Palate Comparison: Two Perspectives on Remus Repeal Reserve Batch V

REMUS REPEAL RESERVE
Batch V (2021)

MASH BILL – 41% is a 75% corn / 21% rye / 4% malted barley recipe, and 59% is a 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% malted barley recipe

PROOF – 100

AGE – 67% 13 year, 24% 15 year, 9% 16 year.

DISTILLERY – MGP

PRICE – $92

At this point I can’t recall how I first heard about the Remus Repeal Reserve line. Most likely I read reviews, of course, or watched bourbon YouTubers recommend it. It could also have been from poking around on Internetwines.com looking for something to add to my cart to bring the shipping cost per bottle down when buying something else! In any case, Remus Repeal Reserve seemed to arrive on the market with relatively low fanfare. I tried Batch III, and very soon after ordered up a bottle of Batch IV.

I thoroughly enjoyed both. Oaky, refined, strong dark caramel notes, nice baking spices. The art deco presentation was fantastic. A good age at 11 and 12 years, and solid proof at an even 100. And the fact that it was direct from MGP, not sourced, meant the price was also much better than many similarly aged bottlings put out by NDP (non distiller producer) operations. And despite not being available on shelves in California, both batches were relatively easy to get—no need, as with so many sought after brands these days, to wait in line at dawn or hover over my laptop hoping to be one of the well-timed few.

The current Batch V features a blend of bourbons aged 13 to 16 years, and now can be found in California. It seems the word is out. Remus Repeal Reserve has been discovered nationally. When my local go-to shop got some in they vanished online in minutes like any Weller or Wild Turkey limited release. I managed to be among the well-timed few.

So did Michael Barret Austin. Regular readers of this blog will remember Michael from past palate comparisons, which we began to do together online once the pandemic had sent us all home and in-person flight nights were no longer a thing.

My bottle has been open for about three weeks and I’m nearing halfway into it. Michael’s bottle has been open four weeks and he’s two-thirds of the way into it. We both used traditional Glencairns, and I also used an antique tumbler that I’ve found suits Remus Repeal Reserve well. Here are our brief notes, followed by our conversation.

COLOR

MICHAEL – Summer peach, burnt umber, an orange liqueur like Curaçao, with pink edges

MARK – rusty orange, amber, and sun tea

NOSE

MICHAEL – took some coaxing to draw it out, then caramel and taffy, toasted marshmallow, corn husk or straw, toasted nut or nutshell, clove

MARK – sweet baking spices, cherry pie, the caramelized cap of a creme brûlée, other toasted sugars, meaty orange peel, black pepper, clove, a whiff of creamy sarsaparilla, an undercurrent of bright caramel

TASTE

MICHAEL – very creamy, buttery, oily texture, pleasant and thick; caramel corn, cream soda

MARK – oak, the sweet baking spices now a bit darker, brown sugar, soft gooey cinnamon roll dough, the black pepper, everything a notch richer in the tumbler than the Glencairn.

FINISH

MICHAEL – burnt citrus peel, wanes to a drier oaky note bordering on bitter, nutshell, acorn, tobacco leaf, clove, black pepper

MARK – very like the taste, balancing oak, cinnamon roll flavors, and a dash of the black pepper, and like the taste it’s all just a bit better in the tumbler

OVERALL

MICHAEL – mature without being over oaked, deceptively simple, a balance of sweet and spicy notes, ease and complexity, a chameleon.

MARK – interesting how all three batches of Remus Repeal Reserve have shown themselves best in this antique tumbler. But in either glass it’s solid, rich, layered, and exactly how I would imagine classic old American bourbon from the previous century might taste…

WORTH BUYING?

MICHAEL – Yes, a no brainer when you compare it with NDP bottlings of younger MGP bourbons, and the chameleon aspect is very interesting and unique.

MARK – Definitely, especially given the pairing of age and price.

MARK J – So, overall, your impression?

MICHAEL – I really like it. I liked the previous Remus Repeal Reserve I tried. I don’t remember now whether that was the III or the IV. Whichever it was, I liked it well enough that I got a back up. I find this Batch V really interesting, more complicated than the previous one.

