On Familiar Tastes Pt2: Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series #4

BARDSTOWN BOURBON CO. DISCOVERY #4
Released in 2020

MASH BILL – 55% is 74/18/8; 37% is 78.5/13/8.5; 8% is 75/13/12 (corn/rye/barley)

PROOF – 115

AGE – 55% 13 years; 37% 15 years; 8% 10 years (same order as mash bill info)

DISTILLERY – Bardstown Bourbon Company

PRICE – $142

WORTH BUYING? – If the price fits your wallet and you love antique bourbons, then yes. But if you’re minding your expenses at all, then no, there are other equally or more exceptional whiskeys to be had…

This post is second in a series of five, which spontaneously came about due to an interesting experience I had one evening not too long ago. If you’ve already read my post on a certain Woodinville cask strength bottling, then you know something about it. But to recap in brief:

I’d uncorked a bottle of Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve. Right out of the gate it impressed me as a solid, expertly blended small batch of decently aged high-rye MGP bourbon. Excellent stuff. And I was bored… 

So I poured a glass from a bottle I’d opened a couple weeks earlier, the subject of today’s post, Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery Series #4. At its uncorking I’d swooned over this carefully selected, meticulously blended small batch of well-aged Kentucky bourbons—primary among them a good percentage of 13-year Barton. Having been bored by the Belle Meade, I’d hoped a pour of the exquisite Bardstown might lift my spirits… And I was bored again

Familiarity can be a buzzkiller. There is so much well blended, decently aged high-rye MGP and Barton whiskey being bottled and sold by innumerable secondary bottlers these days—from Sam Houston to Lucky Seven, Smoke Wagon to High West. Barton and MGP whiskeys have become very familiar tasting experience for me—that MGP spiciness and that floral Barton rye bouquet.

I’ll admit to feeling more than a bit like a spoiled child, privileged by access to too much of a good thing. Feeling ho-hum about my expensive high quality bourbon is quite the first world problem to have.

I eventually moved on that evening to some Woodinville cask strength bourbon, which provided the change of scenery my senses were craving in that moment. Yet I couldn’t believe the Belle Meade and Bardstown Bourbon Company bottlings deserved dismissal. I knew I needed to return to them another night.

So I steered clear of MGP and Barton sourced whiskeys for a bit—not an easy task! They’re everywhere! Now it’s been a couple weeks since that night. Having opened this Discovery #4 bottle roughly two months ago, I’m starting there.

Over half the whiskey blended into Discovery #4 comes from Barton and is aged 13 years. A bit over a third of the blend is a mystery mash bill—78.5% corn, 13% rye, 8.5% barley—that’s been popping up at the 15-year age mark in a variety of secondary bottlings lately, like Doc Swinson’s. (Most bets are on Jim Beam or Heaven Hill as the source.) And the remaining portion, a bourbon aged 10 years, matches the Wild Turkey mash bill and Jimmy Russell’s favored age, making Wild Turkey the logical guess. Which contribution will hold the greatest sway in tonight’s tasting?

Here are some notes in brief, taken about two months after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – beautiful Autumn sunset oranges

NOSE – a bouquet of dried flowers and grasses, dusty oak sanded smooth, a dash of dry baking spices, a faint cherry note and fleeting caramel note coming and going, all very antique like grandma’s parlor

TASTE – very like the nose, emphasizing the rye bouquet with the other notes backing it up, the caramel a bit stronger here by comparison, a dry dark chocolate note, a granular and a syrupy texture vying for dominance in the mouthfeel

FINISH – a prickly pepperiness lingering at the sides of the tongue, a nice subtle warmth at the back of the throat, and the floral rye bouquet gently and slowly fading…

OVERALL – an elegant antique of a bourbon: beautiful, old, familiar, both colorfully floral and darkly muted…

If I didn’t know the other whiskeys were in the mix, I’d indeed guess this to be a Barton product. It’s very well blended, showing off the age of the whiskeys without getting overly oaked. The wood notes are strong yet restrained. With a bit more sweetness to challenge the dry wood, herb and spice notes, I might find it more exciting than I do. But it’s certainly not bad.

Worth the price? Considering the breadth of the bourbon market these days, and based on the tasting experience alone, I say no. I do believe the blending skill at work here is exceptional. Making such an elegantly refined whole of three distinct, well-aged Kentucky whiskeys can’t be a simple task. But I could get as elegant a blend with Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades or Revival for a similar price. And, for me, either of those offer a more satisfying tasting experience overall.

That might not be a fair comparison. Bardstown Bourbon Company is expressly trying to bring a variety of Kentucky distillates together into an integrated whole, as opposed to a single distillery mixing its own products. It’s a distinctly different endeavor.

All of this said, I shared a pour with my partner, withholding any of my own thoughts. Regarding the nose she said, “Oh I like this… Chocolate. Cinnamon swirl…” Tasting it, she said, “Spiced pumpkin pie. That’s a good one.”

So is my issue indeed one of saturation? Too much great Barton in the past year? My partner, who famously (in our house) has “champagne tastes” when it comes to whiskey despite not being the biggest whiskey fan, took to this right away. For her to raise an eyebrow about a whiskey means it’s doing something special.

So if you haven’t overdosed on Barton as of late, and you’re looking for something high-end and refined, Discovery #4 might be a worthwhile buy. It’s certainly an excellent blend of bourbons, no question.

This experience leaves me thinking about the power of familiarity and the value of variety. If I abstain from Barton whiskeys for a good long time, will I rediscover their wow factor? Or perhaps this Discovery #4 is something I’ll make a point to share with friends less familiar with bourbon, to get their take on it as I did with my partner. Experiencing the familiar through new perspectives can be a way to reinvigorate one’s own perceptions.

Cheers!

COMING IN PART 3:
Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve
Batch #5

STAY TUNED!

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