Things I love about bourbon include:
1. The drinking and savoring of bourbon.
Things I don’t particularly enjoy about bourbon include:
1. Trying to understand the sea of marketing copy and small print on any given whiskey bottle or website that is thrown at the consumer by the large distilling companies, and which often obfuscate where exactly the liquid in the bottle is distilled, aged, moved, aged again, bottled, etc, etc, etc.
It is, to put it simply, not easy to really speak authoritatively about whiskey production for an average reviewer or consumer. Unless you really throw yourself into the industry and see past veneers of marketing shtick thicker than a barrel-strength wheat whiskey, then you’re left simply accepting and repeating the marketing copy. And so, I’ll freely admit that when it comes to the inclusion of “the last bourbon produced at the Stitzel-Weller distillery” in the new bourbon from Diageo’s Blade and Bow, I have to pretty much just take that at face value. It’s the kind of thing that is important to some consumers, but not especially to me. What I care about is the quality of the product, and here I can happily report something else—I love this new bourbon.
Blade and Bow, which is also releasing a very limited, 22-year bourbon in minuscule quantities, produces this flagship bourbon without a specific age statement, but says that the youngest juice is at least six years old. It incorporates the last remaining Stitzel-Weller product (from 1992 or earlier) by using a “solera system,” of the sort that is more common in rum, port and sherry production. A pyramid of barrels is created, where new whiskey is fed into the top layer and older spirit is kept on the bottom. Because the bottom barrels are never drained more than half way, this theoretically means there is “always” some of the original Stitzel-Weller juice present, although the laws of conservation of matter would tell us that it eventually would be reduced to a negligible level. But anyway, I digress. Let’s get into the actual review, yeah?
On the nose, Blade and Bow is wonderfully complex and fruity, growing larger and more expansive each time you return to it. Initially the fruit pops hardest, with lots of dark berry fruitiness—blackberry and black cherry, backed by candy shop toffee, vanilla and light wood. The more I came back to the nose, however, the more the spice notes come forward, with impressions of cinnamon and especially allspice.
On the palate, this 91-proof bourbon seems just a touch hot at first, but then quickly mellows. Once again the rye and spice popped out for me—more than it did for some other tasters when I shared it with them—but it’s complemented beautifully by the richness and fuller, more velvety mouthfeel of a more corn-heavy bourbon rather than the sharpness and thinner body of true rye whiskey. Flavors of rich vanilla custard and oak are a star attraction, and searching further, I eventually found the fruit as well. There’s a red berry fruitiness that reflects some of the aroma, but also a wonderful stone fruit character in the vein of apricot. Combine all of those elements and it reminds me of say, someone’s artisan donut shop in Brooklyn where the chefs have been playing with fruits and spices. Did I make myself hungry for donuts and whiskey while writing that? I can assure you that I did.
The price point on Blade and Bow seems oddly elastic at the moment—I’ve seen everything from $45 to $59.99 for a bottle—so keep an eye out and you might be able to snag one at a steal.
ABV: 45.5%, 91 proof
Availability: 750 ml bottles, approx. $50
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. You can follow him on Twitter.