You may have noticed in recent years the new look of Old Bardstown bourbon. Well, the juice inside is entirely different, too. Once a sourced whiskey bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, it is now the company’s entry-level bourbon offering off of Willett’s own still, complete with labels that are reproductions of those in the family’s portfolio from the 1940s. In 2014, Willett-distilled rye (under the Family Estate label) gave us an encouraging glimpse of what lay ahead for the distillery. While somewhat unusual, it’s not surprising that they chose to recycle the Old Bardstown brand to showcase the distillery’s youngest bourbons, reserving the Family Estate label for single barrels and older releases. The revamped Old Bardstown line includes a 90 proof straight bourbon and a bottled-in-bond bourbon, both made with an unusually large amount of malted barley (15%) in the mashbill. Our thoughts on these baby Willett bourbons follows.
Old Bardstown Bourbon – The nose on this bourbon is light and grassy but by no means green. There’s complexity in its youthful notes: honeydew, fresh oak, mint, and vanilla. Even the more grain-heavy elements are a little caramel-infused. On the palate, things remain light with a silky mouthfeel and good heat for a young, lower shelf bourbon. The palate is corn sweet and less complex than the nose suggests with mostly caramel notes and cinnamon stick becoming a slightly creamy touch of butterscotch on the finish. A very fine rail bourbon, and a not unpleasant, if unexciting, sipper. 90 proof. B / $20
Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – The nose on this one is a completely different animal for only a little more age, proof, and price. It’s bigger and bolder with a surprising amount of juicy, candy-sweet red fruit. The cereal notes are more baked and buttery, too. While the mouthfeel isn’t far removed from its little brother, there’s a lot more flavor riding along on the palate with notes of sugary cocktail cherries, fresh ground cinnamon, graham cracker, mint, and a little cracked black pepper. The finish is surprisingly long for a bargain bourbon with notes of cherry candies and Werther’s Original. While it’s on the sweet side, the balance and complexity make it one of the better young bourbons I’ve encountered. 100 proof. A- / $22 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]