Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Collaborative Series presents the best kind of novelty in the whiskey industry, because one never quite knows what kind of profile is being sought. Even the particular style of finishing barrel in each release may not really tell the whole tale, as two different whiskey blends finished in different styles of red wine, brandy or rum casks might yield radically different results. Each one truly is an island unto itself.
With that said, there are certain expectations of hype that are impossible to escape in the spirits industry, when specific names are evoked. And “Foursquare” is a particularly loaded name, arguably even more so to bourbon geeks than to rum geeks.
It’s a little hard to know exactly how to feel about Barbados’ Foursquare Rum Distillery. They make exceptional, traditionally produced blends of pot and column still rum; there’s no doubt about this. But they also occupy a really weird place in the whiskey world hierarchy, having seemingly been anointed some years back with the status of “the one rum that whiskey geeks should drink.” This description, often frustratingly simplified as “the Pappy of rum” or somesuch, has created a mania for Foursquare releases, particularly their single cask and cask-strength expressions, specifically among whiskey geeks who almost exclusively drink bourbon. One might think that someone like me would be happy about this, given that I’ve penned long essays begging bourbon geeks to try other spirits, but it just ends up being another example of the average whiskey collector’s tunnel vision–they make a single exception for aged rum from Foursquare, and then go right back to ignoring the entire rest of the rum world, just like they’re ignoring most whiskey that isn’t from Buffalo Trace. It creates an unhealthy perception that Foursquare is producing a product unlike anything else in the world, when in reality there are many equally exceptional rums from Barbados and beyond.
So with that said, it means that a Bardstown Foursquare collaboration is almost automatically going to be judged against a heavily hyped curve, with expectations not present for say, last year’s collaboration with Plantation Rum. That’s the nature of collaborating with a brand when that brand has an outsized reputation among your target demographic.
So, what’s in this bottle? Well, it’s a bit of a curious concept, and maybe not quite what one would be expecting. This isn’t primarily bourbon, for one: 90% of the blend consists of 7-year-old Indiana rye from MGP, but not from the classic 95/5 rye recipe. Rather, this is the less frequently seen 51% rye recipe, meaning this is more of a Kentucky-style rye, albeit from Indiana. The remaining 10%, meanwhile, is some exceptionally mature, 17-year-old Tennessee whiskey, presumably from George Dickel, no doubt included to provide a ribbon of oak and tannic complexity. This blend was then given a secondary maturation in Foursquare rum casks for a really long time, at 23 months, before being bottled at 53.5% ABV (107 proof). It carries a fairly lofty MSRP of $160.
That is probably one of the longest finishing periods I’ve seen on one of these whiskey finished in Caribbean rum casks, so it will be intriguing to see how it’s affected this blend. So with that said, let’s get to tasting Bardstown Foursquare.
On the nose, this was initially striking me a bit more muted than expected, with impressions that were primarily wood and spice forward. Over time, I’m finding a a more ephemeral balancing act between elements of wood (wet lumber), nuts (roasted peanut), caramelized sugars, spice (toasted clove) and fruit (banana bread). The nuttiness is interesting and not particularly expected, which makes one initially wonder if perhaps the Tennessee whiskey is making itself felt more strongly than one would think for the relatively small amount of the blend. However, after tasting this one I find myself wondering if this impression is actually more derived from its secondary cask maturation.
On the palate, Bardstown Foursquare begins to develop in fascinating directions. It turns more rum forward immediately, with distinct molasses cookie and bursts of baking spice, along with toasted oak and fruity esters. Baked plantain fruitiness is present, along with some darker dried fruits, and orange citrus as well. There are caramels, but Bardstown Foursquare proves to not be particularly sweet in terms of residual sweetness, which gives those caramel impressions more of a bitter edge. You forget at times that the blend is primarily rye whiskey, but when you remember it the profile increasingly makes sense–it veers toward hotter pepper and chile spice, and then subtly melds that spice into sweeter baking spices. The nuttiness that I thought was peanut on the nose increasingly becomes almond instead, and this note combines with the clove to evoke another Bajan cocktail staple: Falernum. What we have here ultimately invokes not just Bajan rum itself, but also the constellation of flavors that often surround that rum. I don’t even know if this was intentional, or just the perception of a tiki drink geek, but it captured my imagination.
Bardstown’s collaboration with Foursquare may not be what some fans are expecting from either company. There will be some who likely are wanting a sweeter or more dessert-like dram from this release. But I feel like the company has ventured out into some intriguing conceptual territory here, one that will demand a few follow ups. And at the end of the day, keeping consumer interest is what it’s all about.
Distillery: Bardstown Bourbon Co.
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: American whiskey blend (bourye)
ABV: 53.5% (107 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $160 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.