Review: I.W. Harper Bourbon and 15 Years Old Bourbon

Review: I.W. Harper Bourbon and 15 Years Old Bourbon


Diageo recently announced another spiritual resurrection: I.W. Harper. I.W. Harper was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim (another familiar whiskey name) in 1879. It changed hands a few times over the years, ultimately winding up with Diageo, which turned it into a super-premium product … in Japan. Discontinued in the U.S. in the 1990s, now Diageo is bringing Harper back to the States.

Two expressions are launching, a lower-cost NAS expression and a 15-year-old version. Chuck Cowdery has a lot of info on the likely origins of the distillate in these bottles, but these are different spirits with different origins; the full mashbills were recently revealed (see below for details). The 15 year is the bigger mystery here, and it’s likely a blend of lots of “orphan” barrels that didn’t become Orphan Barrels.

Harper hits U.S. shelves this month. Here’s what to expect.

I.W._HARPER_I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – There’s no age statement on the “base” expression, but it’s made from a mash of 73% corn, 18% rye, and 9% barley. It “was most recently aged at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., and contains whiskeys distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The nose is quiet, and a little sweaty at times with notes of walnut and some lumberyard. Vanilla emerges over time, with more salty shortbread character building on the palate. The finish offers almonds, with a touch of astringency. Capable, but it doesn’t add a lot to the world of bourbon at this price range. 82 proof. B / $35  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – This “was distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Ky. and aged most recently at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The mash is 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. This is a much different spirit than the above; it really bears little resemblance to it at all. On the nose: lots of mint, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and some lumber. The body features ample citrus notes, more baking spice, and emerging chocolate and caramel on the backside. There’s heat at first, but this settles down into supple sweetness and a finish that’s surprisingly gentle for a 15 year old bourbon. Ultimately it’s quite balanced and delightful — and well worth sampling. Delightfully retro decanter, too. 86 proof. A- / $75  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. Chris on October 2, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Wonderful nose on the 15 yo; draws you into the oak and spices and builds up an anticipation of that first sip. However, I felt that on the palate it didn’t live up to expectations created by the bouquet. Not as complex as the nose would suggest. Still quite enjoyable and I must admit I went out and bought a second bottle for the future…Thanks for the review!

  2. Brad on January 26, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Caskers sent me a bottle with the label broken. It also has shrink wrap over the top of the bottle; wondering if anyone else who has bought this bottle noticed the shrink wrap? I don’t want to be a paranoid but it looks like the clear wrap was done after the bottle had been opened.
    Also, may be the most difficult seller I’ve ever dealt with. They do not answer the phone under any circumstances and there is at least a 2-3 day delay to respond to any email if you can get them to answer at all. Beware…hopefully your experiences with them are better than mine.

  3. Tarp on March 13, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I used to but a lot of stuff at caskets in fact I was one of their initial customers a friend of a friend started it. But their service is so shitty and I had gotten so many incorrect bottles or their inventory want up to date I finally said the hell with it and vowed to never or jade from them again.

  4. Tarp on March 13, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Hazards of doing this from a mobile phone. Please fix those damn typos

    Want = wasn’t
    Or jade = buy

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