HIRSCH: THE HORIZON
MASH BILL – 94% is a 75% corn / 21% rye / 4% mash bill, and 6% is a 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% mash bill, both from MGP
PROOF – 92
AGE – The 94% is 5 years 4 months, and the 6% is 6 years 2 months
DISTILLERY – Distilled at MGP in Indiana, bottled by Hirsch in Kentucky (a.k.a. Hotaling & Co. in San Francisco)
PRICE – $38
BUY AGAIN? – Sure!
The Hirsch name remains a curiosity. I wrote about another bottle dubbed “Hirsch” recently, a corn whiskey bottled in 2009 by Preiss Imports. Prior to Preiss acquiring it, the Hirsch name was used by a bottler named Gordon Hue, who hired Julian Van Winkle III to bottle up some old barrels that Adolph H. Hirsch himself, the name’s actual origin, had bought in 1974 but never managed to sell.
Those Hue / Van Winkle bottlings are now legendary. When Preiss Imports acquired the name they slapped it on a number of well-aged sourced barrels. Eventually Anchor Distilling Co., now Hotaling & Co., acquired the name and produced a pair of 92-proof high-rye offerings, one of them age-stated at 8 years and both sourced from MGP. Those have now been joined by this new Horizon edition.
Here are some brief notes, taken about two weeks after uncorking, a handful of pours into the bottle, and tasted in a simple brandy glass.
COLOR – a pale but rich yellow-orange with golden highlights
NOSE – smells like a wine cask finished bourbon with its dark plumb and pinot noir notes up front, then caramel dusted in baking spices like cinnamon and clove, butter on fresh bread, and with air comes more fruit like apricot and apple
TASTE – The red wine cask notes recede in favor of caramel and rustic breakfast bread notes like waffles, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, topped with the baking spices and warm fruit compote
FINISH – warm and lightly peppery, emphasizing the sweet bready notes, and with the fruit notes getting a touch sharper and sweeter
OVERALL – A surprising and satisfying bourbon, young enough to offer brightness but blended well enough to balance its youth with some darker notes and a bit of textured complexity
Based on the nose alone, tasted blind I’d have pegged this for a red wine cask finished bourbon. The grain and bread notes are recognizably MGP. Then where those plumbs and pinot noir aromas come from I have no idea. But they’re there. They ramp down on the taste, still hovering behind the more familiar MGP flavors.
It does taste young. But it’s an interesting kid, already accomplished and full of potential. If in the future Hotaling puts out older editions of this same formula I’ll be very curious to try them.
I appreciate how transparent the label is. All the information a whiskey fan wants is there: detailed age and mash bill statements, origins of the sourced distillate. (Although “Bottled by Hirsch in Bardstown, KY” leaves the misleading impression Hotaling is a Kentucky, not California, based bottler.) The crafting on Hotaling’s part is the selection and blending of what MGP distilled and aged. Adding a dash of slightly older, higher-rye bourbon to the younger—and at 21% still not low-rye—bourbon, might account for the nice balance of bright flavors with darker notes.
Overall, the Hirsch Horizon makes a very pleasing impression. It’s smooth and easy drinking. The flavors are sweet without going saccharin. And the bread notes balance well with the caramel notes, creating a rustic effect reminiscent of some craft bourbons I’ve had. Yet it’s still distinctly MGP. And despite their massive output, which leads some people to dismiss them as somehow “cheap,” MGP is easily among the best, most versatile distilleries making whiskey today. One cannot deny the range and quality of their products. It’s no wonder so many smaller companies source from them.
Using a famous name to which a product’s actual contents have no direct connection is a pretty common marketing approach. It can elicit the suspicions of diehard whiskey drinkers who care about the details. But these drinkers are in the minority. By and large, the average consumer is concerned with price and taste. To that end, Hirsch Horizon is priced well, bottled attractively in an unusual aqua-blue label combining sleek modern lines with subtly old-timely fonts and emblems, and providing a tasting experience that does the trick.
Given the thought and attention to detail put into both the whiskey and its presentation, the quality of the product is very clear. If you’re a fan of sweet breakfast breads, and aren’t above a glass of red wine with your breakfast, the new Hirsch Horizon is a great deal. I can imagine it mixing nicely in a variety of cocktails, serving as a good gift, and holding its own as a late-in-the-week sipper—when you don’t want a bottom shelf pour but aren’t ready to bust out the top shelf booze either. It’s certainly a welcome addition to my home shelf.
A couple weeks after doing this write up, I killed this Hirsch bottle alongside the final ounces of a Larceny store pick, itself previously reviewed here on the blog. In the photo below the bottles lie dead amongst the carnage of a chess game that had reached the checkmate point—not in my favor. A friend in New York and I play chess over Zoom every other Tuesday. It happens we each have the same wooden chess set, so we set them up before our screens and move one another’s pieces on both boards. I’m to chess what Jack Lemmon was to golf—loves it but just ain’t no good at it. Finishing off a couple of good bourbons helps ease the shame. 😉
The Larceny and Hirsch paired well together. They are distinct, but share a bready softness and each have an ease to them. I enjoyed each bottle from first to last pour. As they aired out they seemed to grow richer even as they continued to soften. Two very comfortable sipping bourbons. They made good chess whiskeys—light, tasty, not at all distracting. Of course even at their relatively low proof point, when a game lasts from two to even four hours… Well, if I wasn’t more self-aware about my chess skills I could blame the bourbons for my poor playing.
Rest in peace, Hirsch and Larceny…. until we meet again!