OLD CARTER SMALL BATCH BOURBON
Batch #9 (2021)
MASH BILL – Unstated
PROOF – 116.8
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Old Carter, sourcing from… MGP?
PRICE – $175
WORTH BUYING? – oh my yes…!
I’ll admit to having been skeptical when I first heard about Old Carter. Another high-priced sourced whiskey operation with an elegant bottle? Old Carter’s look reminded me of Kentucky Owl, itself an insanely priced sourced brand. Come to find out Mark and Sherri Carter, the couple behind Old Carter, had a hand in establishing Kentucky Owl before parting ways with it to start their own brand.
But then I heard the Carters speak in an interview. I liked what they had to say about whiskey, that they do all the blending and even handwrite the labels themselves. They’re entirely hands on. It’s a posh brand, for sure. But their passion struck me as totally genuine and legit.
So I bought this bottle—Batch 9 in their 2021 small batch series of bourbon releases. I assume the bourbon inside is from MGP, given the tell-tale “distilled in Indiana” on the back label. The age is not stated. But the dark mahogany color of the whiskey as seen through the bottle suggests a good number of years in the barrel.
I uncorked it the night I brought it home. (No more bunkering the good stuff!) The nose showed marzipan, dark dried fruits of the highest quality, apricot, and smooth oak. The taste made good on the nose, adding a rich juiciness to everything. And yet there was also a pleasing drying aspect to it. The finish showed the same notes as the taste and nose before it, lingering gently but long, with that drying aspect in contrast to the juicy fruit notes…
Overall, out of the gate this was among the richest, darkest, most refined bourbons I’d ever had. At the risk of hyperbole, I thought it might even be among the best bourbons I’d ever experienced period. I would never have guessed it was MGP. That’s no slight on MGP, which puts out excellent whiskeys. It’s that the flavor profile was so unusually distinct. The particular fruitiness of the bourbon actually reminded me of certain whiskeys from Spirits of French Lick, a craft Indiana distillery. Could it possibly be the Carters had procured some younger Spirits of French Lick distillate and blended it with older MGP?
Still, was it worth the $175 I paid? Considering other purchases at a similar price have offered a far lesser experience, my first thought was Yes. Then again, is any whiskey worth $175…?
I decided to wait for the bottle to air out a bit to draw any conclusions. But I anticipated a mighty fine journey with this one…
So here we are again, nearly three weeks since uncorking and now three pours into the bottle. Here are some brief notes tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – dark smoldering oranges that seem to glow from within
NOSE – rich dark dried fruits like apricot and black cherry, boozy sponge cake, marzipan, crème brûlée, dark toasted honey
TASTE – brighter than the nose by comparison, with a mild peppery prickle surrounding a juicy core of those decadent dark fruit notes, emphasizing a rich apricot note especially, with a dash of black pepper, a sprinkling of dried herbs like tea leaf, and the faint whiff of refined oak
FINISH – loooong… with that refined oak note lingering beneath a very slow ebb of the rich fruit notes, a subtle return of the marzipan, and a pleasant dry aspect paired with the syrupy juiciness
OVERALL – an uncommonly decadent, fruity bourbon, with many secondary notes coming and going to add complexity from the nose through the long lingering finish
The dry aspects are less prominent now than at uncorking. Now they are like dashes of spice accenting the main ingredients.
It’s the dark fruit notes that are at the center of things. Especially that apricot note, easily the richest I’ve personally experienced. All together, Old Carter Bourbon Batch #9 is like some syrupy baked orchard fruit dessert that’s been carefully seasoned with a fine array of herbs and spices, with marzipan laced into the crust, revealing itself most in the nose and finish.
The proof is strong enough to push the flavors forward with oomph, yet not so strong as to singe them with alcohol burn. Everything about this is exceptionally well balanced, without the individual flavors getting subsumed into one whole. The various notes flow in and out, offering complexity and change as I sip at it over time.
Returning to my highly unlikely theory that Spirits of French Lick whiskeys might be involved, I poured a bit of their Solomon Scott Rye, which features a mash bill of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley, and a very fruity, fresh-grain forward flavor profile. If I still had a bottle of their Mattie Gladden around I’d pour some of that. It’s actually the Mattie Gladden this Old Carter takes me back to most. The Solomon Scott Rye makes a very unholy comparison with the Old Carter. But let’s see what comes of it…
Nosing them side by side, both feature an orchard fruitness emphasizing apricot, with the Old Carter leaning darker and fruit-syrupyer and the Solomon Scott leaning brighter and fresh grainier. (How are my descriptors coming along? 😉) Both seem seasoned with some array of fine herbs and spices.
On the taste, the Solomon Scott comes across with a softer push from its 102.2 proof, its fruit notes in perfect balance with its fresh grain and bread notes. Tasted next to it, the Old Carter’s marzipan aspect takes on a creamy note as well, and overall comes across with a similar balance of sweet and savory aspects only much darker.
The finish is harder to parse out at this point, with both whiskeys working on me at once. But after waiting a moment and swishing with water, I tried the Solomon Scott again to focus on its finish. It’s very true to its taste, balancing the fruit and fresh grain aspects well and lingering a good long time. Going back to the Old Carter, the ebb of its tide is unsurprisingly darker, spicier, more intensely flavorful…
…But they do taste related. I do not doubt they are not. But the cross-over is indeed striking. The high corn percentage in the Solomon Scott Rye and the evident high rye percentage in the Old Carter bourbon blend seem to bring the two together on the same field. Maybe these particular notes speak to something indigenous to the Indiana terroir?
I may never know the answer. In any case, in a tasting flight, this Solomon Scott Rye would make a great precursor to Old Carter Bourbon Batch #9, almost like a lighter-hearted younger sibling to the older Carter.
So back to the consumer question: Worth it? I’m sticking to my Yes. This is a very unusual bourbon experience. It demands my attention in a way that’s more visceral than intellectual. There’s something hedonistic about it. I’m going to enjoy taking my time with this one and sharing it with friends whom I know will appreciate it—which I’m guessing is most anyone! It’s so good!