Down perhaps fiction’s most famous rabbit hole, Lewis Carroll’s Alice found Wonderland. A hare-brained, unrestrained whirl through a world of talking creatures, mad hatters and flamingo croquet, the Victorian novel begins beside a burrow, with the first chapter even titled ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’. And, after Alice finds herself flung into the make-believe country, she almost immediately stumbles upon a bottle.
It’s a bottle that — unlike Rabbit Hole bourbon’s signature square-shouldered design — is small, round and has a little paper label tied around its neck; “with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters”. Alice abides, and a similarity is struck with the Louisville-located distillery. For, upon taking a swig, she identifies, among other notes, “a sort of mixed flavour of toffee, cherry-tart, custard and hot buttered toast”.
These rich, pudding-y qualities chime with every one of the distillery’s distinctive whiskeys. Because each of the flavours Alice finds down the rabbit hole crops up in at least one of the brand’s core quartet of spirits — from the cherry aroma of the ‘Dareringer’ expression to ‘Cavehill’s custard finish. But the distillery itself is anything but quaint and quirky. Sitting in Louisville’s East Market District, Rabbit Hole’s ‘campus’ is as modern and future-facing as they come.
On Jefferson Street, the distillery opened in May 2018, with brand founder and visionary Kaveh Zamanian cutting the ribbon on the ambitious enterprise. A former psychoanalyst with a PhD in clinical psychology, Zamanian leapt down a rabbit hole of his own in 2012, when he left academia to start-up a spirits company. And this 55,000 square-foot complex — a warren of high-shine steel and vast plate glass — was Zamanian’s bricks-and-mortar mission statement. In his own words, it’s a “modernist cathedral built around the process of making whiskey”.
And, atop his spirited shrine, any lucky visitors will find ‘OverLook’, Rabbit Hole’s rooftop signature tasting and cocktail bar — and the last stop on the increasingly popular site tours. Classics from the ‘Sidecar’ to the ‘Manhattan’ are on offer behind the bar, as are straight serves of the distillery’s delectable spirits and limited edition releases.
The two finest expressions from Rabbit Hole, now available to buy in Britain, are ‘Heigold’, a high rye, double malt bourbon, and ‘Boxergrail’, a Kentucky straight rye whiskey. And both spirits benefit from the pioneering production process that Zamanian used to revolutionise this age-old industry.
Because the entrepreneur puts his liquid into barrels at 110 proof, and never chill-filters his whiskey — all to ensure that every last drop is as intensely flavoured and punchy as possible. He only uses hand-selected, wood-fired, toasted and charred oak barrels — and all of Rabbit Hole’s whiskeys are created in small batches, with less than 15 barrels per batch.
And the innovations don’t end there. The Kentucky distillery also uses a high concentration of 30% malted grains in its bourbon mash bill (the combination of grains used to create any individual whiskey), something no other bourbon brand does. This gives ‘Heigold’ an extraordinarily complex flavour profile; starting with warming cinnamon and caramel on the nose, thick with peppercorns and vanilla pods on the palate, and wrapping up with a wisp of toasted-toffee citrus to finish.
The other bottling available in Britain, ‘Boxergrail’, is a resplendent green-labelled rye that adds a dash of malted barley to its mash bill. Ideal for winter drinking, it’s as unctuous a whiskey as you’ll sip this festive season, with a mouthfeel as creamy and warming as its spicy, caramel taste. A particular highlight hidden among its many piquant plus points? Those sawdusty, cigar box notes — adding a savoury twist to an otherwise muscovado-sweet spirit.
But this reaction — one of taste sensation and pleasant surprise — is exactly what Zamanian wanted. At a time when most bourbon and rye whiskey on the market is created using only a handful of almost indistinguishable recipes, Rabbit Hole’s one-of-a-kind mash bills have created a groundswell across the industry, inspiring whiskey enthusiasts to throw themselves down rabbit holes of their own; out of their comfort zones.
Yet with whiskeys such as these, it’s an easy ask. Rabbit Hole may be disrupting distillery practices, but these are also exceedingly accessible, approachable spirits. They’re bottles so good, in fact, that not one of the wondrous, palatable range needs a ‘DRINK ME’ tag to tempt us.
Rabbit Hole ‘Heigold’ Bourbon Whiskey
Rabbit Hole ‘Boxergrail’ Bourbon Whiskey