My intro was Batch III. Toward the end of that bottle, I noticed it was starting to turn. It seemed to dry out a bit over time. So it caught my ear when we were doing the tasting notes just now and you said over time in the glass this Batch V was losing the fruit notes for you. I was noticing the same. It’s actually an experience I’ve been having with some frequency lately—that a bourbon with fruit notes on the nose loses them on the taste and finish. The other night, for example, I did a flight of three Russell’s Reserves and the same thing happened, to all three. I wonder what that is...

Maybe it’s that the fruit notes happen to be strongest on the nose, and then, once we taste it, from there on out the drier taste is now impacting what we continue to get from the nose.

It may be something in our own palates.

And then there’s also the curious phenomenon of the glass. On three for three Remus Repeal Reserves now, I prefer it in this antique tumbler. It’s richer there. A part of me wonders if that’s psychosomatic, since the Remus bottle design is very 1920s Great Gadsby and so is this glass. Maybe I’m making that association. I’m a very visual person, so the look might be influencing my sense of the taste.

I was sitting here staring at the bottle as I was sipping it. I’m impressed by the breakdown they put on the label. I love the transparency of the exact percentages of which mash bill and which age, right there on the front. It’s a statement that they’re making: “This is one of the few things we’re putting out straight from us, and we’re going to be really honest about it.”

The packaging of this is so good, too. It makes me want to build a speakeasy bar in my basement for it, and the bourbon inside the bottle backs that impulse up.

Right. They’re doing everything bourbon fans love. A nice design. A connection to history—this famous bootlegger, George Remus, who was a big character. The transparency. And it being from MGP, when MGP is more famous for being the single most ubiquitous source for Non Distiller Producers.

I’m curious what the advent of things like Remus Repeal Reserve—offered by the maker at a price that’s easily half what many NDP’s would charge for the same thing—will do to the market. Will it impact NDP pricing? Will bourbon fans change our buying habits over time, the more things like this come out? Will we continue to shell out for the higher priced NDP stuff or get choosier?

Well, with NDPs, like with a single barrel program at a shop or a bar, you’re throwing your eggs into the basket of the group doing the pick, hoping they might get lucky and pick an exceptional barrel that stands out from a brand’s normal release. A single barrel of a good brand comes out and you don’t want to miss it if it’s great. The FOMO market is hard to overcome.

It’s an interesting move for MGP. I must assume they make most of their money selling whiskey to the NDPs, so, I wonder what their long game is. Is the Remus a small project for them, done for the love of it? Will they do larger batches of this in the future to make more money? I’ll be curious to see how the standard release George Remus does. They put out more of it and it’s cheaper.

The Repeal Reserve is on its fifth batch and it’s just now getting to California, so, they didn’t seem to have been in a hurry to go national with it.

They have a good thing going with sourcing, and didn’t have to do this. But they chose to do it. They’ve done it so well and yet it’s managed to fly under the radar for so long. The secondary value on it isn’t out of control. So, all in all, this seems like one of those sweet spots in the bourbon world—you can get something really interesting, good, and fancy looking without fancy pricing.

I would assume the longstanding bourbon distilleries have not forgotten the bust of the 1970s and 1980s, that they’re enjoying the current boom but are mindful that a bust could happen again. How long can a bubble expand before it pops?

That’s why I’m curious about the recent phenomenon of the big distilleries putting out their own well-aged releases. George Dickel put out a 15 Year Single Barrel this past year, and they’re famous for supplying NDPs with older stuff. When Dickel’s own 15-year release goes for $60 on average, why pay double or triple for sourced George Dickel? And is the casual drinker buying these premium releases at all? If the target market for premium releases is really only the hardcore bourbon community, but that community gets tired of paying the premiums given an increase of options…? Or, maybe FOMO is indeed now and forever!

I’ve had that Dickel 15 Year, which is quite reasonable when compared to that Orphan Barrel release that came out recently, Copper Tongue, which is 16-year sourced Dickel and retails at well over $100. But a $90 price tag on the Remus, though a deal by some standards, is still a pricy bottle for the average casual walk-in consumer—I would think. Maybe not in high-rolling San Francisco. But overall Remus Repeal Reserve seems like a prestige item without going overboard. It’s extremely popular with Emily! [Michael’s wife]

What did Emily say about it?

