Head to Head: Virginia Lightning vs Glen Thunder Corn Whiskeys

1) Virginia Lightning

2) Glen Thunder


1) Belmont Farms of Virginia, Culpepper, Virginia, USA (product no longer made)

2) Finger Lakes Distilling, Burdett, New York, USA


1) NAS (unaged)

2) Less than 30 days


1) 100 (50% ABV, taken down to 90 proof for tasting)

2) 90 (45% ABV)


1) Clear

2) Clear


1) Raw spirit, lavender, corn syrup, dried flowers, nail polish.

2) Spirit, corn tortillas, rose water, varnish.

On the palate

1) Full bodied and velvety. Sweet. Grape juice, mango.

2) Medium bodied. Milder than the nose would indicate. Drier and delicate.


1) Long, soft and fruity. Alcohol, starlight mints.

2)Corn husks, sweet cornbread, a bit of an alcoholic tingle

Parting words: These are two of my favorite unaged corn whiskeys. They are both good in their own way. Virginia Lightning is mild and fruity. It’s easy drinking for an unaged corn. Glen Thunder has more of an edge, but much more in the way of corn character. I have heard rumors that Belmont Farms, when they made this product, added sugar to their mash to achieve its relative smoothness. Both perform well mixed with sweet soft drinks or even on the rocks with a wedge of lime or a maraschino cherry (a summer favorite of mine) Virginia Lightning is no longer made now that Belmont Farms is under new management. If you can find it, it is worth buying. Glen Thunder is still made, but may be hard to find. It has the strong corn character of a traditional corn whiskey, but is accessible enough to work its way into the rotation of whiskey lovers who enjoy this sort of thing. Both are recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 11 y/o

Composition: OBSV- 17 y/o & 11 y/o, OBSK 12 y/o, OESK 12 y/o

Proof: 111.4 (55.7% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Oak, caramel, toffee, tarragon clove, jalapeno. With a splash of water, bubblegum, leather, fennel, nutmeg.

On the palate: Dark caramel, taffy, aniseed candy. With water, soft and fluffy mouth feel. Caramel, oak, toffee again, allspice, table grapes.

Finish: Heat, then fruit, then oak, then a long tingle.

Parting words: If you’re expecting me to rave about how great this is, like I do with all the Four Roses annual releases, then you obviously read this blog and know me very well. Continuing the symphonic metaphor from the review of the 2011 release, this is Beethoven’s seventh symphony. If you’re not familiar with Beethoven’s 7th, it may be his best after the 9th. It has the power of the fifth symphony and the richness and texture of the sixth. The 2012 Ltd Ed Small Batch has the power of the 2010 release and the complexity and elegance of the 2011 release. The result is a flawless whiskey, like the seventh is a flawless symphony. Mariage 2009 is still the ninth, though. It transcended the genre and broke new ground that still hasn’t been completely mined.

At any rate, this is one of the best bourbons I have ever had. It’s as good as the 2012 single barrel, and is an improvement on the 2010 and 2011 Ltd Ed Small Batches. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, 2012 is highly recommended.

Prohibition Gin

Maker: Heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Clear with long thin legs.

Nose: Neutral spirit sweetness, faint notes of juniper, cinnamon, pumelo, orange peel and lime peel.

On the palate: Medium bodied and soft. Sweet, with some bitter citrus peel and juniper notes.

Finish: Pleasantly citrusy without being sour. Some sweetness, but fades quickly.

Mixed: Works in G & Ts and Tom Collins but doesn’t distinguish itself. Makes for an interesting dry martini. The mild spice complements a mild vermouth very nicely.

Parting words: After having it in G & Ts for a month, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got around to trying Prohibition Gin in a dry martini and neat. Those applications are where it really excels. The bottle claims that it is from a nineteenth century recipe. I don’t know how accurate that is, but this gin is a departure from the sharp, spicy  mainstream gins popular currently. I don’t know if it officially qualifies as an Old Tom Gin, either but it is close to that style. Sweet and subtle. For a micro-distilled product, it’s not too expensive either. Prohibition Gin is recommended.

