Welcome back! I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally pop open my bottle of Angels Envy and get this journey started. I know several of you have already acquired bottles of your own and will be sharing your observations in the comment section at the end of this article, and I would like to thank you in advance for your participation. If this is the first you’re hearing of this “community review”, you still have time to run out and grab a bottle for yourself and join the discussion below. Or, if you prefer, you can just follow along and learn from our experiences as we revisit our bottles of Angels Envy over the coming months.
The purpose here is to build on each others’ experiences to make ourselves more aware of the changes that occur to the flavor profiles during the lifecycle of a single bottle of bourbon. Now, I’ve been through more than a few bottles of whiskey that I’m sure never had the chance to even approach their full potential, simply because they disappeared too quickly. By slowing down and revisiting the same bottle again and again, over a longer period of time, I am attempting to acquire for myself, and for you the readers, the skills and confidence necessary to hold our heads high and speak with authority when it comes to detecting and describing what we taste in a whiskey. Also important is realizing how those flavors change with time. To keep things lively, after each monthly tasting, I will pair the bourbon with different food and/or beverage item and share how they influence the whisky as well. I am hopeful you will do the same and share your favorite pairings with the rest of us.
Much of my liquor experience to date has revolved around Scotch whisky, and only recently have I come to add a few American bourbons and ryes to my home bar. As such, I admit to having a bit of difficulty accepting the somewhat overwhelming smell and taste of sticky sweet corn that exudes from many of the bourbons I have tried. I suppose that makes perfect sense as a bourbon mash bill must contain at least 51% corn by law, but it certainly lends itself to a very different first impression than that of a scotch whisky. Once I am able to come to terms with the strong corn influence, like clockwork, the requisite vanilla notes, oak, and alcohol vapors saunter their way to my senses. With the exclusive use of first fill barrels in the aging of bourbon, these vanilla flavors and wood tannins tend to dominate the profile, and it is here that the more subtle flavor nuances become more difficult for me to detect. That being said, I was secretly rooting for the Angels Envy, which uses what is considered to be a traditional mash bill of: 72% Corn, 18% Rye and 10% Malted Barley, to win the vote and become the subject of this series due to its finish in port wine barrels… something I’m a bit more familiar with due to its popularity in finishing scotch whiskies.
As a scotch drinker learning to love bourbon, I hope to help bridge the gap between scotch and bourbon drinkers, and be a guide to those of you who are newer to bourbon, while at the same time learning from those of you who know more. While we will all likely have different levels of bourbon knowledge, the most important part to me is that we all treat each other with respect and simply share with one another the joy of drinking great whiskey. So, without any further ado, the time has come to open my bottle and pour that first dram. Cheers everyone…. To Bourbon!!
Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Name: Angels Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Finished in Port Wine Barrels)
Proof: 86.6 proof / 43.3% ABV
Age: This is a NAS whiskey handcrafted in small batches of 8-10 barrels at a time, typically aged for up to 6 years. There is no specific timetable for aging due to the attention given to each batch, however, once it is “deemed ready”, the bourbon is finished in 60 gallon French Oak ruby port casks for an additional 3 – 6 months, depending on taste.
Year: 2015. Batch No. 27U / Bottle No. 758
How I Drank It: Initially neat from a Glencairn glass. After making notes, three drops of water added and additional notes were taken.
Nose: TImmediately upon opening, the sweet red fruits, and ripe plum raced from the bottle and instantly caught my attention before I even had the chance to give it a proper nosing. After 10 minutes in the glass, a somewhat more traditional bourbon nose was revealed as the sweet, vanilla infused oak slowly pushed its way forward, but not with the force of your typical bourbon. With a little more digging, brown sugars, and a mild citrus peel appeared. Initially, I was thinking orange, but it tightened up to more of lime. Not overwhelming, but a pleasant background note.
Taste: I had never tried this bourbon before and was a little surprised, pleasantly, by my first sip. I was bracing not only for the smack of sweet corn but for the sweetness from the port barrels on top of that. But to my delight, that overwhelming corniness was beautifully mellowed by the ripe berry and red fruits finish, and they co-existed in near perfect harmony. A touch of light citrus peel and green apple were also detected. All the typical bourbon notes (vanilla, oak, alcohol) were still present, but they were mostly muted and not bullying their way to the forefront.