I should have picked her brain in prep for tonight. But shortly after I saw you last, she pulled it out of the cabinet and poured it for us. I said, “So you like this one?” And she said “Oh yes I like this one.” I would say she doesn’t spend time thinking about why she likes what she likes. So when I say this is deceptively simple, it’s perfect for us because I can enjoy it and analyze it and she can just enjoy it.

Should we do a comparison with our other MGP stuff here?

I’ve already done it as we’ve been talking!

Ah! Okay, so I’ll pour myself a glass then. You’re comparing the Remus to what?

This is a K&L single barrel of the Smooth Ambler Old Scout MGP bourbon, 5 years old, 117 proof. So 17 proof points higher than the Remus but several years younger.

What I’ll say off the bat is the Remus really ruins this.

How so?

The Old Scout tastes super young. I recognize some of the same notes, which is what I was interested in and hoped I would. It’s got a little bit of that same dusty, unfathomable nose at first.

And do you know if it’s the 21% rye mash bill or the 36% rye?

No, unfortunately. There are a lot fewer layers, and there’s a moonshiny thing going on for me where it’s more corn than barrel. It doesn’t burn. I think distanced from the Remus it would be fine. But there’s just so much less going on, so much less nuance, a lot less sweetness.

I got to do a flight of Old Scouts side by side recently, all single barrels. One of those was so much worse than the others. So they seem to range a lot. What it makes me think is that, on its own, a 5-year MGP can be fine. But when you compare it to a 10+ that is clearly blended by someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s pretty tough competition.

My comparison is with a George Remus cask strength single barrel. It’s a bottle I’ve done notes on before—a 2020 pick from a group called Leap Day Whiskey Society, 125.1 proof, about 6 years old and using the 21% rye mash bill.

As I’m nosing it, what you said about corn is coming through. A lot of corn—caramel corn, specifically, which I don’t get at all from the Repeal Reserve. I’m also getting cherry cough syrup, slightly medicinal.

Tasting it I get… Again, very caramel corn. A little bit of the cherry but not much. Pretty smooth for the proof. It’s notably not nearly as complex as the Repeal Reserve. The caramel corn note is so strong with the George Remus, when I taste it next to the older, oakier, more refined Repeal Reserve, they’re strikingly different. If I tasted them blind together, I don’t know that I’d relate them to each other.

This George Remus single barrel is good, for sure. But I’ll be reaching for it for a different reason.

It’s too bad you aren’t here, because I’m now going to open an Old Scout Single Barrel as well. It’s barrel 5943, aged 12 years, 111.8 proof, bottled October 13, 2017. Not a store pick, but one of Smooth Ambler’s own single barrel releases.

Okay, see, right away—of course I’ve only just poured it—it’s very like the Repeal Reserve. On the nose I get the dusty oak, the cherry pie notes.

You got this in 2017, you said?

Correct.

So it’s as old as the oldest thing in this Batch V.

In that it’s the same distilling generation, yes, 2005. Just wasn’t in the barrel as long. …The cherry tilts into that cough syrup thing. If this was the cough syrup I was given as a child I’d have been delighted. Or asleep right away, at least.

Okay. So I’m going to taste this. Hopefully it’s aired out enough…

Yep. Very cherry. This may even be more cherry than the Repeal Reserve… I think it needs to continue airing out a bit. But fresh out of the bottle it’s very cherry, very oak, and very chocolate.

I like all those things.

My favorite trifecta. This one, if I tasted it blind, I would relate it to the Repeal Reserve, so, that suggests the age might be a factor. I’ll put it to the tumbler’s test.

That sounds right about the age. I also want to believe they put a lot of effort and thought into the Remus Repeal blend. They’re proud of it, based on the presentation. So hopefully there are some more nuanced and interesting factors at work than just the age. But also, a great single barrel is a great single barrel.

The chocolate note really steps forward in the tumbler. The cherry recedes—unless that’s a matter of what we were discussing earlier, how the fruit notes on the nose get overwhelmed by the drier taste once you’ve started tasting it. It’s good.

I don’t know why I didn’t open this sooner. I think I wasn’t terribly… I bought it, and wasn’t gunning to try it right away and maybe thought I could trade it for something else. But I’m so glad I didn’t trade it away, because like I said that cherry / oak / chocolate trifecta is a favorite of mine.

