When it comes to the distilling industry, it pretty much always pays off to have the luxury of patience. Great results in American whiskey aren’t turned out overnight, but few new companies or new brands inherently possess that luxury of waiting until they’ve dialed in a product just so to release it for the first time. You think your local microdistillery tastes their 2-year-old bourbon on the day it becomes old enough to bear the “straight” designation and thinks “this is perfection”? No, if they’re lucky they think “this isn’t too embarrassing to have bearing our name,” and they begin selling it in order to recoup costs while more of their liquid continues to age.
The only companies genuinely able to wait for a long while to release their first product are those with ample funding, either as a result of well-heeled independent owners or major brand ownership. The new Ben Holladay Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon is the latter, as this brand is owned by the widespread McCormick Distilling Co. But where the McCormick name traditionally tends to be associated with bottom-shelf value brands across a wide range of spirits such as vodka, gin, rum and whiskey, Ben Holladay is clearly meant to be an entry point to a far more premiumized sector for the company. This is a bottle meant to go up against leading bottled-in-bond bourbons of the whiskey midshelf, and I must confess that it ultimately does a damn fine job of it.
The Ben Holladay name is tied to McCormick’s history as a company, and was the original name of their distillery in Weston, Missouri. Founded in 1856, the Ben Holladay Distillery produced bourbon before the start of the Civil War, and changed ownership a number of times, ultimately becoming the McCormick Distilling Co. in 1942. In 2016, meanwhile, the facility quietly began labor on a return to bourbon distillation, and that liquid has been patiently maturing in Missouri until now. That’s what you’ll find in this first run of Ben Holladay Bottled-in-Bond bourbon.
Now, I’ve written pretty extensively on the bottled in bond designation in the past, so read this piece for much more in-depth exploration of that topic. But suffice to say, what was once a term used by the mega-distilleries to imply “reliable and affordable” has increasingly been construed as a mark of superior quality in the era of craft distilleries, as being able to market a 4-year-old, 100 proof bourbon is something a brand new company needs to work for years to achieve. McCormick took things a step further with Ben Holladay BiB, as this one is a solid six years old, while retaining the 100 proof. That puts this bottle squarely in midshelf territory, comparable to something like the revamped Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond. The $60 MSRP, meanwhile, would be a tad high for one of the Kentucky giants, and it’s much higher than the average McCormick product, but it would be a pretty solid value for most craft bourbon.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this compares to some of the classic bottled in bond expressions on the market.
On the nose, this BiB bourbon leads off with a panoply of classic bourbon notes: Dusty corn, a bit of seasoned lumber, peanut brittle, before it takes a turn for the notably fruity and rich with lots of cherry syrup, evocative of the syrup one finds on Luxardo maraschino cherries. I’m also getting hints of spice and more deeply caramelized sugars with traces of ginger molasses cookie.
On the palate, this is dark fruity and jammy up front, with richly caramelized sugars, vanilla and dulce de leche. At the same time, the richness is cut by a certain brightness to the fruit, a bit of acidity that gives it life. Spice notes reveal ginger and licorice, while significant oakiness is also present, imparting mild dryness and traces of bitter roast. The texture is slightly syrupy overall, though residual sweetness is moderate, with trailing notes of chocolate and pepper. Ethanol heat is moderate and appropriate for the proof. I’m sure there’s more than enough character here to stand out in any classic cocktail application, though it’s also a perfectly pleasant neat dram.
All in all? A really quite textbook bourbon, and pretty much in the center of the bullseye for what I imagine a person probably wants when they see “bottled-in-bond bourbon” on the label. I would have no trouble believing that this was the product of one of the big Kentucky producers—someone like Brown-Forman, perhaps—which is really a sincere compliment to a company like McCormick that is just making this Ben Holladay BiB Bourbon their first ever release in this particular niche. To be honest, this is one of the most purely enjoyable—and easy to enjoy—bottled in bond, no-frills bourbons I’ve sampled in recent memory. Kudos to the team at McCormick, and whoever managed to convince the suits to wait a full six years before putting this out on the market. Clearly, it was time well spent.
Distillery: Ben Holladay Distillery (McCormick Distilling Co.)
City: Weston, MO
Style: Straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $60 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.