The Worst-Kept Secret in Bourbon – Bottled in Bond Pt.2
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
No piece on bonded bourbon would be complete without at least mentioning this bottle, which I honestly consider a flagship for the category.
On the nose you’re greeted with a flood of oak, followed by the somewhat classic aroma of corn flakes. There’s also vanilla, baking spice, and a hint of mint. The palate is a bit hot, you can definitely tell it’s a 100 proof, though it does come off a little thin. Despite that, it still is quite pleasant, with the corn dominating. Caramel and vanilla are subtly present, along with a little bit of spice, and the mint from the nose comes through on the back end with a menthol-esque quality.
Overall quite an enjoyable bottle. It’s what I imagine our grandparents drank back when, straightforward, a little hot, and delicious. Pour it into a decanter and surprise your guests with your “house” pour. They’ll never guess it was barely over $10. 4.5/5
As previously mentioned, bonded whiskies originated in the late 1800s, and with the exception of prohibition, haven’t left the market. Most of the ones you see on shelves today have been in production for years, and come from large, well established distilleries. It’s unusual to see smaller distilleries doing bonded whiskey due to the costs involved, and not many new offerings have been introduced. Our next bottle to be reviewed is just that though, only being released this past year. It comes from a distillery that although historically significant, has only been producing their own distillate since 2012 and at much lower volumes than most major distilleries.
Mashbill: 72% Corn, 15% Malted Barley, 13% Rye
The first readily available bourbon from Willett that is their own distillate, it is produced using the family’s unusual barley heavy mashbill. This is evident on the nose, with a baked bread/toasted cereal aroma coming through the corn flakes that I get once again. Also present are hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and a little grassy/floral note.
The palate is rather enjoyable to me, with an oily quality that coats the inside of my mouth; not something I typically get from a younger bourbon. It’s fairly sweet, with corn, vanilla, and more of that bready cereal bit coming through. The grassiness is still there, and while a little unusual, it doesn’t detract. Surprisingly smooth for a 100 proof bourbon, its age does become noticeable on the finish as rough oak dries your mouth out.
This bottle seems to be somewhat polarizing, with many loving it and many still hating it. I find it a decent quality sipper, while also being fun in cocktails. I wonder how much of the hate comes from people with their expectations set too high for a 4-5 year old, $23 bottle. In my opinion this bottle delivers as expected and is a promising showing of what’s to come from Willett. 4/5
Our third bottle ventures into unusual territory for this category, a higher price bracket. Today, without the risk of being duped into buying a bottle colored and flavored with the likes of leather, tobacco, or iodine, bonded whiskies have been pushed aside for fancier offerings. Our next bottle is an exception, one of the few “top shelf” bonded bourbons if you will.
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Another Heaven Hill offering, Henry McKenna, is an often overlooked and underrated bottle that ticks so many boxes. Age stated, check. Single barrel, check. Bonded, check. While pricier than your standard bottled in bond offering, the fact is you’re getting 10 year old juice from a single barrel, and that just isn’t common nowadays, in any price range.
Cinnamon, caramel, and other classic oak derived aromas are prevalent, as well as a hint of mint and buttered popcorn. This bourbon just smells a bit more polished and refined; the alcohol esters are well integrated and it doesn’t come off as 100 proof. You almost want to stick your finger in the glass and dab a little on in place of cologne.
The palate is also well put together. Cinnamon and caramel are still very much there, but with the pleasant additions of butterscotch, rye spice, and hints of dried fruit. It finishes a little peppery, and leaves you with a burnt sugar flavor, along with a slight burn.
This is a bottle that I believe any whiskey drinker will enjoy. With a full enough body to balance the alcohol, it’s just as at home neat in a Glencairn as it is on the rocks or in an Old Fashioned. 5/5
Lastly, I wanted to touch base on another category of whiskey that has seen bonded offerings, rye.
Mashbill: 51% Rye, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
While not a bourbon, I didn’t feel right doing a Bottled in Bond piece and not including what has become a staple for many bartenders, Rittenhouse Rye. Rye whiskey is similar to bourbon but swaps the majority grain of corn for, you guessed it, rye. While corn lends a sweetness to the whiskey, rye imparts a spiciness that can be rather interesting and quite delicious. Rye was the dominant whiskey at one point, and historically is used in such classic cocktails as the Manhattan and, after phylloxera depleted the Cognac supply, the Sazerac.
Citrus, banana, vanilla, caramel, and baking spices are all fairly balanced on the nose. The alcohol is evident but it doesn’t smell overwhelmingly hot. The palate is quite rich, mimicking the nose in a way while being complimented by white pepper and some more fruit notes. The spice is definitely noticeable, as you want in a rye, but not overbearing as it is in some other offerings.
This is a staple bottle for many bartenders. I don’t personally sip on rye whiskey on its own, but it’s perfectly at home in many a cocktail.
“Photo Courtesy of ModernThirst.com”