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Review: Noah’s Mill Bourbon

Steve Ury (Sku) of Sku’s Recent Eats, Tim Read of Scotch and Ice Cream, and I have done a couple of collaboration reviews already. Please take a peek at the Rebel Yell Bourbon and Wild Turkey 101 Rye reviews we did together to understand a little background on how this whole thing got started. Suffice it to say it’s just a fun way for us to mix it up every now and again.

The ground rules for our “group” reviews are pretty simple. We each sample a specific whiskey, then post our thoughts on the same day and time. The goal is really just to give different perspectives so readers can gain some insight into what each of us thinks about the same whiskey.

The subject of this review is Noah’s Mill Bourbon. It is a small batch bourbon bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), which operates out of the old Willett Distillery in Bardstown, KY. This past January, KBD completed renovations on the distillery in order to start distillation again. The first new make distillate in decades made it off the still the same month renovations completed. In a number of years we’ll hopefully see the aged product on store shelves.

To this point however, KBD has been an independent bottler. The operation’s business model involves sourcing whiskey from established (and well known) distilleries, then bottling it under the myriad of labels they own (Willett, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, Vintage, Johnny Drum, and others). Rumors abound as to where much of KBD’s whiskey comes from. Many say Heaven Hill, but I have reason to believe it’s a bit more diverse than that. In a conversation last fall, KBD’s Drew Kulsveen was not able to divulge specific sources, but he was gracious enough to give some background on Noah’s Mill.

Noah’s Mill is a barrel strength bourbon, bottled at 57.15% abv or 114.30 proof. For many years it was bottled as a 15 years old, meaning the youngest bourbon whiskey in the bottle must be at least 15 years old. According to Kulsveen, difficulty locating older stocks of whiskey required KBD to reformulate Noah’s Mill in recent years to ensure a more consistent product. Today the finished bourbon consists of whiskey that is between four to twenty year of age.

In my opinion, the most interesting tidbit about Noah’s Mill has more to do with mash bill (grain recipe). KBD makes use of a varied mix of barrels that include rye-based bourbons of low, moderate, and high percentages of rye grain, along with wheated bourbon (wheat replacing rye grain). I learned a long time ago not to speak in absolutes about whiskey, but I certainly cannot think of another bourbon whiskey that utilizes such an array of grain recipes. It does have me wondering what the target is for Noah’s Mill in terms of flavor profile with so many mash bills involved. That is for another discussion.

And what of that term, “small batch”? “Small Batch” is typically used to describe the blending/mingling of a certain number of barrels. It has few guidelines surrounding it, giving a distillery tremendous leeway to define what “small batch” whiskey means to their product line. For some it could be a couple hundred barrels. For larger distilleries it might be thousands. In the case of Noah’s Mill, it’s no more than 20 barrels of bourbon. That’s quite small indeed.

Here’s my specific tasting notes and overall impression of this barrel strength small batch bourbon. Don’t forget to take a look at Tim’s and Sku’s posts as well and check out their thoughts.

Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon, 57.15% abv (114.30 Proof), $49.99/bottle

Color: Medium/Dark Amber

Nose: Toffee, dark roasted coffee, vanilla taffy, banana, raisins, and the rustic tang of corn mash. Strong wood spice notes and toasted wood are also ever present. Benefits from, and softens, with the addition of a splash of clean, room temperature water.

Palate: Dark dried fruits (fig and raisin), cocoa, marmalade, berry syrup, toffee, vanilla and roasted nuts make for a varied (and at times cluttered) flavor profile. There’s some spry youth as well. With a bit of water the spicier, earthier, and floral wood flavors are more pronounced.

Finish: Lengthy as you would expect from such a high proofed whiskey. Well spiced, big warmth, and littered with charred oak bitterness.

Overall: There’s a lot going on with Noah’s Mill. The explosion of aromas and flavors come at you with gusto. A bit of water and a little airtime helped to soften the tannins on the palate and round some of the sharper edges (and cool down the alcohol punch of course). Earlier in 2011 I reviewed a sample, which I wrote about in “1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die”. It’s been a while, and I’m working off memory, but this batch (11-121) has a bit more of a brash attitude than my previous experience. Does that have anything to do with the variances batch to batch? Probably so. With a small batch of this size, some differences should probably be expected, but also embraced in my opinion. Noah’s Mill is a bourbon for those looking for bold monsters. Not for the faint of heart, or anyone in search of one of my least favorite whiskey descriptors…..”smooth”.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

32 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Jason,

    Thanks again for another good review. I have tried both the Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek at a Bourbon tasting event, and while I thought they were good, they never moved the meter enough for me to pick one up for purchase.

