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Sonoma County 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey

Review: Sonoma County 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey  80.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published March 01, 2016

The Sonoma County Distilling Company is located in Sonoma County, California. The company was founded in 2010 with the intention to bring spirits to the market using a ‘Grain to Glass’ philosophy. The production is done in-house including the mashing and fermentation of grains, the direct-fired copper pot distillation, maturing the spirits in American oak barrels, as well as bottle labeling.

Several of their new whiskey spirits have hit Alberta store shelves including their new 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey. According to the information sheets given to me the whiskey is produced from a mash bill of 80% Canadian Winter Wheat, and 20% Malted Rye from the United Kingdom.

Head distiller (and Owner), Adam Speigel, uses natural gas fire heated stills (two 250 gallon Copper Alembic Pot Onion Head Stills and one 125 gallon Copper Alembic Pot Onion Head Still) and no synthetic enzymes in his fermentation process to produce the whiskey distillate. It is aged in both 15 gallon and 30 gallon used American Oak barrels from Minnesota with a third degree char. (Each of these barrels was previously used to age rye whiskey.) The individual barrels in the blend are each aged a minimum of one year, with much of the blend aged over two years.

The 2nd Chance Rye Whiskey is bottled between 46 % to 49 % alcohol by volume depending upon the blenders decision for that bottling. My bottle is at the high end of that range showing me a full 98 proof on the label.

2nd chance wheat whiskeyIn the Bottle 4.5/5

There is much to like about the bottle presentation as the whiskey arrives with a wax dipped cork in an ergonomic ‘bar shelf’ style whiskey bottle. The back of the bottle contains a some useful information about the mash bill (Unmalted Wheat and Malted Rye), the suggested serving (neat), and some tasting notes (Butterscotch, English Toffee, Vanilla, Sultanas, & Citrus). We are also given the Bottling Date (5/19/2015), the Batch No. (4), the number of cases produced (170) and the bottle number (950).

What we are not told on the label is the age of the whiskey (one year).

In the Glass 8/10

When I poured the whiskey into my glass I was happy to see a nice light amber colour, if caramel is used then there is not very much of it. When I tilted the glass and gave it a twirl, the whiskey imparted a light sheen on the inside of my glass. Some weak legs formed and slid down, however most of the liquid sheen seemed more content to just fade away.

The initial aroma has some mild butterscotch and toffee aromas with a creamy ‘porridge’ like scent reaching up from further in the glass. There are bits of dry fruit and orange peel drifting into the breezes, and as I let the glass sit, I notice very light rye and baking spices with vanilla, cinnamon and hints coarse yellow sugar.

What is missing in the breezes is any assertion of wood spice from the aging barrels. I am used to Canadian Whisky which has been aged at least 3 years (usually longer), and I find the missing oak spice disconcerting.

In the Mouth 48.5/60

The back label implied that I could enjoy this whiskey neat. With only one to two years of aging, and a bottling proof of 98 % that claim is somewhat dubious. When I did try to sip the whiskey, I found it uninviting with a strong alcohol bite and burn. I can taste sharp orange peel zest and light butterscotch, but not much else until I add two large cubes of ice and let that ice melt into the glass for a while. At that point the spirit was diluted to about 1/4 cold water, and 3/4 whiskey with ice still melting slowly into the glass.

Now the flavours in the glass translate well from the nose including that creamy ‘porridge-like’  impression. Some sweet butterscotch is present as is a stronger impression of rye than what I could discern when I was nosing the glass. With the whiskey well chilled and diluted, I can sip, although I am much more inclined to reach for some fresh citrus fruit and soda so that I can mix a tall cocktail.

The cocktail I chose was the Whiskey Fizz which is full of ice and ginger ale with a little dollop of lemon for added character. The 2nd Chance Rye works beautifully in the tall cocktail as the concentrated favour of the high-proof spirit is able to push through adding even more character and flavour. (It is yummy!)

In the Throat  11.5/15

Sipped neat, the finish is short and harsh. The high alcohol content burns the palate and the throat, indicating that this whiskey needs to be diluted or perhaps could have been aged much longer to smooth out the rough patches. With lots of ice, we taste some nice milk chocolate and rye flavours in the exit.

The Afterburn 8/10

Had the back of the bottle recommended to serve the whiskey with lots of ice or in tall cocktails, I would have been much happier. However, the recommended serving from the folks at Sonoma County Distilling was straight up neat. Let’s just say I disagree. However, it is true that when I dumped ice into my glass and let it melt into the whiskey, I did receive glimpses of a much better whiskey laying under the alcohol push.

My Score of 80.5/100 reflects a whiskey which I found interesting (and which I think has wonderful potential), but at this point it is a young whiskey which must served in the cocktail format (see recipe below).

You may read some of my other Whiskey Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Serving:

Whiskey Fizz SAM_2371Whiskey Fizz

1 1/2 oz 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey 
1/2 oz fresh lemon Juice
1/2 tsp sugar syrup

3 oz Ginger Ale
Add the first three ingredients into a mixing glass and stir
Add Ice into a medium-sized rocks glass (8 oz)
Pour the mixed ingredients over ice
Complete with ginger-ale
Stir and Enjoy!

I have found this recipe works very well for most lightly aged whiskeys.

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)



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