I.W. Harper Returns to the U.S.

Hello, fellow Crusaders! Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be at the formal coming out party for the upcoming new I.W. Harper releases. “But wait, I know that brand,” some of you might be saying–particularly if you or your drinking buddies spent anytime overseas or in the military. The I.W. Harper brand has been dormant in the U.S. since the late 80’s/early 90’s, but it has been going strong in 110 other countries and military bases. Very soon though, we’ll get to take one back.

Isaac Wolfe Bernheim was a business trained German who immigrated to the U.S. following the Civil War. Beginning as a “peddler of Yankee notions” up and down the east coast, he was forced to stop when the horse he traveled on died. He settled in Peducah, KY and took notice of the surrounding prolific whiskey businesses and decided to give it a shot. When deciding upon a name for his then sourced whiskey, he decided that ‘Bernheim’ was not nearly American enough to be successful. While reading the horse racing section of the paper one day, he saw a horse named ‘Harper’ and thought that was a strong, American name, and I.W. Harper Whiskey was born. He would go on to purchase a distillery with his brother and begin making the whiskey himself. The bourbon would become known as “The Gold Medal Whiskey” due to the awards it won in the late 1800’s. Bernheim Brothers and Company would shut down under Prohibition, and I.W. Bernheim himself was retired by the time the 21st Amendment was ratified. The brand was eventually resurrected and ended up in the hands of United Distillers, which later became Diageo. When American bourbon sales were languishing in the late 80’s/early 90’s, the brand was made export only and became very popular internationally, particularly in Japan. After a long absence, the brand is returning to the U.S., and I’m here to tell you what I thought.

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Harper by GroupPhoto Courtesy of Taylor Strategy

Distilled by: Officially it “contains whiskey distilled at the current Bernheim distillery.” Unofficially they’ve said the loss of the Four Roses distilling contract will not affect supply, so it probably is all Bernheim/Heaven Hill. It also was “most recently” aged at Stitzel-Weller.

Age: NAS (but said to be a blend of at least 4 year old bourbons)

Proof: 82

Mash Bill: 73% corn, 18% Rye, 9% Barley

MSRP: $34.99

Nose: Heavy on the corn sweetness, spearmint, some nuttiness, and with more time the vanilla and coconut notes come out more, overall pleasant for a 4 year.

Taste: Corn forward, spearmint again, a bit of a yeastiness (think Jim Beam) on the mid-palate, a little clove on the finish.

BBB Rating: 2.5 Barrels. This is a bourbon that doesn’t have anything glaringly wrong with it, but also isn’t extremely interesting. I found myself comparing it a lot to Kentucky Tavern BIB, wishing it had more of KT’s punch and character. I really wish the proof were higher, but at it’s current proof, I can’t say I’d recommend spending $35 on it when so many good 4 year whiskies exist around $15. I’m glad to see it back but won’t be keeping a bottle on hand.

I.W. Harper 15-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Cavenagh 15yr HarperPhoto courtesy of Taylor Strategy

Distilled by: This one is all Bernheim, and they state it officially. Again “most recently aged” at Stitzel Weller.

Age: 15 Years

Proof: 86

Mash Bill: 86% Corn, 6% Rye, 8% Barley (not a typo, it’s THAT much corn)

MSRP: $74.99 and will be a limited release, likely once this year and once next year

Nose: Very sweet, candied nuts, slightly astringent, barrel notes come out more as the bourbon sits.

Taste: Circus peanuts (these if you don’t know what that is), lots of candy notes, berries/red fruits, new oak, a much lighter profile and finish than I would have expected, most likely due to the high corn content.

BBB Rating: 3+ Barrels. This is a good bourbon. If you know our scale, 3 means we like it. I wish, really wish, this had been higher proof. Something is lost in the lower alcohol content. This one gets much better the longer you let it sit, hence the + on the end of the rating. I was very content to sit and sip this, but don’t think I would rush out for a bottle at that price point. Granted, it’s pretty hard to sell a 15 year old product for much cheaper these days. I would recommend trying it in a bar before you buy. Very pleasant, but lacks that punch that makes you remember it.

Until next time, cheers!

Bonded Mash Madness!

