Weekend Sip: This new bourbon is made with Kentucky well water

The bottle: New Riff Bourbon, $39.99

The back story: When we think of Kentucky bourbon, we often think of a few cherished names, such as Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve. But the state is home to a vast and growing array of brands, reflecting the surging interest in America’s signature spirit. Indeed, bourbon production has increased more than 275% in the state since 1999, reaching 1.7 million barrels in 2017.

New Riff Bourbon is among the latest names to join the bandwagon, having been launched with an investment well beyond $10 million, according to officials with its parent company, New Riff Distilling. The brand’s significance is partly based on geography: It is based in the northern part of the state (just a five-minute drive from Cincinnati) and is part of a small group of distilleries — they dub themselves the B-Line —to find a home there. New Riff says the location has given them access to a great water source — a private well that taps into a limestone-fed aquifer. It is “a very big-tasting, mineral-rich water with a lot of character,” says Jay Erisman, one of the brand’s founders.

But that’s not the only thing the brand says that makes it distinctive. New Riff is also noteworthy for its high rye content: By law, all bourbon must be made with a mix of grain (or “mash bill”) that’s at least 50% corn — New Riff has 65% corn but also 30% rye. And it is made under the supervision of a former top beer ace rather than a bourbon professional. New Riff head distiller Brian Sprance comes via the Boston Beer Company (aka the Samuel Adams

SAM, -2.67%

  folks). The New Riff team notes that much of the flavor of an alcoholic product is created during the fermentation process — and brewers know that better than anyone.

What we think about it: This is a full-flavored and full-bodied bourbon, but not obnoxiously so. (And that’s in spite of the fact it’s also relative high in alcohol at 100 proof.) The rye certainly lends some spice — you’ll get a slight peppery kick — but this is also a bourbon, which means the sweetness prevails: The brand says you should pick up a “vanilla accent, before a melding of clove, cinnamon, mint and dark berries.”

How to enjoy it: If you just want to taste the bourbon itself, try it with a little water, the brand says. (But skip the ice.) For cocktails, go with something classic like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

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Charles Passy is a Wall Street Journal reporter and frequent MarketWatch contributor based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesPassy.

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