Oh, celebrity whiskeys. If I had a dollar for every PR email I’ve ever received hyping Jason Aldean’s Wolf Moon Bourbon … well, I’d have at least enough by now to purchase a nice bottle of whiskey for myself. Seemingly every musician these days, especially within the sphere of country music, needs to have their own “collaboration” spirit. Most of these whiskeys come down to simply sourcing some young bourbon, slapping a label on the stuff and calling it a day. That, however, was clearly not good enough for the likes of Brad Paisley. His camp decided to take things quite a few steps further when they conceived of the new American Highway Reserve Bourbon.
This product stands out in the field of celebrity backed spirits for a few reasons. For one, its $100 MSRP puts it in a very different class, especially form most of the whiskey being hawked by country music stars. Most of these guys are not exactly aiming their branded bourbons at a luxury whiskey market, and are instead trying to make a product that is as accessible and affordable as possible. With the mania of bourbon bros continuing to build unabated, however, and package stores all too happy to join in on the phenomenon of bourbon price gouging, perhaps this was a wise move by Paisley and co., one calculated to take advantage of the compulsion of whiskey geeks to pursue literally anything advertised as “limited.”
And then there’s the central gimmick, and the reason for the American Highway name. Paisley’s brand is so named because a portion of the young spirit was loaded onto a 53-foot semi-trailer labeled as the “Rolling Rickhouse,” which followed his 2019 nationwide tour for 7,314 miles, across 25 states. The gimmick here is essentially like a land-based version of Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon—the “rocking of the Rolling Rickhouse draws out the barrel’s natural sugars, while the climate swings push and pull the bourbon in and out of the wood, imparting more and more deep oak flavor.” According to the press release, “it’s a set of variables that add up to something amazing, just like any journey or any country song.”
Which is to say, it’s a gimmick, and an immaculate one—and one they presume will be a big hit, because a second batch was already aged on the Rolling Rickhouse during Paisley’s 2021 tour, scheduled for release in 2022.
Here’s the thing, though, that is all too likely to be lost on the rank and file drinker. Sure, some barrels were aged in a semi-trailer, but it’s ultimately going to be impossible for the consumer to know what, if anything, that contributed to the final product. Because ultimately, the heavily jostled “truck bourbon” makes up just a portion of the final blend that is in these $100 bottles. I would be genuinely curious to taste one of those “straight from the truck” barrels, just for the sake of the novelty, but in the final product it’s impossible to say which of the four bourbons involved contributed which flavors. It’s ultimately just a clever gimmick; what we need to consider is the actual provenance of these whiskeys.
And good news on that front—turns out that Brad Paisley has some decent taste, and decided to work with Bardstown Bourbon Co. in the sourcing and blending of this whiskey. The final product is a blend of four Kentucky-distilled, “rye forward” bourbons ranging in age from 4-15 years. That essentially makes it seem like a spiritual cousin to Bardstown Bourbon Company’s own Fusion series, which indeed fuses their own younger spirit with older sourced Kentucky bourbons. I presume the same thing is happening here, and that the two 4-year-old bourbons in this mix are BBC’s own product. It’s a bit hard to say, given that BBC seems to have many mashbills. Regardless, the final breakdown is as follows.
28% – 4yr – 70/21/9
25% – 4yr – 60/36/4
24% – 13yr – 74/18/8
23% – 15yr – 78.5/13/8.5
In each of those recipes, the first number is the percentage of corn, followed by the percentage of rye, followed by what is presumably a percentage of malted barley. Like many BBC products, then, this becomes a bottle where the true story is the art of blending, taking younger high-rye bourbons and finding a harmony between them and some much more mature lots, in an almost 50/50 split. Presumably, they produced a good amount of the stuff, though, because American Highway is now being sold in more than 20 states, in addition to online sales.
So with all that finally said, let’s get to tasting the stuff and see if it can both exist beyond its gimmick and justify a $100 price tag.
On the nose, first thoughts here are of gentle impressions of caramel candies and golden brown butter cookies—there’s a toasted butter quality that becomes more apparent as I return to it. There’s also substantial oak, with a quality that splits the difference between older oak and younger, sawdust-like notes, along with slight peach fruitiness and a bit of anise and cinnamon spice. It’s not a super effusive nose, although it seems to hint at a decent amount of oak presence in the finished product. It’s also not a nose that reads as particularly sweet, which is the kind of thing one can cynically suspect in celebrity branded whiskeys.
On the palate, I’m getting moderate caramel and vanilla richness up front, with moderate residual sugar that evokes cinnamon brown sugar. The light fruit impressions are still here, but pretty subtle, with a little bit of peach and the faintest cherry. Spice is a bit more prominent, with notes of cinnamon, pepper and a bit of cola spice. The oak, meanwhile, lends some of the spicy wood notes, and has a slight drying quality, but contributes no real tannin to speak of, which ultimately makes for a very easy drinking whiskey. The finish brings out a bit more almond or roasted pecan nuttiness, which adds some needed complexity—this is one of those bourbons that reads as kind of simple on first inspection, but then fills out a bit more over time. Still, it’s more uncomplicated than it is novel or unusual, and it does seem calculated to be a crowd pleaser, but I think it’s succeeding pretty handily at that. It even possesses a slightly more sturdy Kentucky hug than one would expect for the relatively modest 48% ABV (96 proof).
In the end, this isn’t the most explosive or assertive bourbon you can find in the $100 range, considering the range of cask strength options available around here, but it is a skillfully constructed blend with a nice delicacy to its caramel-driven flavors in particular. I don’t have a lot of difficulty accepting that this would be Brad Paisley’s bourbon ideal, nor any real complaint to file with that ideal. The Rolling Rickhouse? It’s a gimmick. But at least a good bourbon came out of it.
Distillery: American Highway Bourbon (Bardstown Bourbon Co.)
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Blend of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys
ABV: 48% (96 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $100 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.