Broken Barrel’s 95 proof straight bourbon continues the trend set by their 88 proof California Oak expression in that it has a nice blend of unexpected flavors in concert with classic bourbon notes. Where it deviates from the trend, however, is that unlike its lower proof sibling these flavors fail to harmonize.
Broken Barrel California Oak isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with their lowest proof offering, but it is making a strong case that young whiskey can be elevated with the addition of staves. By utilizing what the company describes as a unique “oak bill,” Broken Barrel’s California Oak is able to avoid some of the pitfalls of bourbon that’s too youthful (namely, an outsized grain presence and rough-around-the-edges mouthfeel) and offer an enjoyable tasting experience.
I was immediately struck by how fruit-forward this bourbon is, as the raspberry and plum notes are prominent despite it being a relatively young whiskey. Caramelized sugar and a strong black pepper influence makes for a medley of alluring aromas that slightly outperform the palate, but it tastes good too! Led by butterscotch before the fruit and spice develop in the mouth, this is a really well-rounded bourbon for its age.
This bottle immediately comes with so many expectations that it’s hard to judge it fairly. Tasted blind, this is an excellent bourbon that balances the strong Kentucky and Indiana bourbon profiles while deftly relegating the overly distinct Tennessee whiskey notes to a supporting role. In a blend of whiskeys as old as 17 years, this could easily have been over-oaked, yet it isn’t. It is warm, orange zest-forward (note: not orange vitamins), with bright red fruit evolving into a maple old fashioned without being too sweet.
When it comes to American Highway Reserve, despite some older whiskey in this blend, it all smells young: new wood, green apple, cooked corn, dried rye and ethanol. Initially, the aroma is faint, but a few vigorous swirls moves it from non-existent to hot in the nostrils; from “Is anybody home?” to “Please go back inside your house!” It’s corn-whiskey-sweet and light on the palate before finishing unpleasantly dry. I hate to sound like a jerk, but I like nothing about this bourbon.
This is a delicious mature whiskey, far from overly oaked, and full of complexity and nuance. The nose is loaded with cooked dark cherries, warm dark chocolate, macaron, green apple and Juicy Fruit gum. On the palate it’s rich and mouth coating, not drying at all. Surprises like dried strawberries and Cap’n Crunch Cereal (think sweet-sweet corn) interweave with darkly toasted bread and s’mores. For me, the 20- and 19-year-old barrels are ideally balanced with the younger 17-year barrels.
On the palate, the Jeptha Creed Bottled-In-Bond Rye Heavy Bourbon begins with earthiness and intrigue, but ultimately the pour falls apart for me on the finish. The fact that it’s so drying is distracting, and that isn’t helped by the fact that it’s quite earthy and in need of a sweet or spicy kick to provide balance. It certainly rewards anyone patient enough to let it sit in the glass a while … as the saltiness is tempered … while the dried apple and bacon fat notes become more robust. However, that doesn’t change the fact that sitting with it for a while is made difficult by an unpleasant finish that you won’t want to dwell on.
I’m pleased to report that after scientifically tasting about half the bottle of Green River Bourbon, I can confirm that it’s beyond good. A nose of enticing warming spices greets you thanks to the high-rye mash bill which is followed by the standard trio of bourbon flavors (vanilla, caramel, and a hint of oak) with the addition of cinnamon and sweet candied fruit. It’s a lighter bourbon (especially compared to what I normally drink) but the mouthfeel is luscious and the finish is surprisingly long, warming, and flavorful.
This bourbon is truly delightful to drink. Too many multi-whiskey blends lack the synergy and symmetry that this bottle presents in spades. Its sibling, Kentucky Owl: The Wiseman Bourbon, released last September, was one of those. On the palate, it felt like every whiskey competed for attention rather than working as a unit. (It makes a good old fashioned, though.) Lastly, I recommend reading the press release below just to get an idea of how this came together. Full disclosure: When I first read it, I thought, “Here we go again. Another history story made modern and a mess in the same effort.” I happily admit that I was wrong. I’m now intrigued.