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Review: Town Branch Bourbon

Pearse Lyons, the man behind the animal health and nutrition company, Alltech, apparently knows a thing or two about distilling whiskey. Lyons is formally educated (Masters Degree) in brewing and distillation, with a Phd. in yeast fermentation. According to the latest edition of “The Bourbon Review” magazine, Lyons’ knowledge of yeast fermentation actually spawned the idea for Alltech in the early 1980′s, which began by developing animal supplements and feed.

In recent years, Lyons Spirits released a malt whiskey (Pearse Lyons Reserve), and now their latest, Town Branch Bourbon. Town Branch is actually made with a pretty unique grain bill of 51% corn (right at the legal limit for bourbon) and 49% malted barley. This is unusual for a number of reasons. Most notably because bourbon typically contains at least some percentage of wheat or rye depending on what the distiller is going for in the flavor profile.

Let’s put this one through its paces a bit…….

Town Branch Bourbon, 40% abv (80 Proof), $27

Color: Town Branch’s medium golden hue is perhaps a clue (in hindsight) as to the softness that ensues on the nose and palate.

Nose: Soft, overly ripe banana, flint, caramel corn, stale pancake syrup, hints of butterscotch, and dry oak veneer.

Palate: Candy corn, butterscotch, rum soaked golden raisins, and disjointed oak running a few paces behind. “Where’s the beef?!?!”

Finish: The finish works hard to perk things up a shade with white pepper and nutmeg, but it’s a flash in the pan, and quickly smothered with the remnants of caramel corn and toast.

Overall: Town Branch is not a very memorable or complex bourbon, but it’s not below average either. The problem is pretty simple – it’s just too hard to pay attention to an average product when there’s so many excellent whiskeys in this price range. At only four years old or so, perhaps more time would add much needed zip. I do know that a healthy increase in proof would help to concentrate the flavors a bit. That is the part that shocks me most – releasing Town Branch at at a pedestrian 80 proof (40% alcohol). Perhaps it was intentional to align with a softer, smoother style. If so, then I suppose I can understand that, but it hints of “mailing it in” a little. Availability outside of Kentucky is limited as I understand, but getting better.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.0 (Good/Solid)

23 Comments

  1. SteveBM says:

    I’ve had this bottle sitting on my home bar for weeks now and just haven’t gotten around to trying it. Thanks for your thoughts. Seems like a very corn-driven bourbon with very little sweetness to it from your tasting notes. I’ll have to try it out soon.

  2. wood is good says:

    Jason, just FYI, and I hope this doesn’t annoy you. I’m only mentioning this A) I love reading your blog, and B) because copyediting is what I do for a living.

    Your use of “it’s”/”its” is usually incorrectly used: Example here:

    “Let’s put this one through it’s paces a bit.”

    As “it’s” is a contraction of “it is,” you simply ask yourself if you can say “it is” in the sentence. In the example, you cannot, so this should be “its,” no apostrophe. Nice, easy way to remember in any sort of writing.

    Again, I mean no disrespect. Many many people hate the grammar people, and I try to limit the times I pull out my badge. Like I said, I love reading your posts, and I thought maybe you’d appreciate a little tip. Thanks for all you do!

  3. Wood is Good – no problem. I am always open to the grammar police! Appreciate the extra eyes.

  4. Tommy Viola says:

    Love the frequency of posts, Jason. You do a good job here, & it’s fun to stop by.

  5. Very corn driven, very flat, but certainly on the sweeter side. Thanks for commenting Steve.

  6. Jason Cammarata says:

    I wonder who this bourbon was made for. It looks like it is made for the enthusiasts, but I think most enthusiasts will be underwhelmed by its low age/proof.

  7. Jason Cammarata says:

    P. S. from how you describe the taste it sounds similar to Early Times 354. Why not save 15 bucks and get that instead?

  8. theBitterFig says:

    I may be wrong, but haven’t Lyons/Alltech only been distilling for a few years? If so, that probably explains the low age on the bourbon. The bare-minimum proof does seem like a mistake, though, particularly with the high barley content. Seems like if you’re going to go through the expense of using that much malt in a mashbill, you’d do best to milk it for all it’s worth. My presumption from European barley-based whiskies is that it can give a lovely, creamy texture, so bottling at a slightly higher proof (perhaps even just 43-46%; Scottish-style proofs for a bourbon distilled in Scottish-style stills?) and not chill filtering would probably be useful.

    Half-barley is a theoretically incredibly interesting whisky for me (I’m bonkers over those folks who play around with unusual mashbills). I’m curious but not overly disappointed it isn’t available where I live, since it seems like it isn’t ready yet in the broader sense.

  9. TheBitterFig – you are correct. Only been distilling for a few years. Pearse himself is formally educated though in distillation and brewing. But agree, we shouldn’t expect too old of a product, but the mashbill is producing a very soft whiskey, which is further accentuated by the low proof. I agree with you. To me they would be helping the product with more proof. I too like adventurous mash bills, but in the end it’s all about what’s in the bottle and it has to demonstrate some distinction. This isn’t poorly made, it’s just not special in the least.

