Old Hickory Blended Bourbon

Maker: R.S. Lipman, Nashville, Tennesee, USAwpid-oh-blended_thumb.png

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Blended bourbon (100% whiskey but not a blend of straights)

Age: 2 y/o (89% 4 y/o, 11% 2 y/o)

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

MSRP: $30

Note: I received complementary bottles of this and the straight bourbon from Double Diamond Marketing & Communications. Also, coloring and flavoring additives are used in this blended bourbon.

Appearance: Shiny auburn.

Nose: Mild. Alcohol, roasted corn, caramel.

Palate: Sweet and mild with some heat on the back end. Vanilla, caramel, pinch of cocoa.

Finish: Vanilla extract.

Mixed: Did poorly in cocktails with citrus mixers, like a whiskey sour or a Holdfast. Did very well in just about everything else. Perfect eggnog bourbon. Also makes an excellent Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and boulevardier. Gets a little lost with soda but did fine on the rocks.

Parting words: There aren’t a lot of blended bourbons on the market and the ones that are aren’t very good. One of the reasons for that is that they use Grain Neutral Spirits (GNS, basically vodka) to fill out the non-bourbon portion of the blend. The makers of Old Hickory blended use another type of whiskey instead of GNS. I’m guessing it’s a young corn or wheat whiskey, but they don’t say. OH blended does use flavoring and coloring additives as noted above, but this is perfectly legal and expected for any type of blend. While straight bourbon doesn’t use additives, many styles of whiskey do. Coloring is very common in Scotch and flavoring additives are allowed in Canadian whisky, of course. The vanilla extract flavor is overbearing in the finish when drinking neat, but complements most mixers.

I think more small producers should be making blended bourbons or ryes or other types. Low or no GNS blends might be a good way to give the consumer true-to-type whiskey flavor at a lower price than an NDP or micro-distilled straight might go for. Unfortunately, Old Hickory blended isn’t at a lower price than a straight of similar quality. Selling this at $30 seems to defeat the whole purpose of offering a blended bourbon. Evan Williams, Very Old Barton, and Old Grand Dad are all cheaper than OHBB by $13 or more in this state. At $20 or even $25 Old Hickory Blended Bourbon Whiskey might be recommended but at current MSRP, it is only mildly recommended.

Old Hickory Bourbon

Maker: R.S. Lipman, Nashville, Tennesee, USAwpid-oh-straight_thumb1.png

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye bourbon

Age: NAS (4-7 y/o)

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

MSRP: $40

Note: I received complementary bottles of this and the blended bourbon from Double Diamond Marketing & Communications.

Appearance: Ruddy copper.

Nose: Spearmint, potpourri, pine.

Palate: Hot on entry. Cinnamon, clove, butterscotch, oak, alcohol.

Finish: Herbal and hot. Lingers for a long time.

Mixed: This is a fantastic mixing bourbon. The strong rye notes complement vermouth perfectly and prevent the low proof from being problematic. Wonderful in a boulevardier and Manhattan. Also good in an old fashioned and in eggnog.

Parting words: Lipman is a small, Nashville-based Non-distiller producer (NDP) that has been around for a couple decades. They purchased the Old Hickory brand in 2013 (for many years the flagship bourbon of Publicker/Continental in Pennsylvania) and resurrected it with the help of our old friends at MGPI. It is currently only available in Tennessee, but is slowly being rolled out around the country. The label doesn’t make a connection with the old brand, other than featuring Old Hickory himself on the label. They are also very open about where they’re getting their stocks from. Good on them for not taking the Michter’s route.

According to Lipman’s promotional materials, this whiskey has a very high proportion of small grains (meaning malt and rye) and it certainly tastes like it. There seems to be an even higher percentage of rye than most high rye MGPI bourbon. Perhaps it was custom distilled. Lipman makes a big deal of how it owns its own stocks of bourbon and thus isn’t just buying this stuff on the bulk market. That should mean a consistent product going forward, more so than most NDP brands. They are planning some more expressions in the future, in addition to the straight and blended bourbons offered now.

This is a weird bourbon. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted one that was like this. It’s so rye heavy that if I were tasting it blind I would probably guess that it was Bulleit Rye, not a bourbon. It took me a while to figure out whether this was good weird or bad weird, but I finally settled on good. At this price, the proof should be higher, but it does ok at 86. Like I said above, the spice makes up for the low proof. Old Hickory Straight Bourbon is recommended, and highly so for cocktails.