    I personally seem to pass on the KBD stuff I think because of the secrecy of where it is coming from. It seems to take some of the fun out of it, as opposed to say a 4 Roses bottle that the Distillery will actually take the time to tell you anything you want to know about a particular bottle or barrel.

    Maybe that’s just me, but I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one that would like to know a little more, mainly because I know it’s not “their” stuff in the bottle.

  2. Ford says:

    I’ve had Noah’s, Rowan’s and Vintage 17 Year, which I recall as also KBD. All were fine for my novice taste, but I mostly likely will not return to any of them.

  3. Icedogs says:

    Thanks for the insight, Jason. I’ve really tried to enjoy this bourbon, but it just isn’t right for me. To my taste buds and other senses, it has too sharp and hot a body (and I do drop some water in there after tasting first just the bourbon), and I just don’t care for the flavor. Subjectively, this stuff is, of course, a matter of opinion. I find there’s more to not like than to like–several other high-proof bourbons have flavors that are more accessible to me. The beauty of it, though, is that we have many from which to choose. I don’t like Noah’s Mill, but others love it. This is why we play the game. Cheers!

  4. 20 barrels is indeed “Small Batch”. With all the laws governing what whiskey and bourbon can and cannot be I’m surprised there aren’t more specifications for what a distillery can call Small Batch.

    But great review. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for this one.

  5. Brent says:

    Great review. My only KBD I’ve tried is the Vintage 17 and I love it. I’m about 1/3 of the way on a bottle and just purchased another today as i’ve read where it will be discontinued. Do you have any insight on that?

  6. Andrew says:

    Brent, there is more information on this from David Driscoll here:

    http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2012/6/12/the-golden-age-of-whisky.html

  7. Jon says:

    Thanks for the concerted effort Jason. I really enjoyed reading the other reviews and comparing and contrasting them. You all seemed to have the same “core” elements with the periphery of the bourbon differing in description based on taste and writing styles. This has to be one of my favorite reviews as it sort of puts the tasters on the “hot seat” a little. What fun :)

  8. Lazer says:

    I had a bottle of Noah’s Mill almost two years ago. It was good stuff. I bought it after finishing off a bottle of the willet pot still bourbon (whatever its called). They were both good but it was early in my boubon tasting journey and I wanted to move on to other stuff besides the KBD’s. I haven’t had a bad bottle from them yet, but I’m still wary of putting my money down for more.

  9. Chas says:

    Jason…..Thanks for the review and I really like your site. Your last sentence of the review prompts me to ask: what should a perfect bourbon taste like? If flavorful and smooth aren’t the goal, then what should we be looking for?

    Thanks

  10. Chas, thanks for the comment. Actually flavorful is a very good (but generic) descriptor and certainly something I look for. That said, I’m not a big fan of smooth ONLY for my tastes. I was making a backwards note on the fact that this whiskey certainly couldn’t be described as “smooth”. That’s just a reference to say that it’s fine with me, but if someone is in search of that – look elsewhere. Also, I think folks should be looking for whatever suits their taste. If that’s smooth – absolutely seek those types of bourbons and whiskey out.

  11. Lazer, one of the best bourbons I’ve had this year is KBD’s Willett 8 year old. Now this too will have variance, but when it’s on, it’s fabulous. I really enjoy KBD’s stuff. I enjoy Noah’s Mill as well – a lot more than the other gents that I did the review with. It’s a bit cluttered but it’s very good and worth the money I feel.

  12. Jon, it’s fun to be on the “hot seat” sometimes. Plus I agree with you – there were some similar tones between all of the reviews, but also some differences. And the end impressions are always fun to read.

  13. Brent I do not have any insight on Vintage 17, but thanks go t Andrew for posting.

    Jamie, I agree – this should be governed tighter, but for now it is not.

  14. Harald H Moore says:

    I really enjoyed my first bottle of Noah’s Mill – unfortunately, I didn’t think to check the batch number. I bought 2 bottles, because it isn’t readily available in my area; and, as that first bottle was close to being finished, I added 2 more bottles to round out another order. My curiosity piqued by your review, I checked the batch numbers on my remaining (unopened) bottles – all different, and none from the same batch as your review.
    Hopefully, when my taste swings back to bourbon in the fall, I’ll enjoy these as much as I did the first.

    As for the Vintage 17 – I’m not much a fan of that (based on a single bottle that I’ve sampled a few times). A bit of water does make it more enjoyable for me; but the bottle has found its home in the back corner of the cabinet, and has been practically forgotten.

  15. Rick B. says:

    Hmmmm…. don’t guess I’ve heard of this one before. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    Thanks as always for the review, Jason.

