30 Nov 2016
One of the best attributes about bourbon—as opposed to, say, single malt scotch—has always been the value it can provide. Good bourbon doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg. Although, as its popularity has grown, there are those who would gladly charge you an arm and a leg for good (or not-so-good) bourbon.
Old Bardstown (90-proof) and Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond (100-proof), which cost $18 and $22 respectively, certainly have the potential to provide good value. While the Old Bardstown brand has been around for years in various forms, the bottles I’m sampling are relatively new varieties that are actually distilled at Willett’s distillery.
Willett has bottled many fine bourbons for years (including Willett Family Estate, Old Bardstown, Noah’s Mill, Johnny Drum, Rowan’s Creek, and others). But the distillery stopped distilling whiskey in the early 1980s and didn’t resume until January 2012. Prior to very recently, all of Willett’s bourbons were bought from other distilleries, even if they were aged and bottled at Willett.
The new bottles clearly state they are “distilled and bottled at the Willett distillery.” Given that Willett didn’t fire up its still until January 2012, we know both are barely over four years old (if it was less than four years, it would have to be disclosed). Beyond some Family Estate Rye and bourbon sold mostly through Willett’s gift shop, these are the first bottles to be sold from that Willett distillate. Currently, these bourbons are only for sale in the state of Kentucky. As production ramps up, though, I’d expect them to become available more widely.
The Old Bardstown Bourbon is a dark color for a relatively young bourbon and features a nose with maple sugar and damp cardboard. On the palate, the whiskey shows wood, toasted cereal grain, and malty sweetness. The finish is light with wood spice and eucalyptus.
Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon features a nose of ethanol, mint, and rock sugar candy. On the palate is burnt corn, rubber, tea, and some bitter green wood. The finish shows even more tea and rubber along with some burnt sugar.
I was shocked to discover I greatly preferred the 90-proof version to the bottled-in-bond 100-proof version, but I can only speculate that the lower proof smooths over some of the rough edges that come from only four years in the barrel. In either format, Old Bardstown shows the promise of the new Willett distillate, especially after it spends a few more years aging. Right now, try it neat, but know that the price means you won’t feel guilty using it in a cocktail.
As for cigars, I’d recommend a full-bodied, earthy smoke to offset some of the unbalanced aspects of Old Bardstown. Specifically, smoke the Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Velvet Rat, El Güegüense Robusto, Montecristo Sublime Edición Limitada 2008 (Cuban), Tatuaje Black, or Warped Futuro Selección Suprema.
photo credit: Stogie Guys