American Born is a new line of bourbon and flavored whiskey from Milestone Brands, an Austin-based company founded by the minds behind Deep Eddy Vodka. These new whiskeys are sourced spirits bottled at 83 proof, which “pays homage to the recognition of the country’s independence in 1783.” Hmmm.
Note that the spirits are all bottled in Nashville, but they are not considered (or labeled) Tennessee Whiskey.
Thoughts on the full lineup follow.
American Born Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a “corn and rye” mash, but otherwise details are scant, including where it is distilled, and how long it is aged. Clearly it’s not young. The whiskey has the hallmarks of youth on the nose, namely plenty of lumberyard character that gives it a considerable pungency. The palate finds that wood melding with buttery popcorn and taking on some smoky notes, alongside almond, clove, and a burnt rubber character that lingers on the finish. A simple bourbon that is all about youth, worn straight on its sleeve. 83 proof. B- / $20
American Born Peach Whiskey – Made with natural peach juice and natural flavors. This is a capable way to doctor the rough-and-tumble Bourbon, giving a good amount of sweetness to a whiskey that’s desperately in need of it. And at first blush, the peach is juicy, authentic, and sweet — but this degrades surprisingly quickly, devolving into a chemical note that comes across as acrid, shades of (the old) Southern Comfort. 70 proof. C / $19
American Born Apple Whiskey – Again, made with real apple juice and natural flavors. Sharp apple candy on the nose leads to an incredibly sweet and syrupy body, stuffed with apple and watermelon candy notes. The finish is unbearably saccharine, off-putting with harshly astringent overtones. D- / $19
It feels like it’s been a year since Buffalo Trace’s last entry into its ongoing Experimental Collection release, but finally something new has arrived. This one looks at the most basic component of whiskeydom: the underlying grain. This time, it’s going with a whopping six of them.
Some details from the buffalo’s mouth:
Distilled in early May 2010, this whiskey mash bill contains an assortment of grains; corn, buckwheat, brown rice, sorghum, wheat, and rice. These grains were milled, cooked and made into sour mash before being distilled on Buffalo Trace’s experimental micro-still to 130 proof white dog. The white dog was then entered into eight new charred white oak barrels that had received Buffalo Trace’s standard number four char. After resting in Warehouse H for seven years and one month, the whiskey was chill filtered and bottled at 90 proof.
This is a certified organic whiskey, as all six grains received organic certification, and the production method at Buffalo Trace Distillery, including distillation, processing, and bottling was organically certified.
The whiskey is a bit of a bruiser, loaded up with tannin and barrel influence that I wouldn’t expect from a seven year old whiskey. The nose is loaded with sawdust and pencil lead, dusky clove and tobacco leaf. The palate, well, it stays right on target: wood is the dominant note, with diminishing characteristics of burnt sugar, molasses, tar, and heavy barrel char. Some sweetness lingers here — a by-product perhaps of the sorghum — but for the most part it lacks the heavy vanilla and caramel notes of a typical bourbon. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is quite unexpected and off the beaten path.
This is a complex beast, and fans of very old bourbons are advised to track down a bottle to compare and contrast how this unorthodox mashbill, at a younger age, compares to a more traditional bourbon, at a much more advanced one. Please share your talking points in the comments.
B+ / $46 (375 ml) / buffalotrace.com
Diageo’s Rhetoric brand, part of the Orphan Barrel Project, is now on its fourth of six total expressions. The 20 year old arrived in 2014, followed by annual updates in the form of the 21 year old and 22 year old versions. Today we look at #4, Rhetoric 23 Years Old.
As a refresher, as the story goes, Rhetoric stocks were found in the old Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Louisville. It was distilled between 1990 and 1993 at the Bernheim Distillery while owned and operated by United Distillers., from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Bottling is done in Tennessee.
All told, the 23 is showing similar characteristics to the 22 year old, perhaps with a slightly more woody edge to it. That aside, on the nose it still carries ample fruit — oranges, cherries, and a solid slug of chocolate. The palate carries a heavy wood and barrel char profile, but it’s tempered with butterscotch, bergamot, and some tropical notes, particularly coconut. The finish is quite tannic, almost bitter at time and showing lots of grip, slightly smoky and with hints of black pepper.
All told, Rhetoric is still holding its own, though at this point the wood is beginning to dominate the other elements. We’ll see how the next two expressions fare on that regard.
A- / $120 / diageo.com
The third installment of Luxco’s annual Blood Oath series, Pact No. 3, was released in March of this year, and as with previous releases it’s a product of significant creativity. Like Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2 before it, this release is a blend of three different rye-heavy bourbons ranging in age from seven to twelve years old.
Pact No. 3 is nothing if not rye-forward, with all of the component bourbons in the latest release having a high rye mashbill, although the exact rye content is not specified. Building on the success of last year’s blend, which included a Port-finished whiskey, one of the bourbons in Pact No. 3 is finished in cabernet sauvignon barrels. Wine cask finishing is still not common in the bourbon world, and the use of cabernet sauvignon casks is even rarer (only Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve comes to mind). Luxco partnered with Swanson Vineyards in Napa Valley to procure the wine barrels for this release, and according to the creator of Blood Oath, John Rempe, the use of this particular type of wine cask allowed for the creation of “more character and depth” in the resulting bourbon.
