The Doc Swinson’s Collection is a new brand that’s been making serious waves since it hit the scene. This non-distilling producer’s story begins like many, with the discovery of a few barrels of good bourbon that the company bottled up and sold. Since then, Doc Swinson’s has started bottling older and older stock, and — more interestingly — experimenting with some truly unique finishing techniques. Releases are produced in batches of no more than 10 barrels at a time.
Today we look at four bottles of Doc Swinson’s recent releases — there are too many to keep track of — including its two most widely available Flagship Series “Alter Ego” bottlings, as well as two releases of its much rarer 15 year old, cask strength Exploratory Series Kentucky bourbon, made with an unusual mash of 78.5% corn, 13% rye and 8.5% malted barley. (Four releases total have been released to date, and while all are from the same distillery, the source of this whiskey remains a hot topic on Internet forums.)
Let’s dive in.
Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego Bourbon – Formerly a 12-13 year old Tennessee bourbon, this bottling was recently shifted to 6 year old MGP stock as its base. The devil is in the finishing, which is done in a mix of oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez sherry, and — since the switch to MGP stock — Cognac casks. The nose is woodsy but sweet, with various notes of citrus peel, herbal lemongrass, and some dark chocolate in the mix. Racy and inviting, it’s got loads of complexity — as the extensive finishing would suggest. The palate bursts with flavor, ranging from chewy caramel to gingerbread, almond to cherry notes. While it’s got a clear fruitiness on the tongue, the finish sees some bracing sweetness, clearly driven here by raisiny Cognac notes, and it shines the brightest as it slowly fades out. Tough to put down and a delight through and through, I’m not sure you can find a better bourbon at this price. 95.8 proof. Reviewed: Batch #21-001. A / $65
Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego Rye – This is a blend of various Tennessee-distilled ryes, aged 3 to 6 years old. Again, the aging process is the key here: “Over the years we have been dumping bourbon barrels and aging our rum blend in them, sometimes up to 5 years. Once we pull the rum we add that barrel to our solera pyramids which we finish our rye blend in. This is a traditional solera where we are only bottling a portion of our oldest barrels and then topping them off with portions of the younger barrels.” So: Rye aged, solera style, in ex-rum barrels. What will they think of next? Again, this is a knockout bottling that blends the best of two worlds. The nose is moderately oaky but quite sweet, offering lots of Christmassy baking spice and Maraska cherry, with some clear dill notes emerging with time in glass. The palate melds everything into a chewy swirl of roasted nuts (heavy on the almonds), toasty oak, and coconut husk, before breaking on the finish for notes of well-spiced banana bread, followed by a somewhat heavier cereal note, almost doughy at times, that clings to the tongue. Fun stuff. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #21-001. A- / $45
Doc Swinson’s Kentucky Bourbon 15 Years Old Release #7 – Fans of cask strength bourbon will find no faults here. The nose is bold and complex, featuring notes of leather and oiled wood, almond-studded toffee, and a cherry note on top. The palate falls largely in line, though here it’s heavier with peanut over almond, featuring butterscotch and coconut in lieu of more straightforward fruit notes. It also finds room for a touch of smoke, which complements the overall character well. While there’s plenty of heat up top, it’s surprisingly gentle on the lengthy finish. 109.8 proof. A- / $150
Doc Swinson’s Kentucky Bourbon 15 Years Old Release #8 – This is a bit of a different animal, with a curious soy sauce note on the nose, giving it a bolder umami quality. There’s still plenty of wood, but the nutty elements are replaced by a beefy quality, featuring some smoky barbecue notes in the mix. The palate comes across on the winey side, austere and leathery, with its sweeter elements much more muted. Some butterscotch perks up for a moment on the finish, before the whiskey slides back into a savory, somewhat peppery cocoon. While Release #7 is still firing beautifully, this release feels like it’s a bit past its prime. 114.2 proof. B / $150