NASSIF FAMILY RESERVE
Batch No. 3 (2021)
MASH BILL – blend of MGP light whiskey, rye, and bourbon
PROOF – 107
AGE – 50% 14-year light whiskey and 50% 3-year-10-month MGP “bourye”
DISTILLERY – Cat’s Eye Distillery
PRICE – $42
WORTH BUYING? – in the spirit of curiosity, yes, but purely as a tasting experience, no.
When I saw Nassif Family Reserve show up on a local shop’s shelf, the simple label caught my eye with its uncommonly homemade look. Next to it was a bottle of the even more simply labelled Obtainium, Cat’s Eye Distillery’s cask strength Light Whiskey release, which can range in age from 11 to 16 years and regularly hits proofs of 140 or higher!
Nassif Family Reserve was first blended by Cat’s Eye co-founder Gene Nassif to share with family and friends at his wedding. His wedding guests enjoyed it so much, Nassif decided to bottle and brand it as the permanent, entry-level whiskey offering for Cat’s Eye. The intention of the unusual blend is to offer something both welcoming to casual drinkers and interesting for whiskey connoisseurs. The 107 proof makes it strong enough to pop in cocktails, yet approachable enough to sip neat.
Sourcing and bottling MGP whiskeys is nothing unusual. Something that distinguishes Cat’s Eye Distillery’s approach is their upfront commitment to transparency. Even the simple labels and generic plastic cork communicate that fancy packaging is not the main event. The emphasis is on what’s inside the bottle, and the personal touch of its selection, rather than some marketing team having concocted a faux old-timey label to imply the familiar MGP whiskeys are either something new or else steeped in family traditions that don’t quite actually exist. Cat’s Eye understands that transparency is itself great advertising. So, simple labels with basic info.
The Cat’s Eye single barrel program operates with similar transparency. Their website lists examples of whiskeys they can provide, among them variously aged MGP, Kentucky, Scotch, or Irish whiskeys. But if a retailer doesn’t see something they want among those, Cat’s Eye will do their best to track down something else. Think of them like the independent secondary bottlers in Scotland—i.e. Alexander Murray, Hunter Laing, and Vintage Malt—that obtain choice barrels from name brand distilleries, often aging them further in their own warehouses, then blend and/or bottle them for a fraction of typical name brand prices. (In 2018 when a 52-year Macallan was released for $60,000 a bottle, a 52-year Carseberidge was also released by independent bottler Hunter Laing & Co. for $350!) Cat’s Eye aims to be the American independent bottler of note.
When I opened this bottle of Nassif Family Reserve a little over two weeks ago, I was immediately struck by its color, a classic dusty bourbon orange. The nose showed dusty oak, cherry, and some kind of fresh dense bread. The taste then opened up a wider array of notes—butterscotch, rye herbs and spices, caramelized butter, a bit of mint. The finish was all cinnamon roll dough, with a subtly bitter tannic edge. Overall it was quite nice, and interesting, offering a blend of flavors at once familiar and surprising.
So here we are again, two weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasting the whiskey in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – dusty, almost smoky antique orange
NOSE – a rugged bitter edge from oak tannins blending with something like grilled orange or tangerine peel, then cherry pie syrup, caramel and butterscotch
TASTE – that bitter tannic edge outlines everything from front to back, with the caramel and butterscotch blend now the main flavor note, and the fruit sugars turning a touch sour, adding a citric element to the tannins.
FINISH – a mild heat lingering like a cool mint, with a dark butterscotch note hovering behind it
OVERALL – it is indeed interesting, yet not fully enjoyable.
Something about that bitter edge neither puts me off nor draws me in. It hovers somewhere in between, like indecision. I believe it’s the citrus peel aspect mixing itself up in the tannic oak notes that helps to create the intrigue around this bitterness.
But ultimately, as I sit with it, I don’t actually find it a pleasurable tasting experience. It’s odd. It’s affable in certain ways. But something between those bitter edges and the way the fruit notes go a bit sour puts it just off enough that I can’t see myself reaching for it often. I’m thinking I might not even finish my current glass…
So despite the admirable transparency, and the genuinely lovely origin story behind it, as an unconventional blend of whiskeys Nassif Family Reserve doesn’t quite land with distinction for me. I’ve tasted a sample of the Obtainium, a single barrel of 16-year Light Whiskey bottled at 141.2 proof. Despite its formidable heat, which had me approaching it with great caution every step of the way, it offered a much more distinct and satisfying experience overall. It’s too early in both Cat’s Eye Distillery’s history and my journey with their products to know whether this indicates their sweet spot as a company will eventually prove to be a knack for selecting exceptional single barrels. Time will tell.
I can’t say Nassif Family Reserve will itself compel me to follow Cat’s Eye further. But their story and stated intentions do. I’ll circle back around in a couple years and see what they’re up to then.