I’m no buff on old American whiskey, but if I get the chance to try one I will. This, however, is only my second sample of such a dram.
A couple of years back I wanted to get into bourbon a lot more, but that was before prices rose to ridiculous levels. Back then you could get a Pappy 15 for under € 200, and the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye was only € 65 in the shop.
But, a whisky buddy of mine, MZ, got in touch with Joshua Gershon Feldman of ‘The Coopered Tot‘ who is big on old American whiskey and the history that comes along with it. He got a sample of this sent to him and was kind enough to share it with me. Well, we traded, my Glen Grant 1950 for this. A good deal, if I may say so.
What Joshua could tell me is that this bottle is bottled by W. Bixby, which only started bottling Old Hermitage after 1909 (before that it was H.B. Kirk). He also knows of bottlings from 1915 and beyond that have a capsule on the top. This one didn’t have a capsule. That averages out at it being bottled in 1912 or so.
It was distilled by Hermitage distillery in Frankfort Kentucky, which didn’t make it past prohibition. In those dark days it was converted into a chair factory. The facility was razed in 1945.
Soft rye notes, with bread and a sweet hint of corn. Slightly burnt crust of a loaf of bread. It’s spicy and maybe minty. There’s a certain roundness that is remarkable, and it feels quite old.
A lot sharper than expected (no ABV is on the label), and rich as well. Sharply spicy. Rye, mint and pepper (both black and red). Quite a lot of oak influence with some corn sweetness too. Charcoal, and syrupy sugar. After a few seconds I get honey coated almonds, those rock hard ‘candy’ bars.
The finish mellows quickly and is very smooth. A lot more focus on the rye and its spices. Long.
This is something remarkable. The previous experience I had with pre-prohibition whiskey gave an awesome nose but had gone completely flat on the palate. This one shows no such tiredness. While it does feel old, it feels old by means of there being surprising amount of depth and it doesn’t feel very manufactured.
The corn is quite sweet, but the focus is on the rye throughout. The mint and pepper spices work really well and are for more balanced than they normally are nowadays, I think.
Quite a league apart from anything I’ve tasted before. Not necessarily better than everything else, but vastly different. Highly recommended if you can try something like this sometime.
Old Hermitage Rye Whiskey Reserve, Pre-prohibition rye whiskey. Probably over € 1000 now.
Images and background information: Josh Feldman.