Distiller: Undisclosed (tastes like Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA)
Style: standard recipe bourbon
Age: 7 y/o
Proof: 117 (58.5% ABV)
Purchased for $50
Appearance: Bright copper.
Nose: Cayenne, corn chips, lavender.
Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet. Caramel, vanilla, oak, then big alcohol burn. Water makes it a little leathery.
Finish: Nutty and then burn. Same but more mild.
Parting words: For many years, Old Ezra 101 was one of my go-to bourbons. As I said in my previous review, it was maybe the best example of Heaven Hill’s distictive, minty, yeast-driven style despite having a Luxco label.
Alas, a few years ago Luxco turned this relatively obscure favorite into a barrel proof high-end release at more than twice the price. Before that, the source of the bourbon changed from Heaven Hill to Jim Beam (according to my tastebuds anyway). Beam does a lot of contract/bulk whiskey work these days, since it’s one of the few distillers in Kentucky that still has the ability to do so.
At any rate, this is no substitute for the good old HH Old Ezra 101, but it’s still pretty good. Old Ezra is recommended.
Now that our youngest is getting older, our regular trips to Kentucky have been slowly becoming regular again. Last April, friend, cocktail enthusiast, and StraightBourbon.com Bourbonian of the Year Bruce organized a couple of tours of Luxco’s new Lux Row distillery for all the SBers who had gathered in Bardstown that weekend.
The bourbon boom has seen a lot of activity around Bardstown and Louisville on the part of whiskey start-ups and even old players. One of those older players that is now making the transition from non-distiller producer (NDP) to distiller is Luxco. Luxco was known as the David Sherman Corporation for many years. It was founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1958 by…wait for it…David Sherman along with his partner Paul A. Lux. The Luxes gained control over the company over the years and it was renamed Luxco in 2006. The distillery is named Lux Row because it’s owned by Luxco and they, uh, like to arrange things in rows. No joke, that’s literally what our tour guide said.
Luxco/DSC has long been a large NDP in the bourbon business. Its brands currently include Ezra Brooks, Rebel Yell, Blood Oath, Yellowstone, and David Nicholson (infamous for its labels stating that it was distilled at DSP-KY 16 long after it actually was). Luxco is also now 50% owner of Limestone Branch distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky. Tightening of the bulk and contract markets companies like Luxco rely on for their brands has forced some to start distilling for themselves. Luxco’s plans are ambitious. They told us they were planning to build six warehouses on the Lux Row site (they had one completed when we were there), one being completed every six months. They planned to transition to filling their brands entirely with their own stock in a few short years. The numbers didn’t seem to add up, but math isn’t my strong suit and I don’t own stock in the company or anything so I don’t really care.
The distillery/visitor center is a pleasant, modern-looking building inside and out. After years of touring one hundred year old, industrial-style plants, it was eerie to tour this neat and clean new building. No drips, no rust, and no low-hanging pipes to hit my head on.
The distillery building and visitors’ center.
As with most distillery tours, this one started out with a look at the cookers and fermenters. Lux Row has two 4,000 gallon mash cookers and twelve 8,000 gallon fermenters. Four of the fermenters are uncovered and the rest are closed. They are only running two mashbills currently, a rye recipe bourbon (for Ezra Brooks and David Nicholson Reserve) and a wheat recipe bourbon (for Rebel Yell and David Nicholson 1848). Our guide told us they only run one at a time. He also said that the fermentation usually takes three to four days.
Fermenter from the bottom, I think
Pre-still storage tank
One of the four uncovered fermenters.
Next we got a look at the still, which was made by Vendome and is a beaut, as they say. The column is 43 feet tall with a 36 inch diameter. It has 19 copper plates inside. According to our guide, the distiller’s beer is added at the third plate from the top.
Doubler and column still.
Badge on column.
Column going up…
We then went on to the barrel filling room and saw the equipment and a few barrels there. 90% of their barrels come from Independent Stave and rest come from Speyside cooperage and a few others. A level 3 char is used. The bourbon enters the barrels at a whopping 124.5% alcohol by volume.
On to the warehouse. It’s beautiful on the inside with a large open entryway allowing visitors to see all six stories to the top. It’s an impressive sight. Less impressive is the nearly empty warehouse behind those barrels.
The march to the warehouse.
Warehouse under construction.
Front of the warehouse.
Back of the warehouse.
Bottling takes place at the Luxco bottling plant in Missouri, so our next stop was the tasting bar. As you can see it is decorated in the same slightly old-timey modern style. We tried just about everything they had. The standouts were David Nicholson Reserve and Blood Oath. Blood Oath was very good but not worth the high price tag in my opinion.
We exited through the gift shop, which was full of well-designed apparel and glassware.
The tour was quite good overall and our guide was knowledgable, more so than many of the walking automatons that pass for guides at other places. The worst part of the tour was the tasting, simply because most Luxco bourbons just aren’t very good. That’s not the fault of the guides and other staff at Lux Row though. The tour at Lux Row distillery is recommended. Big thanks to Bruce for organizing the tour!
Maker: Luxco (likely distilled at Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky)
Age: 7 y/o
Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)
Color: New penny
Nose: Caramel, grassy, eucalyptus, peppermint, bit of spice. Classic Heaven Hill profile.
On the palate: caramel, burn, then spearmint, then peppermint, then more burn.
Finish: long and assertive, tingles all over the mouth for a real long time. A slight hint of oak and char.
Parting Words: . It’s ironic that in Michigan one of the best expressions of Heaven Hill’s style of bourbon comes in a brand they don’t own.
The Ezra Brooks brand has a long history. It was made at the now closed but now refurbished Medley distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky for many years, and some of those old bottles and decanters are floating around. The current product is in the hands of Luxco, a company that buys its whiskey from other distilleries, as far as I can tell Heaven Hill almost exclusively, and bottles it under their own brand names. Currently Luxco’s bourbons are the Yellowstone, Ezra Brooks, and Rebel Yell lines. The EB line includes Ezra Brooks (90 proof), Old Ezra 101, and Ezra B. single barrel, originally a 15 y/o, but now a 12 y/o.
At any rate, in spite of being labeled a “sippin’ whiskey”, Old Ezra works just as well in mixed drinks. The high proof and moderate age make it a good match for more assertive mixers like cola, sours and ginger ale. This is one of my favorite bourbons in its price range. It’s good for just about anything. I always try to have some around.