  16. Justin says:

    Finally, a review of more KBD products! As usually, Jason is spot-on and informative; I had no idea that they use varying degrees of rye-mash recipes in conjunction with a wheated mash; and, based on the level of sweetness underneath all that char, I assumed that they did something like an 80-90% corn mash. Very useful for the consumer (or salesman) going forward, in order to know what they’re consuming or vouching for.

    As far as the other comments…I’ll just make a couple points–or at the very least try to. The first is in regards to the distrust of KBD because they don’t distill. What I personally admire about their company is that, despite this discrepancy, their products nonetheless have a really unique taste to them that has to be due to barrel contact–which is to say, where they age them (what warehouse, what rack in said warehouses, the temperature, etc.). All of their best products, from Old Bardstown Estate Bottled, to Noah’s Mill, to Rowans Creek or Pot Still Reserve–a bourbon that forever remains a staple for me, since its dry and spicy nature changed my perception of what bourbon could do–have really unique wood interactions, and I just think that industry members or enthusiasts should be less concerned with distillate as opposed to what is done with it. Scotch whisky has long gotten over this paranoia, with Gordon and McPhail, Signatory, and and Scott’s Selection taking casks from old masters and releasing obscure variations of them. Such things aren’t for novices, of course, but for enthusiasts or connoisseurs, if it tastes good, then it is good, and shouldn’t have an asterisk attached to it because they don’t distill.

    Secondly, in regards to the small batch distinction: There definitely should be some distinction for what one considers small batch. Makers Mark, for example, can claim that their whiskey is small batch based on a 200 gallon principle that they invented for themselves. Many distilleries don’t produce that much whiskey annually. It also distorts market principles, since a large company (Jim Beam is the first that comes to mind) can affix itself in a boutique situation without playing by the unspoken rules that other play by (KBD, for example).

    But here’s the thing: doesn’t this vindicate single barreling? The argument against it was always that it didn’t offer consistent taste, but it certainly offers unadulterated taste, and in any event the sour mashing process should allow the whiskey to taste basically the same (albeit with some variation). Wine enthusiasts don’t complain about this, and, to my knowledge, neither do scotch drinkers–which I guess begs another question: does bourbon’s bang-for-the-buck reputation prohibit it from taking on the stature world-wide that it deserves? I, for one, greatly enjoy tasting and noting the differences between different vintages of bourbon, but if the customer is overly concerned with parity, how does that improve the expansion of palate or taste?

    Just wondering.

  17. Justin, some interesting comments. You make a great point about KBD. I do agree that at the very least they put unique products on the market. At best they have some absolutely stellar whiskeys out there. As a whiskey geek of sorts I’d love more info, but I also understand they are limited in what they can provide. And if I’m honest I probably wouldn’t provide the info either. What I do know is most always the stuff they put in the bottle is of at least very good quality, if not outstanding.

  18. JimD says:

    Jason, concerning the search for “smooth,” I certainly prefer flavor over smooth in all cases. I equate the general definition of smooth with having all the flavor filtered out (*cough*jackdaniels*cough*). But what turns me off faster than anything is bitterness, so I guess my personal definition of smooth is the opposite of bitter. I notice you sometimes mention tannins in your reviews. Am I correct in reading that as contributing to a harsh or bitter taste?

  19. Ethan Smith says:

    Finally got my hands on a bottle. My experiences so far mostly echo your tasting notes. There is a peculiar winey, young note on my bottle that I’m having a really hard time getting my head around. It almost tastes like someone put a splash of sangria and some white dog in mine. I’m still trying to determine what is causing this on my palate as I would certainly assume wine nor white dog is present anywhere in this fine bourbon. I’ve found most KBD products have a natural fruity (But not citrus) and sweet flavor to them. My hunch is that the oak flavors, since they are not watered down, are also adding to the sweetness and creating a very sweet and fruity bourbon. I also bought a bottle of Rowan’s Creek and a bottle of Kentucky XO at the same time. Both are also sweet, but much less so and they’ve pretty much lost the up front fruity flavors. I think the Rowan’s Creek seemed the most well-rounded of the three bourbons. The Kentucky XO is good too, but it seemed a bit sweet and fruity as well.

  20. mw says:

    My wife and I bought this at closeout at Kroger for around 28 bucks. After probably trying around 50-60 different bourbons we finally found the one that tastes like ASS. Good God, this swill sucks! Whether refrigerated, in the freezer, on ice, with water, or with water and ice it still tasted like re-fried ass.

  21. Michael says:

    I tried a bottle . Do not like . May be a bad batch . The finish was very musty . May be the barrel got wet or something along the line . Will not buy again . Batch QBC No. 12-122

  22. Son brought me a bottle this week after a trip to KY. This is not available in IOWA. Had 2 small snifter shots last night. LOVE IT! Very much enjoyed it as a sippin drink. I had it with a Wheat beer on the side.