Bonded Mash Madness

Fellow Crusaders, it is approaching that particular time of year where we all go a little crazy over college basketball. In that spirit, we’ve created a little challenge to pit bottled-in-bond bourbons against one another in a tournament of champions. So as to not ruin the surprise, and allow you to try it for yourself if you wish, we’re giving you our bracket complete with seeding and will release our results later on. There is also a blank PDF provided below if you want to make your own challenge for 10 of your favorite contenders.

For this challenge, we decided to include most of the bonded bourbons that are readily available. If you’ve noticed a couple missing, kudos to you true Crusader! We decided to not include Rittenhouse, as it is a rye, and to omit the E.H. Taylor line as well as Henry McKenna as they are extra aged into a different division. Mellow corn was included, a corn whiskey, mostly because we were interested to see if it could beat anything.

Our bracket was performed blind, with a kind assistant providing us the one on one pairings (or games) and progressing through the tournament without telling us which brand won each round and which pairing we were on. We highly recommend you do the same, as it adds to the fun. Give either our bonded tournament a try or create your own on the blank document and share it with us on Facebook or Twitter! We’d love to see your results! Cheers!

Bonded Bourbon Battle Royale

Mash Madness Blank

Interview with author Albert W. A. Schmid!

Albert Schmid

Fellow Bourbon Crusaders, we were lucky enough to get to sit down and talk with Albert Schmid, author of The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail and the Gourmand Award winning The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook. We first met Albert at a book signing in Lexington, KY about two years ago, and we were happy run into him again at the Bourbon Classic this past February. We were very excited to learn that he has a new book due out this September on the Manhattan cocktail. He is one of the most interesting characters in the world of bourbon. Just a few highlights of his impressive resume include being an accomplished writer, chef, and professor and director of Hotel-Restaurant Management and Hospitality Management Departments at Sullivan University in Louisville, KY.

This was one of our most enjoyable casts to date, and we hope you’ll think so too! We are extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to talk in depth with Albert, and we can vouch for the quality of his books mentioned above. So sit back, relax with a nice bourbon, and enjoy!

Listen to the Podcast here: BOTB Interviews Albert Schmid 

Around the Barrel #3: The Bourbon Classic

Fellow Bourbon Crusaders, you’ve been hearing about it for months, and now we finally get to tell you about it: The Bourbon Classic! It was a whirlwind of a week, but we couldn’t imagine having much more fun. In this ATB, we talk about the highlights of our experience at a slew of distilleries as well as the event itself. We have some news, as always, and a special dedication to Leonard Nimoy with our Pon Farr shot. Our individual distillery pieces will keep rolling out over the next few weeks, along with more pictures, so look for those on the blog site.

Our BBB Rating for the week was easily a 5 Barrel Unicorn, so we hope to see y’all there next year!

Listen to the cast here: Around the Barrel #3: The Bourbon Classic and enjoy some of our favorite moments from the Classic in the gallery below.

Special thanks to Andrea Parr, FSA Management Group; Larry from Mint Julep Tours, the guys from the Bourbon Review, and of course the Buss Club for letting us have an unreasonable amount of fun. Cheers!

P.S. In case you just need a quick fix of either our distillery visits or the Bourbon Classic experience itself, here are the time-stamps:

Distilleries – 16:15

Bourbon Classic – 46:22

The Pon Farr Shot in honor of the life of Leonard Nimoy


We at Bottom of the Barrel salute the life of Leonard Nimoy. At the urging of a friend and fellow Trek fan, we bring you the Pon Farr shot, from the “Amok Time” episode of the Original Series.

1 dash orange bitters and a splash of Cointreau (or Gran Gala or triple sec of choice), because love can be bitter-sweet.

1.5 oz of your favorite bonded bourbon (Kentucky Tavern bonded works great, and love bonds us all together)

Shake over ice, strain into a Star Trek shot glass, and, logically, shoot it!

Cheers…wait, make that, “Live long and prosper,”
Darren and Chris

First Stop, Barton 1792 Distillery

Our first stop on the Bourbon Classic Media Camp tour was the Barton 1792 Distillery. It, like many present day distilleries, has an interesting history complete with several ownership changes, expansions, and setbacks. Nestled in the heart of Bourbon Country, Bardstown, KY, they currently produce several brands of bourbon including Very Old Barton and Kentucky Tavern (both of which have bonded versions available), as well as their flagship 1792 Ridgemont Reserve which is named for the year Kentucky gained statehood.

