Big House Bourbon – Whisky for those on the inside.
Wow, what a great name and tagline. As a marketing professional, I have to admit that I was immediately impressed with the branding of Big House bourbon and the quality of their materials. As a non-distiller producer of bourbon, Big House bourbon definitely has their work cut out for them when it comes to wining over the hearts and minds of American bourbon drinkers. It’s a good thing that they’ve come to the party with dressed to impress. Question is though, do they have what it takes on the inside to earn a space on the shelves of bars and homes across the country?
In addition to their branding one of the first things I noticed about Big House bourbon was their honesty when it came to where their juice was sourced. As a non-distiller producer they could have easily dodged the question and left everyone guessing. Instead they chose to announce upfront where their bourbon comes from and provide details of exactly what goes into each bottle. Here’s the details from their website:
Big House Bourbon is sourced to our specifications from Lawrenceburg Distillers which is located on a 78-acre property near the Indiana-Kentucky border. The historic distillery was built in 1847 as the Rossville Distillery, and is perhaps most notable for having been the main distillery for Seagram’s for a considerable length of its history.
See what I mean? No question about where they get their bourbon. Major points in my book for the upfront transparency. And by the way, they clearly state that their bourbon mash bill is comprised of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. If you’re a fan of rye-forward bourbons this one might just be of interest to you.
I decided to dig a little deeper and was able to get their national Sales Manager, James Parker, on a call where we discussed the brand in more detail. James was extremely accommodating and didn’t shy away from questions about how they sourced the bourbon, what their plans on for the future or the challenges they face in the rapidly growing bourbon industry. Here are some of the more interesting things I learned from James in easy to digest chunks.
- Big House bourbon is part of The Wine Group company which is the third largest wine producer in the world. The Wine Group also owns brands such as Franzia, Cupcake Vodka, Concannon, FishEye and flipflop. While they don’t have a track record in bourbon they definitely know their way around the industry. Definitely explains why they’ve got their act together on the branding and marketing front.
- They decided to enter the bourbon category because they saw a growth opportunity and want to get more involved with spirits in general. They decided to test the market by introducing Big House bourbon before committing to something along the lines of a distillery operation.
- They spent a few years exploring sourced bourbon and ultimately chose MGP/LDI as their supplier due to the high quality of their 6 year old bourbons. (And yes, they did look at contract bourbon coming out of KY. LDI was simply the better choice at the time in their opinion.) I’m told that they’re actually the only brand sourcing from LDI that is offering a 6-year old age statement bourbon.
- Goal is to become a national bourbon brand but they are currently only in MI, OH, IN, KY, Northern CA and launching in Nashville, TN this week.
- Target audience is primarily 25-32 year old millennial – hence the aggressive branding and name.
- Brand is being well received in the market and demand is growing. Their biggest challenge is maintaining a good supply of bourbon as their market penetration continues to grow. It’s common knowledge that the oldest readily available contract bourbon on the market is a year old so they face an interesting challenge in maintaining a 6-year old supply.
James shared some information that I swore I wouldn’t publish but suffice to say that I’ll be keeping my eye on their progress.
So they’ve got strong branding and marketing, along with a strong parent company behind them. All great things that many small craft distillers would love to have at their disposal. But if the juice doesn’t match up to the hype it doesn’t really matter, right? Let’s shift gears and get into the meat of our Big House bourbon review.
A week or so ago we posted our review of Jim Beam’s Signature Select line of bourbons. For that blind tasting, we inserted Big House bourbon to help break things up and keep folks guessing. Our goal was to make sure that no one guessed that we were tasting Jim Beam’s new products since it was common knowledge that they were releasing two new bourbons at the same time. We didn’t really expect much from everyone tasting Big House but decided to video tape everyone’s feedback as part of the overall tasting project. (Full disclosure: We didn’t expect much because we hadn’t tried Big House bourbon prior to the tasting.) In the end I don’t think anyone was prepared for the feedback we gathered.
Here’s a brief video of everyone’s feedback after tasting Big House bourbon along with Jim Beam’s new products.
Surprised by their feedback? I know we were. I would have never expected the $21 dollar, 6-year old Big House bourbon to beat out the $40 dollar, 12-year old Jim Beam Signature Select line. That’s something considering I’m one of the last people to equate age and brand name with quality. I suppose you’re never too old or experienced to learn something new.
Since my personal thoughts weren’t included in the video here’s my detailed Big House bourbon review.
Age: 6 Years
How I Drank It: Neat.
My Nose Noticed:* Rye Bread | Vanilla | Caramel | Baking Spices
First Sip: Oak | Maple | Dark Fruit | Spicy Pepper
The Burn:** At first the finish seems to be short and quick while leaving rye spice on the tip of your tongue. But wait a bit and you’ll get that wonderful warm burn rising up from the back of your throat. It’s slow building but it’s there. At times it surges and breaks through to a level that I love but most it simmers leaving you wanting more. Frankly it drove me a little crazy. I could never tell when it would reach full force or leave me wanting more.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: Yes. It’s good all three ways. Smooth and approachable neat with a good amount of rye spice to keep things interesting. Water brings our more of the vanilla and caramel on the nose while cooling down the pepper flavor notes. It does tend to get a bit oaky but hints of vanilla keep you coming back for another sip. Over ice it gets a little milder and all too drinkable. I imagine one could get into a lot of trouble drinking this one over ice. A tasting could easily slip into a volume drinking event. Decide for yourself if that’s a good or bad thing.
Share With: This is a very versatile bourbon. It’s approachable in the extreme so it’s a good fit to enjoy with your everyday friends who stop by often for drinks. For the price, you’re not going to feel bad draining an entire bottle while smoking a few cigars on the patio. While it’s not as complex or layered as some of the more notable bourbons on the market, it does have enough depth to be of interest to the more serious bourbon drinker. In other words, don’t be afraid to share it with someone who knows a few things about bourbon. Just don’t tell them how much it costs until after they’ve tried it. No need for label or price prejudice to get in the way of a good pour.
Worth The Price: Suggested retail on Big House Bourbon is $21.99 and in some markets, you can find it a few bucks cheaper. A great deal on a well-balanced 6-year old bourbon. Give it a try and if you like it I suggest stocking up on a few bottles. I’ve heard rumors that the price will start heading north in about 12 months along with the rest of the industry. Better to save a few bucks now if it suits your tastes.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Are you kidding me? At only $21.99 this bourbon is a must have for the home bar. While it won’t sit on your top shelf I’d be surprised if doesn’t make into everyday bourbon rotation.
*I like to let my bourbon sit in the glass for at least 5 minutes before I start to smell it or have a drink. I personally find that it’s better to let some of the alcohol waft off before diving in. If I’m drinking bourbon on the rocks I skip the waiting and dive in both feet first.
**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?
In summary, I was totally surprised by this one. I’m embarrassed to say that I might not have ever tried it if it wasn’t sent to me for review. While the branding is bold and polished I’m outside of the target demographic. Trust me on this one folks. I’ve learned my lesson and will do my best to make sure that I never ignore another bourbon again – for any reason. My sincere thanks to Big House bourbon for sending me a sample and spending some time with me on the phone.
I’d love to hear what everyone thinks of this bourbon. Please sound off in the comments and give us your opinion or share your tasting notes. As I said, it’s not a top-shelf bourbon by any means but it definitely holds it own and deserves to be considered as part of your everyday drink rotation.
Bonus Round – For those of you who enjoy a good bourbon mystery I invite you to revisit the mash bill of this bourbon. Think about it a bit and let me know if you can identify any other bourbon on the market that could have a family connection to this one. Consider it exercise for the bourbon mind and body.