  23. JVB says:

    Michael – I know exactly what you mean by the mustiness. I just opened a bottle of 12-122, and I’m getting it as well. Pity.

  24. Squeeze Geezer says:

    Thought I would try and find out what some people thought of the Noah’s Mill small batch. Interesting and mixed reviews. I have only
    tried a couple of Small Batch’s, currently sipping on the Knob Creek. I really like the strength and flavour of this. Does anybody know how Noah’s Mill compares?

  25. Andrew says:

    I’ve recently discovered this bourbon and it instantly became my favorite. For me it’s best straight up after sitting in a glass for half an hour or so. Paired with a locally produced Dominican wrapped mild body cigar it is perfect.

  26. Fred says:

    I am drinking a double old fashioned loaded with ice and probably the latest batch of Noah’s Mill based on today’s date (Jan 1, 2014) and the fact that this was a recently purchased bottle. It is nothing short of excellent. I think that despite all of the mental masturbation about not knowing what spirits were procured to create this amazing drink and the “cult of secrecy” surrounding KBD’s cone of silence regarding their sources, and of a course, the fact that the word “smooth” is no longer in the bourbon taster’s vernacular, this bottle is right up there with Pappy and the best of them. There is none of the acetone-like nose of some of the higher proofed bourbons and in fact, if it were’t on the bottle, I would never guess at the high proofage. The bourbon is, dare I say, smooth, with all of the best characteristics of a great bourbon. I agree with the reviewer with regards to the taste components, with the proviso that these flavors are beautifully balanced. There is a sweetness to this whiskey-a sweetness that I look for in bourbons and great single malts like McCallan 12. That sweetness is here in this bottle and I really prize that quality. So in closing, I would urge you to judge the bourbon with your mouth, not your intellect. I don’t care if KBD is not forthcoming-just keep making this great bourbon whiskey. And a very Happy New Year to all.

  27. Fred says:

    Justin-read your comment after I wrote mine. Ditto. You nailed it.

  28. EMShea says:

    Here is my struggle — I do like the taste of Noah’s Mill but not knowing where it came from, where it was sourced, or how old it is makes me wary about continuing to drop $55 on a bottle ($60 with tax). It’s like, I love the taste of hot dogs but I know that what does into them is pretty sketchy, so I don’t eat them. I’m not equivocating hot dogs with Noah’s, but not knowing what goes into Noah’s really does impact my buying decision. If they’re going to charge so much for their bourbon, and slap all that damn marketing language on the bottle and in the little pamphlet around the neck, they should provide details. Instead it’s all a lot of “aged UP TO 20 years.” Well, that would apply to a bourbon that’s aged 2 months.

  29. Fred says:

    EMSHEA-stop struggling and drink. I trust my mouth more than any number on any bottle. As a person who enjoys good whiskey, I have sipped some bottles that get amazing press that I find mediocre at best. I think 30 year old Glenmorangie doesn’t hold a candle to 12 year old MCCallan. I personally don’t like a lot of smoke in my drink and as such have moved away from the bigger Johnnie Walker bottles and the peaty single malts, and have moved into some great bang-for-the-buck bourbons. I don’t like a lot of the single malts that all seem unbalanced in one way or another, with some notable exceptions. I do think some blends are brilliantly crafted and much better balanced, despite the fact that the words “blended whiskey” may be objectionable to some purists. This is all a diatribe about what I like. I am not trying to sell anyone on anything. That being said, and at the ripe old age of 62, I can say that the most important thing is discovering what you like and expanding your personal horizon. Folks will love what I don’t and dislike what I value in a bottle. Nothing wrong with that. But to avoid a bottle because of what’s on (or not on) the label-that is a mistake. You might be missing out on something really special. For what its worth, I like hot dogs and on occasion, I eat one. I can assure you there is no sodium nitrite, saturated fat or pig snouts in a bottle of Noah’s Mill. It might benefit from some bacon though. Remember-the joy is in the journey. Cheers and All the best.

  30. Fred says:

    Read your post, Justin. Couldn’t have said it better.

  31. Parker Brinson says:

    Just opened my first bottle. I like it. Never mind all that ” I don’t know enough about it” stuff! What difference does it make if it tastes good? Get over it. Enjoy. A little branch water in it is all it needs. Water back optional. Ice would be a capital offense.

  32. Woody Moranis says:

    I love Noah’s Mill…amazingly it’s not hard to find in NE Mass (unlike anything Buffalo Trace). I wish I could come across KBD’s Vintage 17.

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