BELLE MEADE CASK STRENGTH RESERVE
Batch #5 (2018)
MASH BILL – unstated high-rye MGP mash bill(s)
PROOF – 113.6
AGE – small batch blend of 7-11 year whiskeys
DISTILLERY – Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
PRICE – $68
WORTH BUYING? – After some initial hesitation, now I say an enthusiastic Yes.
This post is the third in a series of five. If you’ve already read my recent posts on a certain Woodinville cask strength bottling and the Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery #4, then you know where I’m headed here. But to recap in brief:
I’d uncorked this Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve, and on its very first pour was impressed by what a solid small batch blend of decently aged high-rye MGP bourbon it was. And I was bored.
So I poured a glass of Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery #4, a bottle I’d already opened a couple weeks prior. I hadn’t had it since its uncorking. But I remembered very much enjoying its superb blend of well-aged Kentucky bourbons, chief among them a good percentage 13-year Barton. Having been bored by the Belle Meade, I’d hoped the Bardstown might lift my spirits… But I was bored again.
I then moved on to the Woodinville cask strength bourbon, which ended up providing the novelty my senses were craving that night. Made on the opposite side of the country from Kentucky in a decidedly different terroir, Woodinville is distinct from its more ubiquitous Kentucky and Indiana cousins, its flavor profile less familiar.
And familiarity can be deadening. There is so much well blended, decently aged Barton and MGP whiskey being bottled and sold by secondary bottlers these days—e.g. Sam Houston, Lucky Seven, Smoke Wagon, High West… They’re all good. But their onslaught means that Barton and MGP whiskeys have become very familiar tasting experience for me.
Now it’s been a couple weeks since that night. I’ve been focusing my whiskey drinking on ryes and craft distilleries, to take a break from Barton and MGP for a moment. I then had another go with Discovery #4, and today I’m taking a dip back into the Belle Meade.
First, a bit about this particular Belle Meade release…
Sometime after the initial several batches of this cask strength bourbon line were released, Nelson’s Green Brier honed in on 108.3 proof as their ideal, and they removed “cask strength” from the title. So technically this is a discontinued bottle, which made its uncorking a bit more of a to-do. If I really liked it, I couldn’t just run out and get another.
That said, as I’ve indicated, what was uncorked here is one among countless secondary bottlings of MGP bourbon. So, really, I can run out and likely find a small batch MGP blend, similarly aged, bottled near 113 proof. It might take some hunting about. But I’d eventually find it. Of course it wouldn’t taste exactly like this bottle. But neither do any two bottles of Knob Creek Single Barrel taste quite alike, nor any two of any distillery’s single barrel or small batch bourbon releases, sourced or not. That’s the magic of the aging process.
Still, MGP is arguably the single most ubiquitous sourced whiskey on the market, even more so than Barton. Here’s a very quick list of brands that use or have used MGP whiskeys, just off the top of my head:
31n50 (Dry Diggings Distillery)
Bardstown Bourbon Company
George Remus (MGP’s own brand)
James E. Pepper 1776
And there are many more…
But what’s on the table before me now is this Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Batch #5, bottled in 2018. Now about two weeks after uncorking, and a handful of pours into the bottle, here are some brief notes taken in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – various burnt siennas and russet oranges
NOSE – fragrant dried rye grasses and herbs, backed up by doughy cinnamon roll
TASTE – true to the nose, with a bit more caramel now, some chocolate sauce, lightly toasted brioche, and some nice oak spiciness
FINISH – a nice tingly pepperiness from the oak and proof spice, with the dried rye and doughy cinnamon roll notes lingering in equal measure, and a surprise faint dried mango note to boot…!
OVERALL – A very good, very rye-forward bourbon, so much so that from the nose I might have guessed this was a rye!
Rye! That’s the dominant note here. Or I should say notes, plural. Lots of dried herbs, grasses and flowers up front in the nose. The rye bouquet continues through the taste and on into the finish. But enough rich caramel and chocolate notes then show up to balance the light with some dark, the dry with some sweet.
There is a rustic quality to the whole. The oak tastes rough-cut, smoothened by time and weather rather than mechanically polished. It remains a very familiar tasting experience. I’m noticing, though, that in that regard I feel more open and appreciative of it than I did the familiarity of the Barton rye bouquet in Bardstown Discovery #4. With this Belle Meade, there is more influence from the sweeter, juicier notes adding a complexity I prefer.
This is a matter of individual taste, of course. There is no real reason to compare this Belle Meade with the Bardstown Discovery #4, outside their both having elicited my familiarity-induced ho-hum. (That said, in terms of bang for one’s buck, the price on this Belle Meade is half the Bardstown, so that’s a reason to choose right there.) For anyone who has not OD’d on MGP sourced bourbons like I have, I imagine this cask strength small batch blend would be especially pleasing. It’s rich. It has sweet and dry aspects, herb and candy notes, and the 113.6 proof compliments the barrel spices well.
I put that assumption to the test with my partner, as I had done with the Bardstown Discover #4. Here’s what she said:
“The aroma… peanut brittle. But more brittle than peanut, meaning more caramel… The taste is… peanut brittle… and big nature, not small nature. Trees not little herbs… It’s good.”
There you have it.
Well done Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. Now I’m curious to try the 108.3 proof Reserve bottlings they’ve made their standard, to understand why they settled in on that proof point. Because this proof point is working pretty darn well! Familiar as it is, I’ll reach for and enjoy this discontinued Belle Meade Reserve variation whenever I’m in the mood for its particular rendering of what MGP has to offer.
COMING IN PART 4:
Barton’s 1792 Aged Twelve Years