Revisiting: Tom’s Foolery Cask Strength Bourbon

K&L Single Barrel #121 (2019)

MASH BILL – 56% corn, 25% rye, 19% barley

PROOF – 109.1

AGE – 5 years 11 months

DISTILLERY – Tom’s Foolery Distillery

PRICE – $60

BUY AGAIN? – No, but…

Prompted by my survey of whiskey glasses, I’m revisiting this Tom’s Foolery Cask Strength Bourbon. I’d used it as a control factor to test the impact of each glass on aroma and taste. Nosing and sipping the bourbon from eighteen different glasses brought out new aspects I’d not noticed before, namely a variety of cinnamons. I’d actually written this bottle off as one I wasn’t terribly interested in. But now I found myself reconsidering.

So I poured a sample, this time into four different glasses, to give it a thorough and proper revisiting. The notes in brief:


COLOR – yellow-orange toasted until a bit brown

NOSE – fresh cedar, pine, and oak shavings, dusty rye, faint caramel and lemon zest, a fleeting whiff of vanilla

TASTE – lemon, caramel, pine, oak, then another faint flare of caramel at the end

FINISH – mouthwatering from the lemon, warm from the proof, remnants of tangy caramel, cedar, and a now toasted pine

OVERALL – More like my first impressions back in July, though waterier and woodier, and I’m missing those surprising cinnamon notes from that eighteen-glass session…

And, trying it in four glasses this time, I did notice some broad emphases in each:

GLENCAIRN – medium-bright overall, lots of raw wood

SMALL TUMBLER – thicker, pepperier

BRANDY GLASS – thick like in the small tumbler, without the peppery prickle

RAUK HEAVY TUMBLER – syrupy, toasted pine rinsed in watery caramel

The first time I wrote about this bourbon on this blog, I was comparing it with bourbons from MB Roland and Home Base Spirits. Of them, I noted Tom’s Foolery tasted the most “craft” overall, meaning an emphasis on young wood and grain. And when I look even further back to my very first tasting of it, when I’d uncorked it in June, I wasn’t terribly compelled by it out of the gate. Here are my notes from that uncorking:


NOSE – sweet grains, dry grasses, lemon zest, buttery caramel, pumpernickle, cracked pepper, apricots in syrup

TASTE – woody grains up front, dark syrupy apricot in the background, and after more air in the glass a faint chocolate note

FINISH – apricots in syrup, warm, mouth watering, a bit of bitter tannic oak, the warmth of woody sweetness lingers

OVERALL – not fully grabbing me

Those uncorking notes sound more appealing than what I’m noting now. Still, there was back then an overall wood-plank aspect I didn’t care for, and the apricot notes weren’t strong enough to balance that out.

This was all to my surprise, given a previous Tom’s Foolery single barrel had impressed me so much I bought a backup. That stellar bottle had a much more common bourbon mash bill ratio of 72% corn, 16% rye, and 12% barley, yielding a range of stone fruit and fruit pie crust dough notes alongside the wood. I wondered if the key difference was in the mash bill. But of course it could be the age, the exact barrel, warehouse placement, etcetera…

In any case, having written this current bottle off, I was excited when my interest was piqued again by the epic night of eighteen glasses. But now I find myself back at the beginning of my journey with this bottle—standing among the scattered dry scents of various fresh cut woods, with only vague hints of other flavors that never manage a strong presence.

So, my renewed optimism was not rewarded this time around. After all the time and effort, I do think the final remaining third of this bottle may end up gifted to a friend. Someone else may love this. My two other Tom’s Foolery experiences—that other single barrel bourbon and a single barrel rye, both bottled in bond—were excellent. So Tom’s Foolery is still at two-out-of-three for me and that’s enough to warrant my trying future bottles down the line. I’ll aim for another bottled-in-bond offering with a more average bourbon mash bill, or perhaps go for another rye. Rye seems to be the grain at the heart of where Tom’s Foolery lives.

I’m thinking about why I’ve tried so hard with this bottle. Besides my having had better Tom’s Foolery experiences previously, I recognize that I’m also compelled by the distillery’s story. I appreciate that they are a small operation, use only local ingredients in addition to those grown on their own farm, are so fully transparent about their mash bills, aging, and process. They continue to experiment with a variety of recipes rather than settling into one or some small handful like so many distilleries. (Not that having only one or two mash bills is such a bad thing. Wild Turkey, for example.) As a relatively new distillery they are in active and continual search of their flavor-identity, and that search itself may actually constitute their identity in the end. We need curiosity and new ideas, knowing the results won’t always be great. That’s the cost of creativity.

This all begs the question, what are we experiencing when we drink a whiskey? Or put another way, what do we value? And there we’re already getting into questions of who we are—a perfectly excellent subject of conversation for an evening gathered around a bottle.

Thank you, whiskey.

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