Evaluating a celebrity owned whiskey is an especially disorienting experience in those rare instances when you don’t even know who the celebrity is before you come across the bottle. So it was for me when I began reading about Bluestone Manor Bourbon, only to find that almost all the commentary about the brand was coming not from whiskey-minded types, but from Real Housewives of New York City fans. It didn’t take long to figure out why: Bluestone Manor Bourbon is a new, sourced bourbon brand marketed and sold by one Dorinda Medley, an American entrepreneur who was a featured cast member on that series. The brand is named for Medley’s “iconic Massachusetts home,” with which she is apparently quite enamored with, to the point of it being a running gag on the series that she won’t stand for any disrespect toward her house. The whiskey is marketed with fanciful text claiming that the manor was a 1920s speakeasy, a place that “acted as a safe haven for self-expression and freedom,” but I have no idea if any of that is even slightly true. What I can tell you is that Medley has sourced some decent bourbon, and that’s the important thing.
This whiskey, which is currently available for order in 32 states, and will be rolling out nationwide this month, is sourced from the Hudson Valley’s Spirits Lab Distillery, a small operation that focuses primarily on distilling from New York-grown grains. The company has been in operation long enough to be able to offer a decent age statement for a craft distillery: This is 5-year-old straight bourbon whiskey, from a wheated bourbon mashbill of 70% corn, 25% wheat and 5% malted barley. It’s bottled at an approachable 45% ABV (90 proof), at a pretty reasonable $45 MSRP. The attractive, decanter-style bottle looks quite similar to Buffalo Trace’s Rock Hill Farms brand in particular, to the point that one wonders if they were trying to evoke comparison to the prestige of another sought-after brand.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that my personal interest in Medley, and her home by extension, are more or less nonexistent. I’ve never tasted whiskey from Spirits Lab before, though, so let’s explore what made the Real Housewife choose to source from such a small company rather than one of the Kentucky giants.
On the nose, I’m getting quick impressions of caramel and burnt sugar, along with toasted cloves and threads of very dark red fruit. You get a little impression of youth on the oak front, with notes of sawdust that are youthful but not unpleasant, along with mild cocoa. All in all, a mild but pleasant nose with some nice caramelized sugar character and hints of spice and fruit.
On the palate, what stands out here first and foremost is the gentleness of this bourbon’s approach. The 90 proof point is fairly low, granted, but this one drinks more like an 80 proof dram in terms of ethanol heat, while bringing a reasonable assertiveness of flavor to play. I’m getting notes of fried cinnamon apples and spice, transitioning to a marginally more dry and oaky finish. Notable is the spiciness of the oak character here, which is reminiscent almost of some more effective toasted barrel bourbons—it seems to be contributing ample ginger and brown spices.
In the end, this is a quite balanced and decently flavorful dram—not very complex, but quite easy to enjoy and more composed than you see in a lot of comparable craft bourbon. Certainly, it speaks pretty well of the aging program at Spirits Lab. I feel like the only consumer who would be disappointed in this profile is perhaps someone who wanted a bigger and bolder profile, but for a 90 proof, celebrity backed bourbon that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to expect in the first place. For what it is, I can only conclude that this bourbon is pretty successful.
Distillery: Bluestone Manor Bourbon (Spirits Lab)
City: Newburgh, NY
Style: Straight bourbon whiskey (wheated)
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $45 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.