Over the past decade, it’s been interesting to watch MGP of Indiana slowly move from whiskey industry bogeyman to a persistent figure of respect among drinkers. The former Seagram plant turned contract distilling powerhouse spent time as an unknown giant, turning out bourbon and rye for a number of smaller distillers, before the whiskey world caught on to what was happening and worked itself up into a righteous fervor about the nature of “full disclosure” in whiskey production. We’re certainly guilty of doing so ourselves, and we maintain that all bottles of whiskey, regardless of their bottler, should indicate where they were distilled and aged.
Over time, though, the industry caught on to these consumer concerns, and instances of misleading labeling have grown less common. At the same time, a grudging respect for MGP’s quality of product—and indeed, its impressively wide range of interesting mashbills—seemed to grow among the whiskey geeks, to the point where the big distillery now has quite a few fans of its own. Perhaps that’s why they thought this was finally the right time for a bourbon brand like George Remus.
Regardless of their motivation, it’s a cool novelty to finally have a bourbon brand on store shelves that is not only produced by MGP, but owned and claimed by MGP as its own. George Remus is named after the so-called “king of the bootleggers,” an American tale tale figure rumored to be the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character of Jay Gatsby, but I have little interest in distillery marketing fluff. Let’s talk about what’s actually in these bottles. Currently, MGP is producing two bottles: George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey (MSRP: $39.99) and Remus Repeal Reserve Series II (MSRP: $84.99). We’ve got samples of each, so let’s get to tasting.
Given that this is essentially serving as a flagship bourbon for all of MGP as a whole, we would imagine that they calculated very carefully what demographic this bourbon was meant to appeal to, and exactly where it was meant to fit in the bourbon market.
This is a blend of bourbons aged “a minimum of 4 years,” and non-chill filtered, as is currently in vogue, bottled at a mid-strength 94 proof. The lack of a specific age statement, its alcoholic strength and its price point put it solidly in mid-tier territory, competing small-batch brands such as Elijah Craig, Barton 1792 or Four Roses.
On the nose, this certainly reads as classic bourbon all the way, with notes of sweet corn, spearmint, moderate caramel, vanilla bean and a healthy sense of char. On the palate, it’s oily and quite viscous for a younger bourbon, with moderate residual sweetness. It hits up front on the palate with butterscotch richness and mint oil, before progressing into caramel, roasted nuts and orange citrus. Fresh mint is a note I keep returning to here. In terms of “punchiness,” it maintains a respectable heat in the chest, but is fairly mild on the palate, seeming a bit older in profile than it likely actually is.
All in all, George Remus Straight Bourbon presents like a classic Kentucky bourbon in all the right ways. It’s solid all around, even if nothing in particular sticks out to make it very unique. Can it go toe-to-toe with its competitors in the $40 price range, even if it’s not quite as old as some of them? Absolutely, I think it can. This is a crowd-pleasing bourbon that you could easily use for any given bourbon use you can think of. It feels like exactly what it should be.
This is the second release of the more premium Repeal Reserve Series, and it’s a fairly different bourbon from the first release. In this case, it’s a blend of two different high-rye mashbills from two different distilling seasons, for a total of four whiskeys in the blend. They are:
— 21% rye mashbill from 2007 and 2008, and
— 36% rye mashbill from 2007 and 2008, meaning that Repeal Reserve Series II is between 11 and 12 years in age, on average. Suffice to say, this is a pretty well-aged bourbon, bottled at 100 proof. It’s a shade or two darker in the glass, showing off those extra years to the eye.
On the nose, this one hints at richness and more deeply caramelized sugars, with significant baking spice presence as well. I’m getting plenty of darker fruit this time around, with lots of dark berries and a port-like nuttiness.
On the palate, this one is quite deeply caramelized indeed. There’s a lot of very dark fruit here as well, with notes of black cherry and plum, which segues into cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice, before a finish that reflects old oak and deep char. It’s a bit higher in proof, but it hides that quite well—you get the heat only after about 60 seconds or so from the initial sip.
Overall, this is significantly different in profile than the younger straight bourbon, being richer and more fruit and spice driven rather than the brighter caramel/corn sweetness found in the flagship product. It might sound odd, but I don’t necessarily believe this one to be inherently superior to the first—if anything, they strike me as roughly equally successful in doing what they’re trying to do, and the profiles are different enough that direct comparison isn’t super valuable. Each is very nice in its own way, and I believe bourbon geeks will find some excellent applications for both.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.