I've been busy lately. With the hectic schedule I've been operating, I had simply forgotten about CVI Brands in San Carlos (just down the street from our Redwood City store); especially after the Black Maple Hill relationship transitioned from Kentucky to Oregon. Paul Joseph, who owns the Black Maple Hill label, had been working with Kentucky Bourbon Distillers for years—churning out a number of now-legendary Kentucky Bourbon expressions (and now long, long gone as well). We’ve been doing business with Paul for more than a decade, but for some reason tasting his new whiskies just fell off my radar of things to do. Then I noticed that David OG had already started selling the new BMH selections out of Hollywood and they were selling like wildfire (even at double the old price). I made it a priority to go see Paul this week and see what the situation was with the new label.
The first thing I asked him was, “How long did it take to find a new supplier for Black Maple Hill once you learned that KBD was terminating the relationship?”
“Fortunately, not long,” he said. “But it had to be the right fit, so I was willing to look forever if need be.”
I took a sip of the Bourbon, and then the rye. My eyes widened. They were way better than I was expecting them to be.
“These are quite good!” I said, not hiding my surprise. And I was surprised.
“Of course,” he replied. “We wouldn’t put the Black Maple label on anything that wasn’t good. I would have waited ten years before releasing more whiskey if that’s what it would have taken.”
Paul had already been distributing the Stein Distillery whiskies in California, but they were all two year old expressions that didn't "wow" me. Tasting them again side-by-side, the BMH selections were decidedly better. Way better.
“Are these older?” I asked.
“Yes, they’re both a minimum of four years old, but there are older whiskies married in. That was my first question for them,” Paul said, “’Do you guys have anything older we could use?’ And it was clear upon tasting them that the guys at Stein knew what they were doing. It really starts improving at four years in wood.”
The Bourbon is terribly deceiving. It smells super “crafty” on the nose, but the palate is soft and rich, mellowing out beautifully with a flurry of baking spices. The rye is the same, but with more herbaceous notes and a bit more oak and a hint of sweet cherry on the finish. I know very little about the Stein distillery, but I’m now suddenly curious to know more. Paul is a very resourceful guy, so I don’t know why I doubted his ability to regroup with Black Maple Hill after the KBD relationship ended. I saw Oregon and just assumed: “craft”, but there's more going here than just new oak and white dog.
Seeing that Black Maple Hill has always been more about the “unknown” rather than the “known,” I’m sure these new expressions will continue to intrigue whiskey drinkers in search of something new. The mystery has always been part of the appeal.