I have to agree with Rempe. This whiskey packs character and depth aplenty. On the nose, Pact No. 3 shows notes of brown sugar, caramel, and stewed red fruit with just a slight mint quality underneath it all. The palate is rich and oily with oak, vanilla, tons of chewy caramel, and subtle dark chocolate. The rye spice only really arrives on the back end, but it adds a wonderful richness to the finish, which is long and warming with lingering black cherry and cinnamon notes.
Although Blood Oath remains a sourced product, Luxco’s new distillery in Bardstown, Lux Row Distillers, will soon begin producing and aging future releases for the line. If they make whiskey as well as they source and blend it, we all have a lot to look forward to.
98.6 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.
A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com
As we reported in January, Heaven Hill recently revamped the way Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was being presented, and that bottles would now carry a batch ID on each label, the first being A117 in January.
Now the second release of the 12 year old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof for 2017 is here: B517, signifying May 2017. Here’s a look at this offering, compared side by side with the 127-proof A117 release and the original 2013 release of this whiskey.
Though lighter in proof than even the comparatively quiet A117, this is an Elijah Craig release that’s bold and full of flavor. On the nose, the whiskey is immediately redolent of buttered popcorn, tempered with lots of baking spice, dried ginger, barrel char, and butterscotch. The palate follows along in lockstep — though it ultimately shows itself to be a bit more bittersweet than expected, with quite strong and tannic notes of scorched wood on the back of the palate. Water’s a huge friend here, bringing out notes of brown sugar, orange peel, and sweet licorice candy — and going a long way toward taming that bitter, barrel-driven element in the bourbon.
As with earlier expressions of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, this is a cask strength release that benefits from a careful hand, exposure to air, and a healthy amount of water at the ready. Give it a try, no question.
124.2 proof. (Updated photo unfortunately not available.)
A- / $90 / heavenhill.com
When we last spent time with New York-based Finger Lakes Distilling and its McKenzie whiskey brand, we found some young craft spirits that showed promise but which surely would benefit from time in barrel. Well, four years later, that time has passed, and McKenzie is out with a Single Barrel Bourbon release which has spent 4 1/2 years in oak. This release is crafted from a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and is bottled at cask strength.
This is a much more mature and intriguing spirit than I’ve ever seen from McKenzie. That starts off with a nose that features notes of butterscotch, vanilla, cloves, and hefty barrel char. There are hints of mushroom and forest floor underneath the sweeter elements, along with notes of burnt toast. As the alcohol burns off, you catch some scorched motor oil notes.
On the palate, there’s an instant rush of sweetness, followed by clove and cinnamon notes and more of that slightly smoky barrel char. Again the savory mushroom and forest floor character bubbles up, becoming a bit weedy at times. The finish takes the whiskey on a strange little trip, offering notes of matchheads, dried banana chips, chewing tobacco (I say tabacky in this case), and burning leaves. Quite dry on the back end, it finishes with just a hint of Maraska cherries and aged sherry. Exotic and a bit strange, but worth sampling to see the general direction in which McKenzie is headed.
106.9 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #847.
B+ / $65 / fingerlakesdistilling.com
Rabbit Hole Distilling is a new producer of whiskey, based in bourbon’s heartland, Kentucky. The company recently broke ground on its own distillery in downtown Louisville; for now it is producing whiskey at another Kentucky distillery using its own mashbills and recipes.
Rabbit Hole hit the ground with three whiskies. The standbys — a bourbon and a rye — are reviewed here. We missed out on the third, a sourced bourbon that Rabbit Hole finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. (A gin arrived later.)
Thoughts on these two — none of which is bottled with a formal age statement — follow.
Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Bourbon – A four-grain bourbon, but not what you think: The mash is 70% corn, 10% malted wheat, 10% malted barley, and 10% honey malted barley (a beer-centric barley with honey overtones; it’s not flavored with honey). “Over two years old.” The nose is closed off somewhat, offering restrained menthol notes, and lots of popcorn character. The palate is heavy with grain, but also rustic and loaded up with popcorn character. I do catch a whiff of honey on the back end — an earthy sweetness that provides a bit of balance to a whiskey that would clearly benefit from some extra maturity. A touch of dark chocolate lingers on the finish. 95 proof. B- / $46
Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Rye – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, also over two years old. Clearly youthful and a bit brash on the nose, where the whiskey melds barrel char with ample, toasty grains and some brown sugar notes. The palate finds more balance, a sweeter profile than the nose would indicate, with enough baking spice character to showcase the rye grain quite handily. Apple pie and bananas foster notes give the mid-palate a fun, fruity, chewy character that leads to a finish loaded with notes of honey and gingerbread. Impressive for a rye this young. 95 proof. A- / $59