At this point in your whiskey journey, what tend to be your primary deciding factors in terms of picking up something new?

It’s what I read and hear about it before it comes out, and also my history with the brand and how much I’ve enjoyed their past stuff. So with the Jack Daniel’s 10 Year I thought, well, traditionally I hate Jack Daniel’s products, but there’s one I loved, and I also generally like older stuff, so, I went for it.

I’m also open to a peer’s opinion, and the fellow who suggested I get the JD 10 is pretty savvy. So all those factors go into it. If it meets my interests and seems like a no brainer, then it’s hard for me to resist.

I’m not very interested in the selling and trading market. It usually tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. But if I get something fancy I don’t really want, and can trade it off for something fancy I do want, then I can get that and not feel bad about it. But that’s not a common move for me. I’m not looking to make those deals or spend time on it.

And what’s a “no brainer” buy for you?

Again, a combination of my history with the brand, and a good price. Sometimes that combination doesn’t happen. I’ve never had something that said “Weller” on it that I didn’t like, as long as it came at a decent price. 

Do age or proof have weight?

Both. Now, with proof, it wasn’t a transition I made on purpose, but these days I do think if it’s going to be 80 proof it better be really good. This Remus Repeal Reserve at 100 proof is great. It might be interesting to try it at a higher proof. But I don’t feel like anything is missing at 100 proof either.

Recently I opened some single barrel picks of Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare. Both are 90 proof, and Eagle Rare is 10 years old. They might be good picks but they’re pretty boring next to other higher proof things I have open. And that’s a bit of a bummer, because I’m not particularly looking to get drunk. But I’m always impressed by good flavor, and it’s harder to come by at 80 proof.

Proof weighs more for me than age, I’ve found.

Oh really.

Yes. The Lagavulin 8 Year, for example. It’s 96 proof, and I find it much more satisfying than the Lagavulin 16 Year at 86 proof. And the price of the 8 Year is significantly less. Age seems a more obvious price marker—it’s in big letters, central on the label, whereas the proof is often in small thin letters down at the bottom.

I grew to prefer a higher proof, because I like the flavor punch it offers. But then I noticed a problem. Most of what I had open was high proof stuff. I could only have a little bit or I’d get smashed. So I started being more conscious about opening lower proof options and found I actually didn’t have many. I’ve been looking for more, and especially those that have a good amount of flavor despite the proof. That Westward Tempranillo Cask Finished Single Malt I shared with you, for example, is only 90 proof and has a huge flavor punch. That kind of thing is an ideal when I want to drink a bit more but not get socked by it.

My father uses a math ratio to proof things down to what he loves. I can’t recall if it’s 80 or 85. Whatever I pour him he proofs it down. He’s famously not interested in being mentally effected. He doesn’t even like to take aspirin.

Will he compare what he proofs down to the original, or does he just go straight to his favorite proof?

I think he usually takes a sip of it first, yes. But he’s more interested in his chosen proof. But doing this with him—and this isn’t based in science, but—I’ve found scotch whisky works with water, often it’s even better, and American whiskey doesn’t work as well with water. Adding water to American whiskey dulls notes I like and brings out notes I don’t like.

Why do you think that is?

I have no idea. It might be in my head. But I’ve found water especially dulls the sweet notes in American whiskey.

Well, any final thoughts?

I love the blend of five bourbons in this Batch V.

Make sure Emily doesn’t drink the rest of it. I’ll get you a sample of this Old Scout 12-year to try next to it.

That would be great. Yeah, I love this line. I’m glad MGP is doing it and I hope they keep going. Hopefully the price doesn’t skyrocket, because I think it’s a nice balance of something pretty fancy and interesting without breaking the bank or getting too high on the secondary market.

Well the penny has definitely dropped, in that more people seem to have noticed the brand as of this Batch V. We’ll see if that means an explosion or not. Maybe the fuse has only just been lit.

And now that they have the 16-year bourbon in the mix, I wonder how future batches will go. Will they settle into one age or keep blending various teenaged bourbons? The Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, for example, is 9 years one season, then maybe 14 years, then 8 years. It’s always going up and down. So far Remus Repeal has been slowly climbing in age from batch to batch. Will they keep climbing?

Or are they just using what they have available that didn’t sell to secondary bottlers?

Right. As ever with these things, time will tell.

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