Cody Road Bourbon: Feisty Youth Meets Venerable

Cody Road Bourbon: Feisty Youth Meets Venerable

by Neal MacDonald

Cody Road Bourbon is a true craft-bourbon coming out of the Mississippi River Distilling Company. Unlike the giant warehouses of Jim Beam or Heaven Hills, the small distillery produces from a single still. They sort, clean, and mill their own grain purchased locally in Iowa. They ferment it themselves. The whiskey is aged in smaller barrels, made from oak trees grown on the Mississippi river. In short, their bourbon is a throwback to the pioneering, DIY whiskey distillers of America. Continuing the romantic notion of the bourbon, they named it After William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

Where so much of the industry is private labeling or, at best, bottling someone else’s stuff, theirs is a lovely story and a shining example of what craft distilling should be. But pragmatically, you’re going to pay for the romanticism: it’s a $35 dollar bottle of whiskey. After the story, you have to ask: does the taste live up to the tale? We were provided a bottle from MRDC to find out the answer.

Thunderdome: Cody Road Bourbon vs Jack Daniels vs Maker’s Mark


Jack Daniels

Maker’s Mark

Cody Road

Sipping Neat


Runner Up


Sipping on Ice



Runner Up

Millionaire Cocktail


Runner Up


Summer Sunset


Runner Up


Mississippi Tea


Runner Up



The more compelling whiskey compared to its peers


In a glorious win for whiskey nerds everywhere, they have detailed notes about each batch of spirits on their website. Our bottle was Batch #8, bottled in 2012. In this case, that means a blend of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% barley (replete with farm notes indicating the corn came from farmers Dan and Ryan Clark of LeClaire, IA with the wheat and barley coming from farmer Tracy Doonan of Reynolds, IL). Disappointingly, no particular notes on the barrels themselves-either size or char-but the grain bill suggests a “wheated bourbon” similar in style to the Maker’s Mark and William Wellers of the bourbon world.

How else to put the Cody Road to the test? We wanted to baseline it against a well-known whiskey, in this case Jack Daniels (not a bourbon but the highest selling whiskey in the world so it should be familiar). Meeting a premium price point, we compared it to Maker’s Mark. 

Sipping Neat: this is whiskey unplugged… no better way to assess its talents than to put it in a glass and throw it back.  

Jack Daniels: The classic JD has a light nose with a lot of banana. Maybe a little maple but if it’s there then it’s very subtle. Tasting, it’s a little sweet with a very light body. Finishing, it has a bitter, acrid char aftertaste that probably makes bikers in every biker bar grimace and shake their jowls upon swallowing a shot. Beginning and middle are okay but the climax is pretty much not fun.

Maker’s Mark: The nose has a lot more grain-very pleasant wheat and corn mix… we could smell the fields of gold (thank you, Sting). For those who like wheated bourbon, this is a satisfying, creamy finish that comes from wheat: easy and smooth and approachable.

Cody Road: the whiskey nose is a lot stronger and, for some reason, the grassy scents of barley really come through. Weird, because the reported grain bill was only 10% barley. We would’ve almost guessed single malt if we weren’t told otherwise. Interesting. Tasting greatly resembled a single malt as well, with the sweet grain rolling over the tongue and down. For 90 proof, this is obviously well-crafted. This was a surprisingly divergent whiskey from the others.

The decision: We had some differing opinion here that mostly revolved around the heavy barley overtones. Cody road is very much a more daring whiskey than Maker’s and certainly superior to a pretty boring JD. We’ll give the nod to the daring of Cody Road.

Sipping on Ice: A little water will often bring out flavor characteristics (just a little water!). This is particularly true, we guess, for a 90pf spirit like Cody Road… especially when contrasting with the 80pf Jack.   

Jack Daniels: With water, the banana goes sour and some grass comes out here as well. All maple is lost. Dilution turned it from a boring whiskey into whiskey flavored water. It did improve the finish by getting rid of most of it.  

Maker’s Mark: A little water made Maker’s smell nice… a floral honey scent like our field of grain had happy bees pollinating away. Dilution greatly improved this whiskey… just a touch of water is perfect.

Cody Road: Water in the Cody really brought out the corn… the grass vanished to be replaced by a more bread-like grain flavor. Again, a little water improved the taste a lot as well. The flavor becomes velvet soft on the palate… like pillows stuffed with marshmallows fluffed by geishas. It’s a celebration of the grain; it’s very hard to pick up any barrel-aging of vanilla and caramel.  

The decision: Cody Road might be the better-made whiskey… in fact, we’d declare that outright. However, it wins almost as an un-aged moonshine rather than a bourbon. Considering it as an aged bourbon against other bourbons rather than a blue ribbon for distillation expertise, it’s missing some of the flavors we’re looking for to soften the grain. If you want a celebration of the whiskey-it’s Cody Road. But if you want a celebration of bourbon, we’re going to have to give this to Maker’s. 

Millionaire: we wanted to break out of the Mad Men cocktails but still get a classic-styled cocktail. Thumbing through some cocktail books, we settled (to our great misfortune, as it turned out) on the Millionaire, calling for 1½oz bourbon, ½oz anise liqueur (we used Pernod Absente), and an egg white (we used organic, vegetarian-fed, cage-free from Egg Land’s Best) shaken on ice and served in a martini glass. 