Big Bottom Port Cask Finished

Maker: Big Bottom, Hillsboro, Oregon, USAwpid-20150220_122442.jpg

Distiller: Unknown, likely MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Straight bourbon finished in Port casks.

Age: NAS

Proof: 91 (45.5% AVB)

Batch: 7

Note: Not chill filtered

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, wood varnish, hint of port.

Palate: Sweet and oaky on the palate. Alcohol, aged tawny, chocolate covered dried cherries.

Finish: Alcohol, wine grape jam, dates. Lingers for a long time.

Mixed: While I don’t usually mix bourbons in this price range, fortified wine finished bourbons usually mix very well in the classier sort of cocktails so I thought I’d give it a go. I tried it in a Manhattan, perfect Manhattan, boulevardier, Dave Wondrich’s Holdfast cocktail (bourbon, bitters, splash of Gran Marnier) and a whiskey sour. It did well in all but it showed up best in the cocktails with as few mixers as possible to let the finishing show through. These were the Manhattans, Holdfast and the sour.

Parting words: Big Bottom (named after a section of the Lewis & Clark Mt. Hood Wilderness Area, and not to be confused with Big Ass Bourbon) offer a range of bourbons but made their name with their wine-finished ones. They bottle wines finished in Rhone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Port barrels. I decided to start with their Port-finished expression because I have more experience with Port-finished whiskeys than with any of the others. This one is finished in a ten year old tawny cask.

This is probably the best Port-finished bourbon I’ve had. It is a little hot upon first pour but after blows off it gets much better. BB doesn’t have the strawberry flavors of Angel’s Envy (or the Balvenie Portwood for that matter) but has richer fruit flavors like the cherry and date mentioned above.  It works  very well with red vermouth and is damn near perfect as an after-dinner sipper. The price is fair for a product of this high quality. The care they took in selecting the barrels for finishing shows in the end result. Big Bottom Port finished is recommended.

 

Old Medley

Maker: Charles Medley, Owensboro, Kentucky, USAOld Medley

Distiller: Unknown (Contract distilled)

Bottler: Frank-Lin, Fairfield, California, USA

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 86.8 (43.4% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $46

Appearance: Copper with thin legs.

Nose: Dry oak with a hint of sweetness.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Light brown sugar, oak, cocoa powder, alcohol, cayenne pepper.

Finish: Well-balanced and long. Alcohol, oak, caramel.

Parting words: Old Medley is a relatively new product and a very new one to Michigan. According to the best information available, Old Medley is a (relatively) high malt bourbon, coming in at 13% malt, higher than the percentage of rye in the mash. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve has also been rumored to be made with a high malt mashbill, but there has never been any evidence to confirm those rumors.

The Medleys are one of the great distilling families of Kentucky with a history that reaches far back into the nineteenth century. Most of that history is in and around Owensboro, Ketucky. The current Roman Catholic bishop of Owensboro is even a Medley. A distillery with the name of Charles Medley still stands there, but it is currently not in operation although its owner, the government of Trinidad & Tobago (long story), have been shopping it around for years with little success. After the Medleys lost control of their own distillery, they carried on as a non-distiller producer with Wathen’s Single Barrel ($33 state minimum), named after ancestor R. Wathen Medley (himself named for the Wathen family of which his mother Florence was a member). Wathen’s son Charles (b. 1941) and grandson Sam (b. 1975) are currently running the business. Recently a NAS, 102 proof bourbon by the name of Medley Brothers has also been released, but has yet to make it to Michigan.

As for the bourbon itself, it’s quite good. It’s an easy drinking mature bourbon. Sometimes I think it’s too mature and might be a little better at 10 y/o with more sweetness and less oak. But that’s a minor gripe and most of the time I enjoy it.

There are a lot of very good 12 year old bourbons on the market that are better values than Old Medley. Elijah Craig and Weller 12 are hard to beat. On the other hand, there are also a lot of garbage bourbons on the shelves that NDPs or micro-distillers are changing $40-$50 for. Old Medley is not that. It’s an easy going after dinner porch sipping whiskey. It is recommended.

Review: Old Ezra 101

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.