Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. This in no case, by our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the purchase link at the bottom of this review, our site receives a small referral payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
San Luis Obispo, or SLO as it is often called, is an interesting city located along the central California coast. For example, SLO ban drive-through restaurants in 1986 citing pollution concerns while wanting to promote a pedestrian-friendly community in an effort to ensure people enjoy their city. This spirit seems to be alive and well in their city with a culture of food, museums and outdoor activities. And even their distilleries embody the culture of their city, like Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills.
Rod & Hammer SLO Images was founded in 2019 by Rod Cegelski and Hamish Marshall. Rod is from California and Hamish is from Australia. Their business spun off from SLO Brew, a craft brewery that Hamish took over in 2010. They distilled their first whiskey in 2012 from the brewery, but it’s unclear what happened to that distillate as all of the offerings current ones are only two years old. They use purified water from the Pacific Ocean to “capture the soul and essence of the waters that bind (them)”. California meets Australia. And in keeping with SLO’s culture, their brand reps consist of a race car driver and a surfer.
I’m looking at the base offerings of Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. It is a bourbon, a cask strength bourbon, and a rye, all aged for a minimum of two years in new American white oak barrels. All three are distilled in Indiana, blended with water from the Pacific Ocean and bottled by Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills. In addition to these three, and which are not reviewed here, they sell a Distiller’s Reserve Rye Whiskey which uses a lower percentage of rye in its mash bill and is only aged for one year.
The distillery also has a Spirits Club and a Barrel Club. The Spirits Club is a free membership way to be invited to distillery events and a chance to purchase limited release merchandise. The Barrel Club is a $1,500 per year membership due for access to a five-gallon barrel that can be customized with wooden spirals to speed up aging. These are probably the larger spirals normally used in actual production, but they act very similar to the spirals used to age in bottle at home. The annual fee is followed by a $10 per bottle fee for spilling the liquid inside. If you want to age more than a year, it will cost you an extra $1,500. Each barrel sees around 28 bottles, bringing the total cost to around $1780, making it slightly more expensive per bottle than their normal offerings.
But how is their whisky? Read on for tasting notes and details on each of the bottlings.
Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Straight Rye Whiskey
Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 95% rye. Bottled at 45% ABV. Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak barrels. From $31.99 per bottle.
Appearance: Golden yellow in color, it forms small tears on the glass that are slow to fall.
Nose: Scent of toasted rye bread with honey. A sort of marshmallow sweetness is on the nose with some apple and subtle spice.
Palace: This has a very nice spice throughout it. It has this kind of indescribable sweetness up front, the flavor of rye crackers in the mid-palate, and a meaty finish that is just plain savory. The addition of water shifts the flavor profile towards sweeter notes with hints of caramel arriving mid-palate and making the finish a combination of vegetal and sweet.
Score: 3.5 / 5
Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 55% corn, 35% rye and 10% barley. Bottled at 45% ABV. Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak barrels. $42.99 per bottle.
Appearance: The appearance is almost identical to rye, with just the slightest hint of copper added to the color.
Nose: Smells of cotton candy, corn and a tasty vegetal note that almost reminds me of green olive.
Palace: The cotton candy on the nose really extends to the front of the palate with just a ton of sweetness at first. This transitions into fairly classic bourbon flavors of vanilla and oak in the mid-palate. The finish is quite long with a slight spice and a good feeling of warmth. Adding water really killed that for me. I get almost nothing from the front of the palace and the endgame. The mid-palate becomes a standard bourbon with the flavor of caramel and oak.
Score: 2.5 / 5
Tasting Notes: Rod and Hammer’s SLO Stills’ Cask Bourbon
Vital Stats: Distilled in Indiana from 55% corn, 35% rye and 10% barley. Bottled at 56% ABV. Aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak barrels. From $36.99 per bottle.
Appearance: It is slightly darker in color than straight bourbon, with tears on the glass taking longer to form and fall off.
Nose: I get caramel, white pepper and a note of grilled corn. The smell of corn reminds me of barbequed corn a little too long.
Palace: I have caramel and pepper on the front. This transitions to a marshmallow sweetness with some mid-palate oak and a good amount of heat from the alcohol. The finish is packed with spice and a bit of that corny flavor from the nose. Not surprisingly, the addition of water brings the flavor profile in line with pure bourbon.
Score: 2.5 / 5
Final Thoughts: In my opinion, all of these elements need a little more age. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they all drink a little hot and look a little young. The flavors don’t seem as developed and I feel they lack a depth that can be found in so many other ryes and bourbons on the market in the same price range.