Shady Lane Cellars Gewürztraminer

Maker: Shady Lane, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2009

ABV: 11.9%

Notes: Estate grown. Wine was tasted two days after opening.

Nose: Crisp semi-tart apples, ripe apricot.

On the palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Oak, breadfruit, curry powder, peach, melon.

Finish: Fairly dry without much fruit. Lasts a good length of time.

Parting words: Shady Lane Gewürz is very well done. It has the spice and dryness one expects from a Gewürztraminer, with the crisp fruit typical of Michigan whites. Even at three years old, and being open for two days (with a stopper in the fridge of course) it wasn’t flabby or tired. Went very well with herb-roasted chicken according to the wife.  This was my first Shady Lane wine and I am sure it won’t be my last. Shady Lane Cellars Gewürztraminer 2009 is recommended.

Freshwater Rum: Huron White

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Style: White (unaged) rum.

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Clear with long sinewy legs.

Nose: Raw spirit, lavender, dried wildflowers.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Simple syrup, anise.

Mixed: Performs well in all applications tested: Rum & Coke, Cuba Libre, Mojito.

Parting words: This is a simple spirit, so it’s getting a simple review. Does everything a white rum is supposed to do, and does it well. The price is high, compared to the mainstream competition ($25) but if you don’t mind shelling out a few extra shekels for a micro-distilled product you won’t be disappointed. Just consider it a contribution to New Holland’s future endeavors. Huron White is recommended.

Knob Creek Rye

Maker: Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA

Age: NAS

Style: Low rye, Kentucky-style, rye whiskey. Yes, I’m making that a thing.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: dark copper.

Nose: Sweetness, aniseed, cumin, woodruff, lavender, caramel.

On the palate: Medium bodied with some alcohol bite. Dry with some good but well-balanced rye character.

Finish: Dry and clean. A nice, long, post-sip tingle.

Parting words: Jim Beam Rye (along with its sister-label, Old Overholt) has long been a whipping boy for American Whiskey enthusiasts. Underwhelming would be the best word for it. It lacks rye character or, frankly, much character at all. Still it has been a big seller in a small (but fast growing) segment. It is available almost everywhere Beam’s bourbons are available.

In 2008 Beam released a new product called Ri1 (Rye One, get it?) in a handsome, modern-looking bottle. The hope was to provide an upscale Beam rye for rye enthusiasts and especially mixologists. The rumor was that more Ris would follow, Ri2, Ri3, Ri4, etc. At this point, it’s probably safe to call Ri1 a flop. The stuff was/is over-priced and underpowered at $47 and 92 proof. No further numbers have been forthcoming either.

Knob Creek Rye is widely perceived as a replacement of sorts for Ri1. Knob Creek bourbon has been a very successful brand for Beam. Many whiskey lovers (like this one) considerit to be the best bourbon made from the Jim Beam mashbill (Beam also makes Old Grand-dad, but uses a different recipe and yeast).

Knob Creek rye is a great improvement on Ri1 and a welcome extention to the Knob Creek line. Like the bourbon, it is 100 proof and comes in an attractive, retro-styled bottle. It lacks an age-statement, but youth is not a problem here. If you enjoy Kentucky-style ryes, then you will probably enjoy this whiskey. It is well-balanced, unlike many of the newer high-rye ryes (a style I enjoyed at first but I am quickly tiring of), and very sippable. The higher proof does it a world of good. It brings out the complexity and spice that get muffled in the 80 proof Beam rye.

One problem Knob Creek Rye shares with Ri1 is the price. When it first arrived in Michigan, it sold for $40 a bottle. I thought it was expensive, but given the proof and the scarcity of rye, it was a fair price (barely). The state minimum price has since been hiked by $5. That pushes it over the edge for me. If you can find it for under $40, I recommend it. If over, leave it on the shelf.