One of the most unusual special edition whiskeys of the year to arrive is here in the form of Yellowstone Limited Edition 2021. This year — the 6th iteration of the Yellowstone LE — is a blend of 7-year-old and 15-year-old bourbons, with at least some of the 7-year-old barrels finished in Amarone wine casks. Our whiskey drinkers may not be up on what Amarone is all about, so let’s offer a bit of backstory:
“Amarone is a rich, red wine that – much like bourbon – takes time and patience to craft and requires at least two years in oak casks to age. Finishing select barrels in these Amarone casks brings notes of fresh cracked pepper and tobacco, as well as hints of black cherry, fig and dark chocolate to the classic bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla and hints of citrus,” Limestone Branch Master Distiller Stephen Beam. “With a finish of oxidized fruit, cherry and black currant, this bourbon is reminiscent of pre-Prohibition whiskeys.”
Amarone is made with grapes that are at least partially dried before vinification, giving the wine a level of intensity that’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s highly unusual to see Amarone used as a finishing barrel, and the finished whiskey here is as unusual as the wine itself. Let’s give it a try.
Right off the bat, this whiskey’s a wild one. Notes of ample char do battle with a big tropical character that runs from toasted coconut to pineapple chunks. A cherry cola element emerges as the wine opens up, taking things in yet another direction. The palate has plenty of wood in the mix — that 15 year old whiskey is hard to miss — and while the wine element doesn’t feel overdone, the finish has clearly had some amount of impact on the spirit. Exotic notes of mixed florals and coconut husk give the bourbon a real liveliness, with a butterscotch character serving to sweeten things up. Wine-driven tannins come to bear on the finish, with notes of red pepper and cinnamon giving the spirit some heat. It feels like it may fade out on a heavy note, but the whiskey surprises again, concluding with a lighter than expected freshness that invites continued exploration.
This is one of the most unusual and surprising bourbons of the year, and it definitely merits a place on your shelf.