Lovers of bourbon can’t exactly be expected to feel too much sympathy for the whiskey writer who says something akin to “I have too many samples to get to them all,” but that is indeed something your average spirits writer may experience on a daily basis. Such is the flipside of having a chance to sample numerous spirits—you sometimes end up feeling like you’re drowning in rows of unopened, 100 ml bottles. And in the confusion, sometimes a bottle will slip by that you really should have sampled sooner.
Case in point: Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s still somewhat recent release of Ferrand, a cognac cask-finished bourbon blend whose sample I’ve been sitting in for entirely too long. Suffice to say, it had slipped from my radar until seeing a few raves for it online recently, which reminded me that I’d never gotten around to officially tasting it. And after having done so, all I can say is the following: My bad. This is a lovely finished bourbon, and one of the tastiest products I’ve had from Kentucky’s BBC to date.
Ferrand is an entry in the distillery’s Collaborative Series, a blend of 7 and 11-year-old Kentucky bourbons, with familiar mash bills that would seemingly suggest Beam and Heaven Hill. This puts the entry apart from other Bardstown products that call upon MGP or Tennessee whiskey, but it then takes that Kentucky bourbon and introduces it to Maison Ferrand Cognac barrels for eight months prior to release. This is notably less time than previous Collaborative Series finishes, which were more in the neighborhood of 18 months—to me, this suggests they were going for a more subtle or harmonious cognac contribution than in some of the previous finished batches. The finished product was bottled at 110 proof, and bears an MSRP of $125, although some unscrupulous online retailers and package stores are attempting to get as much as $300 for this bottle.
Finished bourbons tend to be something of a mixed bag, as far as my palate is concerned, and this probably plays into why it took me so long to sample this particular dram. All too many finished bourbons, in my opinion, end up overpowered by the port, brandy or rum barrels they’ve been finished in, losing track of their nuance and often replacing it with syrupy sweetness. In Ferrand, though, I think it’s safe to say that Bardstown Bourbon Co. has hit on something that really works.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, this sample wafts from my Glencairn glass with waves of warm, sweet, caramelized sugar notes, ranging from the light toast of fresh sugar cookies or shortbread, to the slightly bitter edge of confectioner’s toffee. The nuttiness of moderate to well-aged Beam or Heaven Hill bourbon is certainly present as well, merging with cocoa and nutmeg to suggest seasonally appropriate hot chocolate. A flourish of baking spice notes and hints of dark fruit preserves round out the back end.
On the palate, this is quite sweet leading off, with lots of dark sugars, vanilla and toasted spices. There’s more than a whisper of the presumably French oak from the cognac casks, which contributes a kiss of its spicy oak notes. Sweetened nut butter and brandied cherry are held in place by moderate oak intensity and just enough ethanol heat. All in all, this is a very rich dram, one that might actually be a tad sweet for some drinkers, but I’m quite enjoying the delicate interplay of barrels on display in this release. Never is this hitting you over the head with the finishing barrel, but I do love the subtle, oaky and fruity evolution that I assume it has contributed.
Try not to get gouged by your retailer if you’re seeking this bottle out, but at its MSRP, it demonstrates a nice, rich, crowd-pleasing evolution to Bardstown’s house style of blending Kentucky bourbons. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing this collaboration taken one step further—now finish some red wine in these barrels. Make it happen!
Distillery: Bardstown Bourbon Co.
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Blend of Kentucky bourbons
ABV: 55% (110 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $125 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.