I’d been hearing a lot about Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Origin Series, particularly the wheated bourbon mash bill (68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley). After discovering it for $60 on a visit to my local, I decided I’d give it a go. Here’s to the latest wheated warrior!
Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Origin Series KSBW (20% wheat)
Age: 6 years (bottled in bond)
Nose: vanilla, cane syrup, maraschino cherry
Taste: “bright” toffee, sugar cookie, white pepper
Finish: moderate length w/ sweet corn, light spice, lemon
Overall: A clean and inoffensive whiskey. Not much complexity (hardly any, truthfully), but for six years there’s promise for what may come. Keep an eye on Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s wheated bourbon recipe. It might be a Weller killer, just not today.
“Since 1872,” or so the label reads. I.W. Harper has a storied past, but the bourbon brand now rests in the hands of spirits giant, Diageo. The 15-year expression was once found with little trouble. Nowadays, not so much, but a chance discovery at $99 tickled my curiosity.
Pour: I.W. Harper 15 (KSBW)
Age: 15 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: honey, fragrant oak, nutty toffee
Taste: antique oak, salted caramel, leather
Finish: moderate length w/ savory vanilla, sweet oak, dry spice
Overall: No complaints here. I.W. Harper 15, while not particularly unique or complex, excels in the “notably mature whiskey done right” category. And surprisingly, the lower proof doesn’t bother me at all. If you like sweet oak, this bourbon is for you.
Rating: Worth it.
Of the Van Winkle lineup, Old Rip is seemingly the easiest to find (relatively speaking, of course). That being said, when found it’s usually marked up well beyond its $69.99 suggested retail price. I overpaid for it myself, but it was worth it to share with friends and family.
Pour: Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon
Age: 10 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: black cherry, sweet oak, spiced blood orange
Taste: chewy caramel, cherry syrup, honey-maple
Finish: long w/ Cheerwine, charred oak, leather
Overall: I’d love to say that Old Rip Van Winkle is dull and overhyped, but it’s not. Well, it’s certainly not dull. Overhyped? I suppose everything Van Winkle is to a degree. It’s damn sure delicious, though. If money were no object I’d likely overpay again.
Rating: A pleasure.
Knob Creek 15, while impressive, didn’t strike me as balanced as its younger sibling, Knob Creek 12. I was, however, open to giving 2022’s Knob Creek 18 a try once it hit my state. The trouble is, it was well over $200. Obviously, I took the chance. (Spoiler: It pays off.)
Pour: Knob Creek 18 Year
Age: 18 years
Color: dense amber
Nose: medicinal cherry, fragrant oak, barrel-aged honey
Taste: sweet charred oak, antique leather, woody spice
Finish: moderate length w/ cedar, singed caramel, tobacco
Overall: Without question, an exceptional whiskey. Knob Creek 18 delivers everything one could wish for in a considerably mature bourbon – complex oak-driven notes offset by a delicate sweetness and bound together by finesse. Just glorious. Well done, Jim Beam.
I’ll just kick in the door – Belle Meade Honey Cask isn’t worth the insane secondary prices folks are paying for it. It’s just not. It’s well-aged MGP bourbon finished in a barrel that once held honey, and that’s precisely what it tastes like. On with the show!
Pour: Belle Meade Honey Cask Finished Bourbon
Age: not stated
Color: dense amber
Nose: boozy glazed danish, caramel apple, dried orange
Taste: exotic honey, creamy butter toffee, sweet citrus
Finish: long w/ honeyed oak, baked apple & pear, faint cinnamon
Overall: With my spoiler out of the way, I can say that Belle Meade Honey Cask is a fantastic finished bourbon. It truly is. Were it reasonably priced on a retail shelf, I’d buy it. Complex, flavorful, and unique, no doubt about it. Just hyped to stupid.
Rating: H(not M)oney
Widow Jane’s 10-Year bourbon eluded me for years. I suppose the $70 price didn’t help, considering one can find Russell’s Reserve 10-Year and Eagle Rare for significantly less. What changed my mind? The three-state blend (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana) had me curious.
Pour: Widow Jane Aged 10 Years
Age: 10 years
Nose: candy apple, toffee popcorn, sweet minerals
Taste: fruity caramel, red licorice, zesty/tangy oak
Finish: moderate w/ herbal tea, minerals, citrus spice
Overall: Yes, there’s obviously Dickel (and very likely Barton) in this five-barrel batch (the sweet, fruity minerality gives it away). That said, it’s a tasty and well-executed blend of straight bourbon. Were it cheaper, I’d probably buy it again.
