This newly tailored Old Bardstown from Willett Distillery, also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), has been sitting on my bar for sometime, lingering at the top of my ever expanding list of whiskeys to write on.
As one of the first bourbons to be distilled, aged and bottled by Willett, and with the FESB & BIB version not available in California, my interest, constant wondering and patience was finally going to pay off when I heard this was West Coast bound. I’ve always been a fan of the old, sourced black label Old Bardstown, as well as the 101 proof Old Bardstown (non BIB), so picking up a bottle of the new 90 proof was a no-brainer.
The Old Bardstown line of bourbons is named after an American Thoroughbred race horse, “Bardstown”, who was, as you probably guessed, named after the city of Bardstown, Kentucky. Born in 1952, Bardstown was bred and raced by Calumet Farms and had a successful racing career, boasting 31 career titles including 18 first place, 7 second place and 1 third place finish. Old Bardstown was one of the greatest race horses of his time and retired at the age of 8, however whats probably even more interesting than his impressive racing career and a namesake bourbon is that Bardstown was in fact physically handicapped…
This new bottling of 90 proof Old Bardstown comes with a beige colored label and as previously mentioned, is some of Willett’s first bottled distillate.
Old Bardstown (2016)
ABV: 45% // 90 proof
Nose: Very light. Caramel, peanut brittle, watered down vanilla extract, indistinct baking spices, mixed nuts – peanuts & cashew, spent peanut shells and light golden/yellow fruit notes which are very muddled and hard to pull apart. There’s whispers of oak hidden in the depths, but it gets overshadowed by the dominating notes of wood polish.
After letting the glass sit for an additional 10 minutes (giving it a total air time of 20 minutes), I got some dried persimmon and all natural fruit roll up/fruit leather snacks that I remember as a child. I typically get this with some high rye bourbons & rye whiskeys so I’m assuming this is a reflection of the rye in Old Bardstown’s mash bill.
Apart from those last two notes, nothing was really that memorable or vibrant – the nose just smelled watered down and tired.
Palate: Light, thin and not complex. Sweet bread, soft spices and some medium oak but the barrel char dominates over the oak as the juice covers your palate, and then everything goes down hill from there. The sweetness turns bitter with notes of stationary paper, glue, paint, and the spice comes in in the form of black pepper, but not the freshly ground and aromatic kind from a grinder, but the stale, musty kind that you typically find in those small quarter size paper packets found accompanying pre-packaged single use plasticware from bags of to-go food from your local take-out – you know the ones i’m talking about. Light notes of caramel could be found and are solely responsible for keeping the palate from being an utter disaster.
Like the nose, everything is light and unfortunately uninteresting.
Finish: Short. More light baking spices, with the pre-packaged pepper from the pallet. More glue and overall very synthetic – as odd as that sounds. Bitter, with more white stationary paper..maybe some paper napkin too. Lightly antiseptic
Bourbon and House Rating: 76
When I first heard Willett was finally starting to release their own distillate, like most bourbon enthusiasts, I was very excited. This was a landmark for them, and a Godsend for us. The first of their (bourbon) juice was a Willett FE Single Barrel Bourbon 4 yr released in early 2016 as a distillery only release, and was very well received but unfortunately, a distillery only release. Then they pushed out a BIB Old Bardstown featuring a clean, classic looking white label but for the time being (hopefully), is only available in Kentucky. A cask strength Willett was scheduled for release according to my good friends over at breakingbourbon.com, but to my understanding this was never released….
Then came this new bottling of Old Bardstown 90 proof. To say the very least, I was grateful for one of the four releases out West…but unfortunately i’ve been left thoroughly disappointed at this bottling. Simply put, I feel this bourbon is just too young. Overall I can’t say that it was overtly offensive, yet I could find few pleasant qualities, besides the fruit leather, shelled nuts and the (mildly) expected sweetness. It just came across as boring, and the glue, paper and wood polish/paint notes where just overwhelming.
I wanted so badly to call this a great value bourbon, and granted that supply would be abundant, a daily sipper. I won’t be recommending this to anyone unless you’re either 1. a die hard bourbon/whisk(e)y collector, 2. a Willett fanboy, or 3. as a comparison to the black label Old Bardstown (which I enjoyed much more).
I’ll be using the rest of my bottle as a mixer which, for all intents and purposes, I can see doing well in maybe an Old Fashioned or possibly some other cocktail. Hopefully we’ll see Old Bardstown BIB and Willett FE Single Barrel 4 yr out here on the West Coast soon, but until then i’ll be enjoying my Willett FE ryes…