  10. SteveBM says:

    Finally tried this one. You nailed it with the banana on the nose. I found this one to be real flat and pretty boring. Sweet corn taste with a little caramel to it and next to no finish. Agreed it could benefit from a few more years and a higher proof. I put bourbon like Maker’s Mark in the “average” bucket. This one was below average for me.

  11. Vince says:

    I purchased a bottle of this and found it to be underwhelming. My first thought when i tasted it was that an increased proof (100) would help this considerably.

  12. Shawn says:

    I don’t like Scotch because of the “peat” taste, and this bourbon tended to have a lot of that running through it. I thought at one point I wa drinking Scotch. Maybe its just me…

  13. James Mayhugh says:

    I live in South Carolina near the North Carolina line. Where my I purchase a bottlevof Town Branch?

  14. James, I am not aware if it is outside of Kentucky yet. You can find it at places like The Party Source. Check online and see if you can order a bottle. Cheers

  15. theBitterFig says:

    I was at the Alltech/Town Branch Distillery yesterday. I didn’t have any bad reactions to the Bourbon (or the Pearse Lyons Reserve malt whisky), but those were just small samples. Not bad, but nothing particularly special. Their coffee liqueur is pretty decent, but without really digging in over time, I wouldn’t know if it’s any better than Kaluha or Allen’s Coffee Brandy. It’s probably not price-difference better anyhow.

    Anyhow, something which surprised me but I was too nervous to ask about was the mashbill. The tour guide and the person leading the tasting at the end indicated that it was just over 70% corn, and that it did include rye as a small grain. I don’t know if it’s a case of the tour guides being mistaken, or if the mashbill wasn’t actually nearly 50/50. However, I just didn’t have the guts to say “well, I read on a blog…” and I didn’t have the quickness of mind to ask “where do you source your rye?”

  16. @theBitterFig – good question – I’ll have to check it out further and confirm that my information is correct, but I’ll dig in on this. Thanks for noting this.

  17. Dave Ewert says:

    Hi. I’m kind of a bourbon novice with Woodford my favorite. I went to Lexington in November and took the Alltech tour since it was walking distance from my hotel. The tour guide did emphasize a 72% corn content and noted it was unusually high. Mr. Lyons popped in and did about half our tour, then hosted in the tasting room and signed bottles. It seemed like a nice touch but maybe it’s standard. In any event, I enjoy the bourbon in large part due to the peppery notes you mention on the finish. Maybe it’s benefitting from the Brian Seltzer Christmas songs playing here. I really liked the bourbon barrel ale they make, especially on tap. If you stumble onto Iowa someday, you might want to try our Cody Road Bourbon or the Cedar Ridge Bourbon. Have a great holiday.

  18. Abbie says:

    I was also by the Town Branch distillery, and they said it (again) — Town Branch is 72% corn. It seems your source for the 51% corn was wrong, Jason. Who told you that?

  19. Aric Arnett says:

    I married a Cincinnati west side girl, and she and the rest of those crazy west siders’ love their bourbon. As much as I have tried to acquire the taste, it just hasn’t happened. I’m will always be a beer guy, unless I’m ripping a shot. Which brings me to my point… I think this bourbon is delish! Suits my pallet because its not overly flavorful and in my opinion pretty smooth. I highly recommend if find you are not the biggest bourbon fan, but you want to have a bottle on the shelf. You will be able to drink it with your friends and enjoy it. I believe the high corn content tones it down a few notches from you typical bourbon. Have a good st pattys day everyone!
    Aric Arnett

  20. Dan H says:

    This stuff just showed up at my local store, and I was wondering a couple of things. a) Were you able to get any more info regarding the mash bill? b) Since the distillery apparently just opened in 2012, do you have any idea where the whiskey currently in the bottle was actually distilled?

    I enjoy your blogs, keep them coming!

  21. Wade says:

    I have read a number of comments on the internet by folks not liking this bourbon. While I am not a big bourbon drinker, I have sipped a fair number of them…from $12, 750ml bottles to the $80 bottles. My father’s buddy from Mississippi brought a bottle of Town Branch to us last month. Delightful!!! I couldn’t get enough. Smooth, satisfying, and “neat” to drink if you’re not a big bourbon drinker either. IMHO…I’d gladly refuse a free bottle of M’s Mark to go buy a bottle of T. Branch.

  22. Tony says:

    Just had some of this for the first time tonight and came looking to my trusted resource, Sour Mash Manifesto, to help me sort out some of my observations. The perplexing thing to me about Town Branch was trying to find words for this taste I get in that transition between the first taste and the finish. It seems like a cross between cereal, blanched peanuts, and candy corn. Not unpleasant at all, just unique. I’m wondering if comes from the heavy ratio of malted barley?

  23. Adam Ellis says:

    Jason,

    Thank you for the review. The grammar police post was very annoying and OCD laced.

    Cheers.
    Adam

1 Trackback

  1. […] the sort of thing that will beautify your liquor shelf. There has been some incorrect information making the rounds about the mashbill for Town Branch, but I was told straight from the source in an interview that will appear on The Whiskey Reviewer […]

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