted almonds, light honey, sweet corn, and a touch of vanilla. Tasting gave me toffee, brown sugar, and a creamy bread, almost like brioche. I thought there was more burn here than the ABV suggests and other than that burn, it sort of vanishes into a cocktail and is not quite robust enough to not be sipped on alone.

J. Henry Patton Road Reserve “Brulee & Bubbles” (60% ABV) - I believe this iteration, Patton Road Reserve (the distillery is located on Patton road for those paying attention) is the best that J. Henry has to offer. Only available for purchase at the distillery, Patton Road is bottled at barrel strength, from single barrels selected by Joe Henry (half of the “& Sons”), who has been studying bourbon tasting under master tutelage for over a decade, that exhibit unique flavor profiles. Brulee and Bubbles, we all found to be aptly named. I won’t just say it smells like an off-dry champagne, I smelled honeysuckle, biscotti, toasted vanilla, creamy custard, clove, and even hints of marzipan and maple. With an initial pillowy mouthfeel, this bourbon had a creaminess to it, full of vanilla on the first sip. Going back for a second sip, I found nuttiness, white grapes, honeysuckle, and the impression of tannins. Finishing with a hazy spice, this one really knocked it out of the park. I do have two (signed, mind you) bottles of 8 year Patton Road at home that kicks even this one down a peg or two and may be one of the best bourbons I have had in this state or otherwise. But, I also have a bottle of Patton Road which I am not a fan of, “Kentucky Derby Pie”. But overall, I think that if you are to purchase from J. Henry - Patton Road is going to be the one you enjoy most. Did I mention past iterations of Patton Road have taken double gold more than once at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and New York World Wine & Spirits Competition?


Bellefontaine Reserve (Just over 51% ABV) - Named after Bellefontaine Farms in Basco, WI, which was the first J. Henry property, this bourbon is blended from selected barrels and then finished in Cognac Casks imported from France for 8 months (plus the standard aging process of 5 years). This is a labor intensive and fairly unique offering stemming from French techniques. I picked up brown sugar, candy, and a little citrus, almost giving the impression of lightly candied fruit peels and reminded me quite a bit of brandy. I picked up sharp cinnamon when tasting, honey, almost a basil pepperiness. I did notice that the finish here on the second sip goes back to a little bit of citrus peel - even a little bitter, and then back to confectioners sugar. While this was good, I did not enjoy it as much as the Patton Road.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- J Henry and Sons Distilling
The Tasting Crew

I would say, that even if you are not a bourbon drinker, and Hannah does not like bourbon, nor does Auntie Librarian, even they consented to the Patton Road Reserve winning them over. I’ve had whiskey drinkers over to the Crusin’ For Booze home bar and samples of Patton Road are regularly applauded. I can say that J. Henry was sort of a stepping stone when we were first starting out that gave us the confidence to say that Wisconsin does know what it’s doing, not just in terms of beer, but also in terms of spirits, especially to a spirit as jealousy gate-kept by southern states. It was a reaffirmation the first time, and on our most recent visit. While the vibe may not scream “drink here all afternoon” it is friendly, and I highly suggest a visit. Even if you are just dipping your toes into the world of bourbon, or are not quite sold on whiskey, I would encourage a visit. It’s going to be a must stop for bourbon lovers visiting the Madison area and I would say well worth the trip from an hour-plus away. If you live in Madison, unless you are deathly allergic, there really isn’t a good reason to not try it out.


Until next time, keep on Crusin’, don’t stop boozin’.


To learn more about J Henery & Sons, please visit their website at: jhenryandsons.com or on Facebook: @JHenryBourbon or on Instagram: @JHenryBourbon

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