It was only a couple years ago when Bardstown Bourbon Co. put out the first releases in their ongoing Fusion and Discovery series, and already it has come to feel like the company has been part of the Kentucky bourbon scene for a decade or more. And indeed, the distillery has been in production now since 2016, so they can’t exactly be called a spring chicken, but they’ve also managed to accomplish quite a bit since the release of Fusion Series #1 and Discovery Series #1 back in 2019. They’ve clearly established themselves among a select class of still young Kentucky distillers that the average bourbon geek has welcomed into the state’s pantheon of top-tier whiskey producers, and they managed to do it in the midst of a pandemic, with limited opportunities for face-to-face marketing. Not many other companies can say they’ve done as much to grow their stock since 2019.
I think part of the reason why Bardstown managed to get off to such a solid start is that their duo of core offerings gave them a way to both premiumize their younger distillate and showcase their skills as blenders at the same time. The Fusion series allows the company to package their own 3 and 4-year-old bourbon, indisputably making it the star of the bottle while simultaneously supporting it with much older sourced bourbon, lifting it out of the familiar territory being explored by so many other young distilleries. The Discovery series, meanwhile, offers the well-aged Kentucky bourbon experience that collectors crave, but supplies novelty by blending four significantly different bourbon mashbills, once again landing on a result that isn’t quite the same as anything else on the shelf. Both releases are inviting and have immediately obvious selling points, but both also have enough individuality to make drinkers curious. This is how Bardstown manages to project gravitas while selling 4-year-old bourbon.
With that said, it’s been a little while at this point since I tasted either of these specific brands, so I’ve got samples here of the two newest editions: Fusion Series #5 and Discovery Series #5. Let’s see how Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s ethos has continued to evolve in the releases since Series #1.
Fusion #5 is a blend of 3-year-old Bardstown Bourbon Co. distilled whiskey (14%), 4-year-old BBC whiskey (56%) and 11-year-old Kentucky bourbon (30%) from an unnamed source, although the mashbill would suggest it’s probably Beam. As in previous entries of this series, it’s bottled at 94.9 proof, with an MSRP around $60, putting it solidly in upper portion of the bourbon mid-shelf.
On the nose, this one displays a lot of caramel candies, along with red fruitiness that evokes strawberry and cherry, although this proves to be a brighter sort of fruitiness than the darker impressions found in Discovery #5. I’m also getting toastier elements, hints of bread crust and cocoa, which made me jot down the following note that I’m chuckling at in retrospect: “Chocolate babka.” There’s also something fresher here, possibly from the younger oak of the BBC barrels, which has a very faintly resinous/piney quality.
On the palate, I’m getting brown sugar and significant corny sweetness, along with flashes of cherry and cocoa. You definitely do get elements of both “young” and “old” dueling it out in this brand, with the younger, grain-derived flavors eventually taking a backseat on the back end to subtle herbaceousness. The rye seems to increasingly make itself felt over time, leading me to notice that one of the Bardstown mash bills is quite high in rye content indeed at 26%. All in all, there’s more than enough complexity to catch the attention of the seasoned bourbon drinker.
Here’s where I get honest—these two brands are one of those cases where it’s not at all difficult to make an argument for why one is priced significantly higher than the other. Whereas I genuinely believe that most any bourbon fan would blind taste Fusion #5 and think “Mmm, this is pretty good,” I expect almost any of them would then blind taste the Discovery #5 alongside it and say “Woah, now what is that.” This brand is equal parts an impressive showcase for the BBC blenders and the distillers who initially produced and aged these whiskeys.
Discovery Series #5 is composed of four whiskeys of different mashbills, from four different distilleries—the mash bills would seem to suggest Barton 1792, George Dickel, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam, who are all prolific sellers of well-aged whiskey for blending purposes. The ages in this blend range from 6 to 17 years, with 56% of the blend being at least 13 years of age. All in all, then, a pretty well-seasoned blend. It’s bottled at cask strength, which for this batch is a comparatively lower 52.35% ABV (104.7 proof).
On the nose, I’m first getting lots of deep, seductive red fruit on this one—Luxardo maraschino cherries in that inky black syrup, into caramel, chocolate and maple. Returning to the glass a few minutes later, this had increasingly morphed into sweet, smoky roast and vibrant orange oil aromatics, which hinted at the way that Discovery #5 tended to change over time in the glass.
On the palate, this strikes a wonderful balanced between decadence and structure, with initial impressions of creamy caramel and vanilla bean, along with sweetened almond butter and flamed orange. There’s also significant earthiness, however, and more than a little drying oak tannin reining things in, along with a pronounced tobacco note on the back end. The Kentucky hug is unsurprisingly quite a bit more pronounced here than it was on the Fusion #5, and the entire presentation grips the palate with a firm but supple hand—very “iron fist in a velvet glove.”
All in all, a delicious blend of well-aged bourbons, and one that will likely register as both familiar and novel all at once.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.