Sour Mash Manifesto

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Tag: Noah’s Mill

Review: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon

Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon is one of the many brands produced and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (KBD) out of Bardstown, KY. If you are unfamiliar with KBD as a company, you will probably recognize many of the whiskeys they produce – Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, Noah’s Mill Bourbon, Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, and numerous others.

KBD operates out of the Willett Distillery, which it has owned since the 1980’s. As an aside, it’s a charming distillery that sits atop a bluff not far from Heaven Hill distillery. The whiskey that makes up Pure Kentucky XO, as well as the others mentioned above, are sourced from unnamed distilleries. KBD has built their supplies by purchasing new make spirit sourced in bulk, and then aged in the Willett Distillery’s aging facilities on property. They’ve also procured fully or partially matured whiskeys that were distilled and aged elsewhere. I’m sure many of you know by now that a lot of this stuff is shrouded in mystery. I’m certainly not going to be able to clear that up – it’s sourced and I suppose that is that.

In January 2012 the Willett Distillery began distillation once again. This past fall the company released their first rye whiskeys that were distilled, aged, and bottled on property. I have bottles of both the 107 and 109 proof ryes (purchased at the distillery). The whiskeys absolutely need more time in oak to realize the complexity and depth that longer aged rye whiskey typically possesses, but Willett has a good foundation with these whiskeys.

Let’s get back on track to the whiskey in question. Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a high proof (107) small batch straight bourbon whiskey. It has no age statement (NAS) so we really don’t know how old the whiskey is, but that’s not uncommon nowadays. As recent as 2-3 years ago, Pure Kentucky XO stated the whiskeys in the bottle were at least 12 years of age. We can venture a guess that is no longer the case. Age only matters to a point, and at the end of the day what matters is how the whiskey tastes. Let’s find out….

pure-kentucky-xo-300x300Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 proof), $28/bottle
Color: Copper/Medium Amber
Nose: Cinnamon and barrel spices (right up front), toffee, maple sugars, dry dusty oak quality. Faint dried apricot and fruit notes linger on the edges.
Palate: Spicy, rustic, and woody. Cinnamon, clove, and some bitter barrel notes (and grip) make way for oily corn, vanilla, and faint toffee sweetness.
Finish: Warming spice/heat and zip, corn, and a fruit. Long finish.
Overall: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a good choice for those that like spicy and oaky bourbons. It’s not overly sweet, and the price point is good considering the proof. It does take water well, and is recommended to brighten up the party a bit. If it has a fault it’s that it’s not particularly well balanced, but it fits a profile that many may appreciate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good)

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)

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