REMUS REPEAL RESERVE III
Released Fall 2019
MASH BILL – 90% is a 75% corn / 21% rye / 4% malted barley recipe, and 10% is a 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% malted barley recipe
PROOF – 100
AGE – 12% 11 year, 88% 12 year
DISTILLERY – MGP (They put “G. Remus Distilling Company” on the label but that’s marketing.)
PRICE – $89
BUY AGAIN? – If I’m ever looking for a well-aged, well blended, good old fashioned bourbon for a “good” price (by today’s standards) then for sure!
I think I actually said “woah” aloud when I tasted this at uncorking two weeks ago. But we’ll get to that.
The Remus Repeal Reserve line is named after noted bootlegger George Remus. Remus immigrated to America from Germany with his family in 1882 at the age of four. The Remus family eventually settled in Chicago, where George grew up to become a successful pharmacist, then a famous lawyer known for having advanced the “temporary insanity” defense. When Prohibition went into effect in 1920, Remus noticed how well his criminal clients were doing and put his legal knowledge toward navigating a bootlegging career himself. He was soon dubbed “King of the Bootleggers” for his rapid success and the lavish parties he would throw. In 1927 he was arrested for murder, but got off by pleading… that’s right, “temporary insanity.” That incident done, he segued out of bootlegging and moved to Kentucky, where he lived quietly until dying in 1952 at the age of seventy-three.
So, in a way, Remus achieved every element of a certain romanticized strain of the American dream: immigrated, ran successful businesses, became a celebrity criminal, got away with his crimes by working the system, straightened out to lead a respectable life, died at a ripe old age. And now he even has a bourbon—America’s native spirit—named after him.
I’d read very good things about Remus Repeal Reserve. I love the packaging, the 1920s and 1930s being among my favorite American decades for many reasons. I love the price, considering the age and these bourbon-boomed times. I love that it’s direct from MGP, not sourced from them, and so one can guess some extra attention and pride is put into selecting the whiskeys for the blend.
After the uncorking, I let it sit for two weeks before trying it again for this notes session. The taste and packaging compelled me to honor it with my favorite antique tumbler. But I also tasted it in a simple brandy glass, to really give it a fair go. I wanted to put my initial response, as well as my fondness for the era the whiskey’s marketing emphasizes, to an honest test. A bourbon can’t just look good in the bottle or on paper. It has to taste good too.
Here are the notes in brief, for each glass. I tried it in the antique tumbler first, followed by the brandy glass:
COLOR – a beautiful autumn golden orange
NOSE – nicely refined and dusty oak, thick caramel, chocolate, aged baking spices (are those a thing?), sparkly rye spices, some sweet dark cherry, everything nicely blended and at once dark and bright
TASTE – just like the nose promised: caramel, oak, chocolate, baking and rye spices, that subtle but persistent sweet dark cherry note, and now also a cola note
FINISH – very warming, with a nice peppery tingle, the cherry and oak lingering most, underscored by the cola note
OVERALL – Good old fashioned high class stuff, both refined and rough, the kind of old-school bourbon you might imagine Rockefeller drank to celebrate the end of Prohibition.
This tasting evoked images of an old fashioned den with thick wooden furniture expertly made, leather bound books in glass-shuttered book cases, ornate lamps, a fire in the hearth and a greyhound dog waiting patiently near the foot of your leather reading chair.
COLOR – a rich sunset orange in very late summer
NOSE – rich caramel and vibrant spices right up front, followed by that amazing oak
TASTE – caramel and oak, very dark chocolate, with the spiciness dusting the edges
FINISH – warming, tingly, caramel, oak
OVERALL – Notably less fruit in this glass, putting the emphasis on the caramel and oak
This tasting evoked a candy store in a sturdy old wooden building, specializing in caramel, chocolate and fudge. The kind of place I can imagine finding in Olde Town Sacramento or other Northern California mining town outposts. There was a small wooden shack at High Hill Ranch in Placerville, where I grew up, where variations on fudge, chocolate, and caramel were sold. That’s what I’m picturing, only 100 years ago.
Very interesting. I prefer it in the antique tumbler, due to the much more prominent dark cherry notes. But in both glasses this whiskey is a master class in good old fashioned, well-aged bourbon. Had this been sourced by a bottler, the price could likely have been anywhere from $120 to $200, easily. But cutting out the middleman and getting it straight from MGP, though not cheap, it’s worth every penny.
If you like oak, that is. This is definitely for oak lovers. It is so nicely refined in that flavor area. And though overall it’s not a flavor profile that surprises—it’s notes are all very familiar—it is so well blended that it stands apart in terms of its expert integration, as well as its immediate sense that long gone history has somehow indeed been captured in the bottle. I don’t believe it’s merely the 1930s packaging that conjures up times gone by. There is something distinctly antique in the aromas and flavors—that pleasing dusty smell of antique wood. It’s quieting and serious. It’s rich and delicious. It’s calming. It’s a fire in the hearth, or the most comfortable leather chair. It’s a heavy wooden desk where generations have written and read letters. (Anyone remember those?) It’s a solid old house that will never fall down. These are the images that come to mind. History in a bottle.
Another antique, historical aspect of the whiskey is its paying homage to a celebrity criminal. The celebration of wealthy criminals is a longstanding preoccupation of American culture. (So long as they’re White, of course—another revealing detail of American culture.) Our fascination with the George Remuses of American history connects back to the country’s origins, when the colonists were the outlaws revolting against the injustices of Great Britain while simultaneously committing local injustices of their own. There is also a connection to the basic American dream of rising from humble beginnings into wealth—by whatever means, it would seem. During the Great Depression, when citizens believed the government was not looking after their needs, criminals like Remus or Al Capone took on an appealing Robin Hood aspect in the popular culture. Similarly with Bonnie & Clyde. Though that celebrity duo never achieved great wealth, they certainly achieved great fame—actively sought it out even—as righters of the wrongs done unto poor people by big banks and the police.
In short, Remus Repeal Reserve is a very American whiskey.
The MGP Remus line is not sold in California. I ordered a bottle online from a shop in Illinois. So the downside for anyone outside of this bottle’s limited distribution circuit is the cost of shipping. The place I ordered from does not charge tax, however, and luckily they had other bottles I was interested in. So in the end the shipping simply replaced the tax. And from this same source, I already have Remus Repeal Reserve IV in the wings. Perhaps a comparison between the bottle kill pour of III and the uncorking pour of IV will be in order…!
In any case, if you can find it at a good price, and you love a good, oaky, well-aged bourbon, I highly recommend Remus Repeal Reserve III. It’s namesake makes a great conversation starter, and it tastes great too.