In just about any review you’re going to find of Coopers’ Craft Bourbon, you’re going to see the following information in the introduction, so let’s get it out of the way. Coopers’ Craft is a new brand from Brown-Forman, which is the parent company of several well-known whiskey families: Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester. It’s their first new bourbon brand in 20 years, and thus has been released with a certain degree of pomp and circumstance in the bar scene. It’s been positioned as a fairly affordable but mid-level, lower-strength bourbon, but our immediate assessment is this: The liquid can’t quite assert its value when compared with other brands in the same company.
Looking at the Coopers’ Craft (a cooper is a barrel-maker, by the way) label, one gets a certain industrial, no-fuss vibe. It looks like a bartenders’ whiskey, the kind of thing that “industry night” people would be drinking on the cheap or perhaps the kind of bottle you’d see in an auto or sheet welding shop where sparks are filling the air. I can imagine that’s just the legitimate sort of image that ironically is now used to capture the millennial yuppie market, who value the appearance of grit in place of actual grit. But enough about labels and iconography.
Coopers’ Craft is a non-age statement bourbon, although we know it’s older than two years. Most sources seem to state it’s some sort of blend of two-to-six years bourbons, bottled at an oddly specific 82.2 proof. It’s also charcoal filtered, which is a bit of an odd process to see used in Kentucky bourbon. The exact mash bill isn’t known, but the company has stated that it has slightly more corn than their own Old Forester, which is mildly higher on rye than average bourbon.
On the nose, Coopers’ Craft is a little bit hotter than you would expect for the ABV, with slightly harsh ethanol that opens up and fades to reveal impressions of green apple, cinnamon and light caramel, followed by a big wave of sour oak. This is quite woody on the nose, and a bit harsher than most of the other examples in its weight class.
On the palate, the bourbon is light of body but fairly spicy despite the lower rye content, and again a bit hotter than one would expect for the ABV. Its sweetness is honey-like in character, with lower levels of vanillans and a lighter degree of caramelization, although it does fade into some pleasant baking spices—predominantly cinnamon. You wouldn’t criticize this whiskey as lacking in volume or assertiveness in flavor for its weight class, but the ethanol presents a bit too strongly for its elements to come into synthesis. In the same weight class and similar mash bill, if you compared it to say, Jim Beam white label, you’d say that it’s more complex but arguably less easy to enjoy and sip.
This bourbon is perfectly serviceable for mixing, but this is where we run into the issue of price. At an MSRP of roughly $29, it’s hard not to recommend the cheaper, but tried-and-true Old Forester from the same company. For the same $30 price tag, one can also get the 100 proof Old Forester Signature, a bottled-in-bond release that is undeniably superior. So while there’s nothing inherently wrong with Coopers’ Craft, we can’t help but wonder at the purpose behind its release, and its intended audience, as part of an extended family that also includes a venerable brand such as Old Forester. Any further expressions of the Coopers’ Craft line will have to find a more unique wrinkle to really make an impression with bourbon drinkers.
City: Louisville, KY
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $28.99 MSRP
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer and whiskey guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks coverage, including Paste’s ongoing blind beer style tasting series.