When Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan announced she was stepping down from the position in early July, the bourbon community lost its collective shit. And many questions surfaced on social media and beyond:
How could she leave such a cush job? Where’s she going? What’s next? Is she leaving bourbon forever? Isn’t this what happened with Marianne Eaves? Has she lost her mind? Is she crazy?
After talking with Zykan for nearly 30 minutes, I have quick answers to most of those: No, she’s not crazy — unless you consider the desire to follow your passion cuckoo. She’s not leaving bourbon, and in fact she’s enhancing it with her new brand called Hidden Barn.
She is grateful for the opportunities and experiences Old Forester and parent company Brown-Forman gave her, but she ultimately craved the freedom of working in the industry on a smaller scale.
One question I’d like to float out there to ponder: Would people have gotten so worked up about the news if Zykan was a man? I think not, but we can save that discussion for another time.
Unfortunately I can’t go into specifics here about our conversation because the interview was for Bourbon+ magazine — so you’ll have to wait until the fall issue to read it. But I can share some tasting notes on the media sample she sent me, which is going fast because I keep sharing it with anyone who stops by my house.
But first, a little background on Hidden Barn and who Zykan is working side by side with these days.
Zykan joined forces with Colorado bourbon aficionados Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner to help launch Hidden Barn as the master blender. The three partners chose to work with Neeley Family Distillery and the talents of Master Distiller Royce Neeley, who comes from generations of Kentucky moonshiners.
In a news release, Zykan said: “We wanted to produce the kind of whiskey we would be proud to share, we wanted to lift the guardrails and pursue boundless creativity and unmatched quality in our process. Hidden Barn whiskies are full of subtlety and nuance, emphasizing quality at every turn and crafted to be shared in the celebration of good friends and good whiskey.”
The first release — Batch #001 — is labeled “Whiskey Made the Hard Way” and is made up of seven barrels distilled at Neeley Family Distillery using fermented wild yeast. Royce Neeley controls every step of the process from grain to aging, personally hand-collecting wild Kentucky yeast, carefully monitoring a five-day fermentation using traditional cypress fermenters, and personally distilling and hand-cutting the double pot distillation.
The result is a 106 proof, 4-5-year-old small batch bourbon with a suggested retail price of $74.99. The mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% malted barley.
So how’s it taste?
Nose: I get some citrus and sage on the nose, and I swear I haven’t spent any time at Yankee Candle store recently. I also get a strong butterscotch note followed by baked cherry.
Palate: Wow! The first sip immediately takes you to Funky Town. There’s so much going on here I don’t know where to begin other than to say it’s different — in a good way. I get that butterscotch again, but it quickly gives way to raisin and fig notes, followed by a peppery zest and a flavor similar to a strawberry Fruit Roll-Up. Seriously. I’m not sure if it’s the wild yeast causing so much chaos, but it’s tingly and bounces off tastebuds like a game of pinball.
Finish: The finish is warm and cozy, leaving you with a bit of cinnamon and baked apple — like Grandma’s famous pie. This is going to be a great sipper for the fall.
The first batch of Hidden Barn should be at Kentucky liquor stores by the first week of August. Let me know if you see any, because I’m gonna need a backup.