Rating: Pricey but delish.
Ever have bottles that get lost in the back of your cabinet? Well, here’s one of mine, Four Roses Elliott’s Select. To date, it’s the only Four Roses limited edition I’ve ever found locally (and I happily paid retail price for it on sight). Will it taste as great as I recall?
Pour: Four Roses “Elliott’s Select” (2016)
Age: 14 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: stovetop vanilla pudding, brown sugar, fragrant oak
Taste: toasted caramel, blood orange, fruity herbal spice
Finish: long w/ chewy molasses, sweet tobacco, antique leather
Overall: I’ll be damned if Elliott’s Select isn’t better than I remember it. Just a powerhouse bourbon – loaded with hearty caramel and oak, yet layered gracefully with complex citrus and herbal spice. I only wish I had another bottle.
Benchmark … the name alone gives me shivers. Modern-day, 80-proof Benchmark is so low on my enjoyability scale, James Cameron can’t reach it. But how might a full-proof version with an extra year of aging fare? Let’s give this so-called “Baby Stagg” a try and find out.
Pour: Benchmark Full Proof
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: (grainy) corn, green apple, faint spice
Taste: (somewhat sharp) vanilla, tart oak, nutmeg
Finish: long w/ candy apple, caramel syrup, white pepper
Overall: If you’re looking for a young, high-proof bourbon for $25, Benchmark FP is here for you. Personally, Old Grand-Dad 114 is a better option (even if priced higher), but to each their own. It’s better than its 80-proof cousin, for whatever that’s worth.
When you think of Missouri, do you think, bourbon? Probably not, but you soon might. The Holladay Distillery has a history stretching back to 1856. Recently resurrected, this is the brand’s flagship expression, aged 6 years on the 1st and 5th floors of a 7-story clad rickhouse.
Pour: Ben Holladay Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Age: 6 years
Nose: caramel popcorn, brown sugar, cinnamon
Taste: toasted vanilla, English toffee, charred oak
Finish: moderately long w/ burnt sugar, clove, peppery spice
Overall: When I say Ben Holladay is good whiskey, I mean it’s really good whiskey. Not just “good for craft” or “good for cocktails,” but genuinely good. Frankly, I’m a bit taken aback. The level of complexity and sheer enjoyability is first-rate.
Rating: Showed-me bourbon.
Bottle courtesy of Holladay Distillery.
Until recently, vintage Maker’s Mark failed to grab my attention. I purchased this ‘78 bottling shortly after tasting (and enjoying) an ‘80 at a bar in Louisville, KY. Of all the heritage Kentucky distilleries, Maker’s has changed their process least. Evident? Let’s pour!
Pour: Maker’s Mark KSBW (1978)
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: butterscotch, earthy caramel, maraschino cherry
Taste: vanilla spice, toffee popcorn, light cola, fine tobacco
Finish: medium-long w/ molasses, cedar-esque oak, leather
Overall: A captivating and delicious whiskey! While this ‘78 Maker’s Mark is very much a dusty-profile bourbon, there’s a surprising flavor connection to its modern-day equivalent – especially certain LEs and private selections. Quite remarkable.
Rating: Damn good.
A few months back, I purchased a Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon selected by the Bourbon Lens podcast. After reviewing the standard 90-proof Frey Ranch Bourbon, I’d been itching to try a barrel-strength version. Needless to say, I’m expecting a more robust and complex whiskey.
Pour: Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon b. 979
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: caramel popcorn, cinnamon grahams, wintergreen
Taste: peppery vanilla, pancakes w/ maple syrup, spiced apple
Finish: long & spicy w/ cinnamon candy, clove, oak, pepper
Overall: As predicted, robust and complex – especially considering its age. And while high in proof, I wouldn’t classify this bourbon as hot; the ABV is actually quite comfortable. A unique and tasty pour with a wintergreen zing.
A few weeks ago, I received a whiskey sample from Company Distilling in Tennessee. It was accompanied by a note from Jeff Arnett, former master distiller at Jack Daniel. I must admit, it was a classy touch. This is their flagship wheated bourbon, distilled via contract in Ohio.
Pour: Company Distilling Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 3 years
Nose: corn, vanilla, smoked apple
Taste: Cracker Jacks, caramel drizzle, woody malt
Finish: moderate length w/ grain, char, black pepper & cinnamon
Overall: As you might imagine, this bourbon tastes its age, which is to say, a bit youthful. Fortunately, the proprietary toasted maple process adds some sweetness and a pleasant woody complexity. But at $55, it’s a pricey whiskey for its specs.
Rating: Fledgling Co.