The Basic Facts:

Parent Company: Sazerac Company, Inc. (New Orleans, LA)
Location: Bardstown, KY
Master Distiller(s): Ken Pierce
Mash Bill(s): Four different mash bills with undisclosed ratios
Aging Rickhouses: On site
Website: http://www.1792bourbon.com/
Public Tours: Yes, daily, and still free as of this writing

Highlights of the Tour and Grounds:

  • All of the corn comes from within a 100 mile radius of the distillery, and they use 30 acres of corn everyday
  • The rye and barley grains are sourced from several states, including further north, as the barley grows better there
  • They operate one coal and two natural gas burners–the coal burner produces more than twice the steam as both of the gas burners combined
  • They maintain thirteen mash tanks which hold 650,000 gallons of fermenting grains
  • They operate a single 5 story column still called the “Ridgemont still,” and it’s a monster!
  • The distillate comes off the still at 140 proof
  • 28 traditional rick houses hold 19,600 barrels each, and the barrels are sourced from Independent Stave Company
  • A newer pallet style warehouse holds 76,000 barrels, and that is just as enormous as it sounds (see photographs below)
  • 1792 Ridgemont Reserve is a blend of 8-10 year old bourbons and it was first introduced in 2002
  • Eight bourbons are produced on premises from 4 undisclosed mash bills

During the tour we were fortunate enough to thief directly from a ‘sweetheart’ 1792 barrel (barreled on 2-14-2006). This experience would have been cool enough on its own, but we may or may not have been able to take some pints of it with us on the bus. The tasting offered at the conclusion of the tour had their white dog, Very Old Barton, 1792, chocolate bourbon ball cream liqueur and, wait for it, another version of barrel strength 1792. We’re here to tell you that if the barrel strength never hits the market, it will be a crime against humanity. Take everything we love about regular 1792 and then amplify it into another stratosphere. The higher proof bumps up the barrel flavors but still maintains a great balance. Having talked with Ken Pierce and representatives from the distillery, they all staunchly maintain that they have no plans for a barrel proof release; however, they get this awkwardly frustrated look on their face when asked that screams, “please stop asking, we’ll tell you it’s coming out once the higher-ups say we’re allowed to!” Until then, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope.

A Brief History of the Barton 1792 Distillery

Ben F. Mattingly, whose grandfather had been a distiller in Louisville, KY, likely had no idea what he was ostensibly starting when he married Catherine Willett, of the family which owned Willett and Frenke. They operated a distillery at Morton’s Spring in Nelson County, Kentucky, just outside of Bardstown. In 1874, Mattingly and a Thomas S. Moore (who had also married into the Willett family) began working at Morton’s Spring Distillery. Two years later, ownership was transferred to themselves. All of this was occurring at what was the dawn of the Golden Age of Bourbon in the post war United States. Then, in 1881, around the time when their first barrels were coming of age, Mattingly sold the company to some investors and Thomas Moore continued to work there until 1899, when he then bought 116 acres next to Morton’s Spring to build his own distillery. A little over 15 years later, Morton’s Spring went out of business, and in 1916 Moore purchased it and incorporated it into his own distillery. Sadly, the next big event in this story is the passage of the 18th Amendment and the start of Prohibition. The distillery was forced to close as it did not get a license to distill medicinal alcohol.

After repeal, the distillery would reopen with Con Moore (Thomas Moore’s son) in charge. It was later sold to Oscar Getz, a Chicago liquor merchant who would later provide the foundation for the the Getz Museum of Whisky History in 1944. Getz is responsible for picking the name “Barton” at random, and the new Barton Distillery would go on to buy Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro, KY. Following ownership by Constellation Brands (who owned the US rights to Corona sales as well as prominent brandy brands such as Paul Masson), Sazerac eventually purchased Barton in 2009 for $334 million along with the bottling facility in Owensboro. At the time of the sale, Barton Distilling was actually the larger company, and Sazerac more than doubled in size overnight.

Popular Brands currently produced by Barton 1792 Distillery:

  • 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, Very Old Barton, Kentucky Tavern, Tom Moore, Ten High, Colonel Lee, and (likely) Walking Stick Single Barrel.
  • They also produce a number of other spirits, including varieties of vodka, brandy, and schnapps.

Cheerss, from Chris and Darren!

(Some supplemental information via http://www.ellenjaye.com/barton.htm)