Maker: Niche Brands, Derry, Northern Ireland, UK (Luxco)
Style: Blended Irish whiskey
Price: $30 (Binny’s)
Appearance: Bright gold.
Nose: Malt, bourbon barrel, Riesling.
Palate: More sweet malt, touch of oak, alcohol, apricot, vanilla custard.
Finish: More apricot, custard, burn.
Parting words: There are a lot of sourced, blended Irish whiskeys on the market right now, and like The Quiet Man, most of their producers are in the process of building a distillery. Whether these distilleries will ever be able to fully supply the brands they’re associated with is an open question (see also Lux Row).
As it stands, though, The Quiet Man is a good, entry-level/tumbler blend. The bourbon barrels used for finishing give it warm, dessert flavors and aromas which complement the fruity sweetness of the malt spirit. $30 is a solid price for this solid whiskey. The Quiet Man 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!
Style: Low rye rye whiskey finished in sherry casks.
Age: 2 y/o
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan state minimum: $50
Thanks to Eric for the sample!
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: Alcohol, black tea, cayenne, cut grass.
Palate: Ghost pepper, caramel, sugared dates.
Finish: Peppermint, serrano chili.
Parting words: There are a lot of micro-distilled products around with weird names. Minor Case Rye get its weird name honestly, though. Minor Case Beam was a Kentucky distiller active in the early twentieth century and first cousin to Jim Beam of Jim Beam fame. M.C. Beam as he was better known was partner and later sole owner of the T. J. Pottinger distillery in Gethsemane Station, Kentucky, near the famous Trappist monastery that was once home to writer and theologian Thomas Merton. M.C.’s son Guy was grandfather to Stephen and Paul Beam, the owners of Limestone Branch.
I try not to read a lot of reviews of products I’m planning on reviewing in the near future so I did my best to stay away from the gobs of reviews of Minor Case Rye that have come out recently. I tasted it semi-blind, not knowing the age, proof, or that it was finished although I suspect I knew that at one point. When I (re)learned that it was sherry-finished, I was surprised. I thought it had an interesting array of aromas, some of which are outside the usual stable of rye whiskey descriptors. The sherry influence didn’t come through at first. Nothing in the way of raisins or rancio flavors , only a rounded fruitiness providing structure for chilies and herbs. Once I knew to look for it, I found it, but I would not have guessed it.
I was also surprised by its age, two years old. This explains the capsacin flavors, but again, I would not have guessed that it was that young. The sherry finish is used deftly to mask the harsh flavors of young whiskey while still more or less incognito. That’s an impressive feat. I can say without reservation that Minor Case Rye is the best two year old rye whiskey I’ve had, finished or not.
The $50 price tag is what really gives me pause. My inner cheapskate strongly resists paying that much for a whiskey so young, but I gotta say it tastes like a $50 whiskey. That said, I do hope it gets older. Minor Case Rye is recommended.
Distillers (probable): Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky & MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
Style: Blend of straight bourbon and straight rye
Age: 2 y/o
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $25
Appearance: Light orange.
Nose: Alcohol, caramel, asparagus, orange zest.
Palate: Light bodied and hot. Caramel, cotton candy, alcohol,
Finish: Menthol, alcohol, cotton candy again. Lingers for a while.
Mixed: Rebel Yell American Whiskey mixes very well across the board. Makes for an excellent boulevardier and Manhattan. Old Fashioned is not quite as good but still decent. Does ok with club soda or on the rocks too.
Parting words: While I would say that my least favorite bottom shelf bourbon is Benchmark, many people would give that dubious honor to Rebel Yell. Once upon a time it was a mid-lower shelf offering from the Stizel-Weller distillery, more famous for the Old Fitzgerald and Weller brands of wheated bourbon (that is, bourbon made with corn, malted barley and wheat rather than corn, malted barley and rye). When Diageo was formed, they sold off all of the old S-W brands except for Rebel Yell, which they intended to make their worldwide flagship bourbon. That didn’t work out so they sold the brand to Luxco, one of the biggest non-distiller producers of bourbon.
Luxco already owned the Ezra Brooks line of rye recipe bourbons but no wheaters so it was a good fit for their portfolio. They released the slightly older Rebel Reserve (no longer made but still languishing on shelves) a few years ago and in 2015 expanded the line again and redesigned the bottle (now Confederate soldier free!). The new products are Small Batch Reserve, Honey and Cherry flavored bourbons, this product and a rye for some reason.
I was pleasantly surprised by this. The high-rye rye balances the caramel and vegetable notes in the bourbon and brings a light citrus flavor to the party. It lacks complexity and depth, but one could do a lot worse for $25. For mixing and casual sipping, Rebel Yell American Whiskey is recommended.
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.