15 stars is at least 10 more stars than anyone should ever need, but I’m told there’s some legitimate meaning behind the name of this rising whiskey brand, as Kentucky was the 15th state in the nation… and thus the 15th star on the flag. Oddly enough, 15 Stars the whiskey hails from all over — Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. 15, 16, and 19 Stars just wouldn’t have rolled off the tongue the same way, I suppose.
15 Stars — based in Bardstown and operated by father-son entrepreneurs Rick and Ricky Johnson — has been winning awards right and left, probably thanks to their focus on blending tightly curated, well-aged spirits. The prices certainly aren’t shy, either, with MSRPs running well into the 3 figures. So far, the operation has released seven expressions, all limited editions. Today we look at two of the most recently released offerings, a well-aged blend and a sherry-finished offering.
15 Stars Platinum Bourbon – This is a straightforward blend of three bourbons, aged 18, 15, and 10 years old and distilled in Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee. It isn’t clear which state belongs to which age statement, and 15 Stars doesn’t offer any proportion data, either — or if there are more than three whiskeys in the blend. Nosing the whiskey seems to suggest there’s ample older stock in here, with sharp aromas of furniture polish, heavily charred wood, and dried tea leaves — almost bay leaf at times. Savory and brooding on the palate, this has that Old Bourbon vibe dialed in, pushy with notes of char, and intense cola note, and a layered sweetness that borders on raisiny and chocolate-driven. Increasingly peppery as it sits in the glass, additional notes of flamed orange peel, crystalline ginger, and a clearer vanilla flavor all come into focus. It’s a whiskey that drinks fine freshly poured but which benefits greatly from time in glass, the finish tempering some of its more leathery qualities with a lasting spice note. Pricy as hell, but just shy of being offensive. 98 proof. A- / $280
15 Stars Bourbon Sherry Cask Finished 10 Years Old – This is a blend of Kentucky and Indiana bourbons, aged 13 and 10 years old — but which is which? — and finished for an unspecified amount of time in sherry casks. Less aggressively sherry-like than I expected to find, the nose is ruddy and woody, with an undertone of raisins that seems more Port-like than sherried. The whiskey moves toward a cherry quality with some time in glass, then showing some of that tea leaf present in the Platinum expression. Engaging and sweet on the palate, there’s significantly more fruitiness on the tongue, with bold fig, cherry, and spice notes all quickly building. The bourbonness of the whiskey is a bit lost here, as the sweeter, fruit-forward notes take hold. Wine-barrel-finished bourbon can be divisive, and I expect purists won’t much like what they find here. Open your mind and let the fruit flow; I think a splash of water is beneficial here, too, tempering the darker fruits and letting a bit more vanilla into the mix alongside some notes of cola and more chocolate. While far from your classic bourbon experience, there’s an exuberance here that’s hard not to fall in love with. I’d order it. Compare to Legent. 115 proof. A- / $180