The Burn: At 43.3 ABV there was a slight but enjoyable burn present. As luck would have it, my second sip ‘went down the wrong pipe’ and threw me into a teary-eyed coughing fit for several moments, but being the trained professional that I am, I was able to gather my wits and continue on undeterred.
Finish: A rather pleasant, uncomplicated medium finish of sweet bread, a bit of the green apple or pear remained, and just enough of that good old cornbread to remind you that you’re drinking bourbon.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I tried this neat and later added a few drops of water but did not try ice. I drink the vast majority of my whiskeys neat, and while this is a highly controversial issue for many, it all comes down to personal preferences. Some positives and negatives came from the addition of water. Firstly, it thins the texture and mouth-feel of the whiskey which I don’t particularly like. But, it was only after the water was added that I was able to detect the bitter chocolate note, which was nice to find. Additionally, water frequently amplifies the woody portion of the palate and this time was no exception. I like to taste the wood in my whiskey, but I prefer it to be more subtle. The apple notes got earthier, more of an apple core vs. the sweet fleshy part, but the red fruits and raisins held their flavors nicely.
Share With: As I alluded to before, I think this would be an excellent whiskey to share with a curious scotch drinker. I don’t have anyone close by to try this on, but I would like to see a scotch drinker try this one blind and hear what they have to say. I’m equally curious to listen to what the hardcore bourbon drinkers think of Angels Envy. Do you like the finish or do you look at it almost like a flavored whiskey?
Worth The Price: I like to buy things on sale. I ran across this bottle several months ago (December 2015) and bought it primarily because it was on special for $10 off. My wife even asked me, “Do you have any idea what that is or if you’ll even like it?” To which I said, “Not really… but… but… it’s on sale!” Needless to say, I bought it. Regular price was $41.99; sale price came to $31.98 plus tax. At the sale price, it’s a definite buy! And considering what some people are willing to shell out for “small batch” bourbons these days, even at $42, I would think you’re getting a great bottle of whiskey for the money. Out of curiosity, I went to the website of the retailer I bought it from to see what it’s going for now… $45.99. Now they’re pushing it.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: ITf it’s within your budget, get the bottle. I don’t think you’ll regret it. But this is also one I would order at a bar, and it would probably go great with a premium cigar.
Paired With: For this initial pairing, I went with one of my all time favorite foods… Chocolate! (Chocolate is food, right?) But not just any chocolate, Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate squares with a luscious caramel brownie filling. First off, the chocolate was absolutely delicious on its own. I almost slipped into a chocolate coma and forgot I had whiskey to pair it with, but once I came back to and had a sip of whiskey, I made an interesting observation… with a little chocolate still coating the inside of my mouth (and probably a good portion of my lips, cheeks, and fingers) I quickly noticed that the whiskey didn’t seem nearly as sweet as it had before. By pairing with a sugary sweet milk chocolate, the relative sweetness of the whiskey was diminished, and it took on an earthier, deeper character. It was still a sweet bourbon but just seemed less sweet. After a short break and a palate cleanse with a few sips of water, I reversed the test, sipping the whiskey first and following with a bite of chocolate. Well what do you know, the same principle of relativity applied. Compared to the sweetness of the whiskey, the chocolate seemed even sweeter! Good thing I only had half a chocolate bar left or I could have gone back and forth all night.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed my first encounter with Angels Envy and am already looking forward to tasting it again next month. As a scotch drinker, I think the port finish is what puts this bourbon over the top as a winner in my book. I have yet to meet a whisk(e)y that hasn’t gotten better with a little age, and I suspect this one will do the same. Thank you to everyone who is participating, and I hope your first experience went as well as it did for me. I’m anxious to read everyone’s tasting notes and just as interested to see how everyone’s pairings went. Please leave your comments below and I look forward to any discussion that ensues. Cheers friends, see you again next month, same place, same time.