Angel’s Envy master distiller Wes Henderson announced his retirement in late January, officially passing the torch to his sons, Kyle, Andrew, Connor, and Spencer. That’s a pretty significant piece of news; Henderson co-founded the distillery, after all, with his father, the late, great Lincoln Henderson. But even this development, important as it is, may be overshadowed by the latest release in the Angel’s Envy Cellar Collection—a doozy of a barrel finish that can truly be called one-of-a-kind: Angel’s Envy Unveils Ice Cider Cask.
That’s right: The new Cellar Collection rye is finished in ice cider casks. Ice cider, traditionally made by letting apples freeze on the tree to concentrate their sugars, then pressing them and fermenting the juice.
Angel’s Envy made its reputation on barrel finishing, and the annual Cellar Collection builds on that strength. Previous releases have included bourbons finished in oloroso sherry, madeira, and tawny port casks—delicious fortified wines that are new for Angel’s Envy, but not particularly rare as finishing agents. But this year, the bourbon is stepping aside for a rye—the distillery’s first rye release since 2013—and a cask finish so outlandish that we can’t find a single other example of it being used for whiskey before now.
The Inspiration Behind Angel’s Envy Unveils Ice Cider Cask
“My brother Andrew had been doing research and looking into a variety of fortified wines when he came across German Eiswein, a wine made from frozen grapes after being allowed to freeze in the season’s first frost,” says Kyle Henderson, Angel’s Envy production manager. “He did extensive research on the category before coming across Eden Specialty Ciders, this wonderful family-owned cidery in Vermont that had similar practices but used frozen apples instead. We really aligned with Eden’s story and their dedication to craftsmanship, so we ordered a few bottles and immediately fell in love with the ice cider and knew it would perfectly complement the spiciness of the rye.”
Eden Specialty Ciders has been making ice cider from heirloom apples since 2007. They used Northern Spy apples for this particular expression, picking them in the fall and relying on Vermont’s natural cold to freeze and concentrate the juice, which is then fermented and matured in French oak barrels. When Angel’s Envy got the barrels, it filled them with 7-year-old 95 percent rye, letting it sit for not quite a year: 364 days.
“We were paying close attention to the development of the flavors and tasting the liquid until we felt it was just right,” Henderson says. “Funny enough, we didn’t even realize it was a day shy of a full year until it had already been dumped!”
Angel’s Envy Unveils Ice Cider Cask Tasting Notes
Ice cider is considered a dessert beverage, with a particularly high sugar content, and that has been a gain for this rye. Not only does it boast flavors of apricot nectar and dried fruit that complement the lean and spicy rye, but it has a velvety smooth, lush texture that Henderson attributes to the high viscosity of ice cider.
“Even with the trace amounts of ice cider still embedded in these barrels you can certainly feel the effect it had on the texture and mouthfeel of the rye,” Henderson explains.
While the base of spicy rye offers fresh pine, cedar, allspice, and mint aromas, they’re dripping with sweet apricot nectar and the brightness of cherries and berries. The ice cider lends a satiny sheen to the body, like a butter sauce spooned on top of a steak, with the apricot nectar, along with dried figs and raisins, providing a counterpoint to black pepper, nuttiness, lemon peel, and dark chocolate. A noteworthy show of balance and restraint in employing a cask that could easily overwhelm the taut character of the whiskey, but instead drapes its shoulders like a boxer’s robe.
There’s not likely to be many other ice cider-finished whiskies in the future: Ice cider is uncommon, and there simply aren’t that many casks. (Angel’s Envy was able to secure only eleven.) That’s reflected in the rarity of this release; just 6,000 bottles are available, priced at $250.
They’ll be on sale starting February 25 in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as at the Angel’s Envy Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
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