New Riff: Modern Whiskey, Traditional Quality

From unconventional origins comes a portfolio of surprisingly exceptional products. Such is the story of New Riff distillery in Bellevue, Kentucky. While the majority of Kentucky whiskey distilleries dot the countryside around the cities of Lexington and Louisville, this relative newcomer sits on the banks of the Ohio River a short walk across the bridge from Cincinnati.

Started by enthusiasts with no background in distilling, New Riff grew out of a corner of the parking lot at The Party Source, one of the most famous beverage stores in the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana tri-state area. That was seven years ago. Today, and many awards later, the small team turns out high quality bourbons, ryes, and distinctive gin and vodka. While a tour of the facility is somewhat formulaic (as is the standard  for most tours these days) it does come with a couple of terrific perks: the customary tasting and the opportunity to visit the rooftop bar/event space. Neither of these should be overlooked. More on that below.

New Riff was part of the wave of craft distilleries that seems to have erupted in the wake of easing state legislations around a decade ago. This craft distillery's differentiators are a commitment to the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897, bottling without chill filtration, and rye-heavy mash bills. While many distilleries and blenders are chasing the wheated bourbon craze, New Riff's bourbons enjoy a 65/30/5 corn/rye/malted barley recipe while the rye is an eye-popping 95/5 rye/malted rye. All benefit from 4 years in alligator-charred barrels, imparting rich, mellow complexity.

During the tasting at the end of the tour we were offered their standard Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Kentucky Straight Rye, and the single barrel versions of both. Given how much press their rye has gotten, expectations were that the bourbon would fade into the background. Not a chance. If anything, the reverse was true. The core bourbon, retailing for around $40, is a very fine product oozing universal appeal. If you stopped there, you'd finish happy. Then there's the Single Barrel Bourbon, the price tag of which inches towards $50. It's everything the core bourbon is with all the pleasure buttons flipped to the on position. More notes and scores to come in future posts, but both of these are terrific values in a marketplace cluttered with just-okay $70 whiskeys.

The ryes didn't deliver for my palate in same way as the bourbons did, leading with intricate spice, but lacking the voluptuous body of the bourbons. Nevertheless, all these pours on the heels of an hour tour of the production facility set us back a laughable $10, which was then applied to our purchases! Insane.

Finally, the rooftop bar, cleverly named The Aquifer, is a must. As modern as the spirits, yet welcoming and spacious, the seamless transition between indoor and outdoor areas is inviting. Views of the Cincinnati skyline are visible from the north end of the terrace - if you can tear yourself away from the distiller-selected single barrel flights: Three generous pours of either bourbon or rye single barrel expressions for another $10. 

Is there a better value and environment anywhere in Kentucky? Reservations are required for tours, which fill up weeks in advance.