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Whiskey Notes - Volume 6.24


15,000 - 20,000 year old Irish Elk Head adorning the wall at The Reserve,

Old Elk's tasting room in downtown Ft. Collins


Cognac Cask Finish Wheat Whiskey - Old Elk Distillery


In April, during one of my Denver visits, I traveled up to Ft. Collins to visit Old Elk Distillery and sit down with Head of Production and Master Blender, Melinda (Mel) Maddox. I had the honor of meeting Mel last August when we worked a Colorado Whiskey tasting event together in Louisville, Kentucky.


Before we talk about this special whiskey, I want to share some quick history about this distillery. Old Elk was established in 2013 by Curt Richardson who is also the founder and chairman of OtterBox also headquartered in Ft. Collins.


As a new distillery, you can either spend millions of dollars to buy all the necessary distilling equipment, produce your whiskey and then wait for your whiskey to be mature enough to release. This process typically takes 2 to 4 years. If you want to spend less than multiple millions, you can source your whiskey and bottle it under your brand name.

One of the most prominent distilleries from which to source whiskey is Midwest Grain Products or MGP located in Lawrenceburg, IN. Old Elk took the sourcing approach, but did it with a twist. They approached MGP and, specifically the legendary Greg Metze, about working out a different agreement rather than just sourcing already distilled whiskey barrels.


For those who have never heard of Greg Metze…..After graduating with a chemical engineering degree, Greg was hired by Seagrams distillery in Indiana. Over the years, Seagrams sold the distillery to Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana, and in 2011 LDI was acquired by Midwest Grain Products or MGP. Over the thirty-eight years that Greg worked for MGP, he held a variety of production roles and became their master distiller in 2002. During his career at MGP, he was responsible for developing bourbon whiskeys, rye whiskeys, exotic whiskeys, light whiskeys, as well as gin and vodka for countless brands. Greg is responsible for distilling the whiskey for a large percentage of the brands on the market today.


When Old Elk approached MGP and specifically Greg about this different agreement. they wanted him to develop a unique mash bill and make this bourbon specifically for Old Elk. This marked perhaps the first time in Greg's career that he was able to develop a unique bourbon whiskey. The Bourbon he developed and then distilled specifically for Old Elk was a High-Malt Bourbon with a mashbill of 51% Corn, 34% Malted Barley, and 15% Rye. This became the first in their Core Lineup and has gone on to win multiple awards over the years. Old Elk eventually began to distill products, but MGP continues to be the primary source of production for all of their whiskeys


As a side note, and what I'd consider a coup, Greg Metze left MGP in 2016 and joined Old Elk Distillery as their Master Distiller. 


Master Blender Mel Maddox & Master Distiller Greg Metze


A huge part of any brand’s whiskey releases is determining which barrels will be part of the release batch. And, if a brand offers any finished whiskey, identifying the whiskey barrels to use, the type of finishing barrels, and developing the final blend, needs to fall on someone gifted with an amazing nose and palate. For Old Elk, that person is Head of Production and Master Blender Mel Maddox. She brings decades of experience in mixology, production, and blending and has been instrumental to the successes of Old Elk since joining their team.


What Mel and her team does so well with the Cask Finished Whiskey program is thinking extensively about each flavor profile of the whiskey to be finished. Next, they identifying the flavor profiles of the finishing cask, say Port, Rum, Armagnac, or Cognac. From there, the key is using the selected finishing casks so as not to mask flavors, hide flaws or add sweeter flavors, but to elevate the whiskey's aroma and flavor while still keeping it distinctly Old Elk Whiskey. That, in itself, is a true talent that Mel possesses and has shown through with the whiskeys she has developed.



Thieving Whiskey in Old Elk's Barrel Warehouse


Old Elk has an array for whiskeys from their Core Expressions (High-Malt Bourbon, Straight Wheat Whiskey, Wheated Bourbon & Straight Rye Whiskey), to their Master’s Blend Series, Cask Finish Whiskeys, & Specialty Whiskeys. I tasted close to a dozen different whiskeys and all were delightful. I wish I could have every single one on my whiskey shelf.


I decided to share one special bottle that I picked up during that visit. It's the recently released Cognac Cask Finish Straight Wheat Whiskey which was released this spring since it likely won’t be available long.




Here are the notes from Old Elk's website about this whiskey.


"Helmed by Master Blender Melinda Maddox, Cask Finish builds on the award-winning foundation of mashbills by Master Distiller Greg Metze. Through precise aging in secondary casks, these bottles boast flavors of incredible depth and distinction. 

The latest addition to the series, Cognac Cask Finish Wheat begins after six years of aging, with an additional year or so finishing in carefully selected cognac casks. The flavors are rich and unique, noting dark fruit, honeycomb, and spice."


Base Whiskey: Old Elk Straight Wheat Whiskey 95% Wheat | 5% Malted Barley

Age: Minimum age of 6 years

ABV: 47.5% Alc/Vol | 95 Proof

MSRP: $105.00

Cases Produced: 3000

Awards: Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition

Additional Notes: Typically, the Cask Finished Whiskeys have been released at cask strength, but this is the first one to be "slow proofed" down to 95 proof. If you don't know what slow proofing is, it's where a little bit of water is added to the whiskey until it reaches its desired proof over a long period of time (4-8 weeks) in order to keep the whiskey cool and not lose the delicate flavors.

The team used a small batch of casks for this release. Half were finished for 6 months in Cognac casks and the other half were finished in Cognac casks for a year.

Per Mel, this is the Production Team's favorite Cask Finished Whiskey that they have created to date.


I don't included tasting notes for these special member pours because I’m really interested in what you nose and taste. Post your comments to share with your fellow whiskey club members. I’m planning on having Mel, and fingers-crossed Greg too, travel to the western slope next year for a whiskey club event so you can learn more about Old Elk Distillery and taste their lineup of absolutely amazing whiskeys.

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Wow, this is something special. Nose was bitter and apples. Taste was like a fine buttery croissant with apples and gruyere. Very cool. Thanks!

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