Medley’s Private Stock (and…!)

Limited Release (2015)

MASH BILL – rumored 77% corn, 10% rye, 13% barley

PROOF – 90

AGE – 10 years

DISTILLERY – rumored to be Buffalo Trace or Barton. But bottled by Charles Medley Distillery.

PRICE – $65 and some time hunting it down

BUY AGAIN? – Yes, if the price was msrp and I didn’t already have any other Medley bottles on my shelf.

My introduction to the Medley line was actually the 2017 Wathen’s Single Barrel #132, picked by K&L in California and bottled at the Wathen’s Single Barrel standard 94 proof. Through K&L’s own notes, I learned that Charles Medley himself was once a respected distiller in his own right before moving over to non-distillery production. The Charles Medley Distillery bourbons are contract-distilled by an unnamed distillery that apparently allows Medley to retain complete control over the mash bill, yeast, fermentation, distillation, and barreling.

I thoroughly enjoyed the summery, buttery, bright stone fruit profile of that Wathen’s Single Barrel #132, and especially how it continued to open up very nicely as the bottle aired out over time.

Next I had the 2018 Wathen’s Barrel Proof Single Barrel #40, also picked by K&L. This was bottled at 117.4 proof and very unusual. The nose held an intriguing mix of gravel, butter caramel, dry salt, and dry herbs. Very strange. On the palate I noticed wet gravel, tangy caramel, and a peppery edge that bit its teeth in at palate’s end. The finish was warm with tangy caramel, butterscotch, and dry hay. From start to finish there was something mossy and sandy about this barrel, and that wasn’t a bad thing. A real thinker…

So, I experimented with it. Tasted in a wide-bottom tumbler, the caramel aspect of the #40 opened up. Tasted with a slice of fresh ginger squeezed into it, those unusual earthy aspects paired nicely with the ginger, and the ginger with the bourbon’s own caramel and oak. Given the price ($87 after tax) this wasn’t a bottle I would go for again. But I was very glad I tried it. (I’m looking forward to uncorking a 2017 Wathen’s Barrel Proof Single Barrel #19, allotted to Cask in San Francisco, that’s been waiting patiently on my shelf.)

And so it was with legitimate curiosity that one day in March 2019 I picked up this Medley’s Private Stock, a 2015 limited release I’d read a bit about but never seen in the wild. I found this bottle at a decent price, gathering dust at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley, CA. I uncorked it this past June and tried it again for this tasting:

COLOR – soft burnt orange

NOSE – sandy and sweet, with apricot, lemon, and light buttery caramel

TASTE – buttery, bright, lemony caramel, salty and creamy toward the end

FINISH – lingering with dried mango and salty, buttery caramel

This is a refreshing experience, perfect for Spring or Summer. Like the 2017 Wathen’s Single Barrel #132, this too has continued to open up nicely over time. As of this tasting I’m a little over halfway through the bottle. The experience is still easily recognizable from what I remember at its uncorking, and yet generally it’s grown rounder in all aspects. I also recognize in it a bit of that earthy element that was so featured in the 2018 Wathen’s Barrel Proof Single Barrel #40. 

These varied bottlings of the Medley family line are together gradually revealing to me something of their familial character—namely this habit of gradually opening up over time, the bright sunny fruit aspects, and those attention-catching earthy notes.

The Medley bourbons make an interesting alterative to the Buffalo Trace namesake bourbon. This makes sense if the rumors are true that Buffalo Trace Distillery makes these bourbons on behalf of Charles Medley Distillery. (Although both Barton Distillery and Heaven Hill have also been suggested.) The Medley bourbons indeed taste like an earthier cousin of the Buffalo Trace namesake bourbon. It occurred to me that doing a comparison might be interesting…

So I did! 

I uncorked a 2019 bottle of Buffalo Trace—single barrel #592 selected by the Single Barrel Project, itself run by Maison Corbeaux, a good shop in San Francisco. A store-picked single barrel is a different animal than the standard Buffalo Trace. But I thought this singularity might compliment the limited-release nature of the Medley’s Private Stock. In brief:

COLOR – a lovely, soft, yellow-orange amber

NOSE – salty buttery caramel, with bright apple juice in the background

TASTE – very creamy, salty, buttery, with bright vanilla-caramel and faint apple

FINISH – warm and lingering, with a hint of pepper alongside the caramel

Well now! This was immediately the best, most sophisticated Buffalo Trace single barrel I’d had to date. Though unstated on the label, and knowing the Single Barrel Project’s barrel-picking habits, I would guess this is not chill filtered. A connection to the Medley line is immediately apparent. It’s that salty aspect—here not as earthy as the Medley’s—and the summery brightness of the caramel. Very interesting.

One can only guess which of the various factors make Buffalo Trace and Medley what they are. I’d say the distillate with “Buffalo Trace” printed on its label is less complicated, more rounded at the edges, as compared to the edgier/earthier distillate with “Medley” printed on its label. My various experiences with the Buffalo Trace namesake line have generally not been exceptional. It’s never appealed to me in particular. But this 2019 Single Barrel Project pick is exceptional in its creaminess and depth. That creaminess in combination with the saltiness links it directly to Medley—in theory! A tasting comparison proves nothing. But it is interesting.

You’ll unlikely be able to find either the 2015 Medley’s Private Stock 10 year, nor the 2019 Single Barrel Project’s Buffalo Trace barrel #592. But I would say some combination of Medley bottles (Wathen’s Single Barrel is fairly easily found) and Buffalo Trace bottles (go for a store pick over the standard bottling) would make a very worthwhile flight. Take that flight in the Spring or Summer months, when it will be most in its element.

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