Jack Daniels: This is a lovely smelling drink… all soft, luscious, licorice, absinthe.  It may smell nice but it doesn’t taste good. It has an undertone of rain water that’s been sitting in a puddle for a few days. Had a stale quality. Too bad, because the aroma is lovely. No trace of the whiskey, for what that’s worth.

Maker’s Mark: The nose is still nice and we feel we get a hint of whiskey. This is still not a good drink… not sure why millionaires would choose to drink it, ever. But the Maker’s did improve an otherwise crappy cocktail. There’s a depth now that if you care to really try hard to find something to like about the cocktail, you can find it in the whiskey.

Cody Road: The grain of the whiskey sings through here, which is kind of cool. Once again, we don’t like this drink but we finally made something that’s drinkable to the point where we might actually finish it if there were no other options. As we’ve said many times before, the mark of a good spirit is when it can elevate cocktail recipes… and that’s certainly the case here with this loser of a drink recipe.

The decision: Cody Road as the prize hog among pigs (no disrespect at all to the whiskey). It’s more moonshine, grain characteristic was a highlight in the otherwise vile flavors of the drink.

Sumer Sunset: Throwing the cocktail book aside, we went with an interesting drink recommended specifically by MRDC. It sounded delicious and made us yearn for summer, as any good winter cocktail should. It includes 2oz bourbon, ½ fresh peach cut in slices, ½oz simple syrup, and a ½oz of lemon juice. One is to muddle the peach, sugar, and lemon then shake on ice and serve in a cocktail glass. We deviated a bit by using our homemade peach schnapps (made from our own, presumably organic, peaches) in lieu of peach slices and simple syrup.

Jack Daniels: This has a nice nose with the peach and the lemon. Hard to detect any whiskey in here at all. Oddly, the drink is a little sour-too much lemon (and we adjusted down to a ¼ oz squeeze of lemon).  In the end, with the JD, kind of a boring drink but not inoffensive and mostly harmless.

Maker’s Mark: Maker’s improved things. We’ve got a nice grain cast to the sweet peaches and the lemon doesn’t sour the drink. It’s nice. Again, inoffensive might be the best descriptive phrase but one might go so far as to say “pleasantly inoffensive.”

Cody Road: Just as we might have expected… all grain here. One could be on a farm during harvest time. The Cody is actually drowning out the peach (maybe a sliver on the exhale). This is tasty. Credit the distillers for recommending something so perfectly suited for their whiskey-overall experience is phenomenal. The grass mixes with the sweet mixes with the peach and it hits all the right notes and finishes with a bow and exits stage left.

The decision: We’ve found something here for the Cody-mixing with a little sugar and fruit might be exactly in its wheelhouse. The Buffalo Bill of bourbons wins in this cocktail round by a landslide.

Mississippi Tea: Many people (absurdly) drown their whiskey in cola… but it is interesting to see if a spirit can withstand heavy dilution in a drink and still shine. We took another recommendation from MRDC and made Mississippi Tea, calling for 1oz bourbon, 5½oz unsweetened iced tea (we used Tradewinds Iced Tea, which called itself “all natural” but included caramel color and we think that’s bullshit), 2oz 7-Up (we used Sierra Mist because we hate corn syrup), and a dash of lemon juice. That’s some heavy dilution! From past experiments, we’ve found that getting to ratios of 4:1 or 5:1 tend to make it very difficult to tell any difference. Can the Cody Road pull through?

Jack Daniels: We didn’t see any reason in even trying the JD. It was getting lost when it was ahead in ratios of 2:1. It just gets disqualified from even participating here when it’s on the other end at 1 part to 9.

Maker’s Mark and Cody Road: This is kind of a funny drink. At first sip, it’s hard to tell that there’s alcohol in it much less bourbon. But on drinking, there is the hint of grass characteristic of the Cody Road. We could almost convince ourselves there was an honest difference to the drinks. Off to the lab to find out! In our lab test we blindfolded participants and over 10 trials flipped a coin to randomly present said blind participant with a glass. Could the lab rat correctly name the whiskey? Yes. An unheard of 10 out of  10 times for all rats (er… participants). Cody Road can definitely be felt even in heavily diluted ration in the Mississippi Tea.

The decision: And, the Cody Road made the drink better. Big props to the distillery for designing good drinks for their whiskey.

Verdict: As whiskey, one has to agree to drink a younger, grain-heavy version of bourbon to appreciate what is good about Cody Road. If you’re looking for statesman-like age and pedigree, it’s not here. If you’re looking for feisty over age; if you’re looking for grain over wood; if you’re looking for daring over traditional, then Cody Road shows perfectly. One cannot fault the craftsmanship. This is a high recommend for any fruit forward cocktails. Overall, we find it to be the more compelling whiskey compared to its peers.

The bottle, however, is a pain in the ass on the shelf due to its wide girth.

[Disclosures: we were provided a bottle of Cody Road Bourbon free of charge. We purchased all other spirits and mixers on our own.]

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