“Names, names, names!” – Edina Monsoon
I had a more highbrow literary reference to open this piece, but realized I already spent it on a prior review. The underlying point is the same, though: do names matter? Today, we’ve got another name from Buffalo Trace’s liquid Hall of Fame, as well as a minor controversy about distillery naming and bottle labeling.
Before we get into that, a short history of the Taylor range of whiskey. I’ve been meaning to have a crack at these for a while, not least of all because we share a moniker (again, with the name).
Buffalo Trace’s official page for the top-hatted Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. indicates that he went from financier to owner when he purchased a distillery in Leestown in 1870. This was named “OFC” for “Old Fashioned Copper;” the distillery was purchased from Taylor – the flipper! – by George T. Stagg eight years later. This distillery became the current Buffalo Trace distillery, making Taylor – in some sense – the Aeneas to Buffalo Trace’s Roman Empire.
Being assiduous miners of history, Buffalo Trace has laid claim to the Taylor name for a set of nine expressions: Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving, Cured Oak, Seasoned Wood, Four Grain, Amaranth, and the subject of today’s review: Straight Rye.
The label on this says this is “distilled, aged and bottled by Old Fashioned Copper Distillery.” It also specifies DSP-KY-113 and DSP-KY-12, which correspond to Buffalo Trace (Frankfort) and Barton (Bardstown), respectively. Interestingly, my recently reviewed bottle of Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond had this exact same set of DSPs, in this order.
I queried the folks at Buffalo Trace about this; they indicate that this rye was distilled at the Barton 1792 distillery and bottled at Buffalo Trace. In this case, Buffalo Trace explains “all E. H. Taylor products use ‘Old Fashioned Copper’ as a tribute to him.” To me, that would imply a wink-wink-nudge-nudge acknowledgement that this was distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, rather than a sister distillery in the Sazerac portfolio, as is the case with this rye (but not all Taylor products).
I’ll stop short of calling shenanigans, but I will say that I’m very disappointed in this decision. We’ve already established that Buffalo Trace is willing to play fast and loose on their labels, as evinced by the Van Winkle range, which claims to be “From Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery” despite the inconvenient fact that no distillery of this name has ever existed.
Why do I find this so irritating? It smacks of pathological lying – lying for lying’s sake – and is wholly unnecessary. Buffalo Trace is a Leviathan, capable of producing mass-market whiskeys as well as some of the world’s most coveted bourbons. No whiskey company in America has a portfolio as lionized and lusted-after as Sazerac does, if the recent iteration of the annual fanfare for their Antique Collection is anything to go by. I could understand if they feared that their premium offerings might be sullied by association with a mass-market bourbon; if anything, the transfer of prestige seems to have gone the other direction.
At this point, Buffalo Trace could probably put “distilled in a gently-used toilet bowl and matured in Amazon boxes” on the label and still move every bottle (before some pedant points out that this wouldn’t technically be Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey: it was a joke). Point being: Buffalo Trace is doing just fine and shouldn’t have anything to hide or be ashamed of. Why not just play it straight – no pun intended – and tell us where this really came from?
Per Buffalo Trace, the mash bill remains “proprietary” (as though anyone could assemble a bunch of grains and reproduce this at home), but the company’s website provides us with the kernel of information that this is from a recipe containing only rye and malted barley.
Setting my bison-related grievances aside, let’s have a taste of this straight rye whiskey, Bottled in Bond, at the stipulated 50% ABV. I paid $75, close to MSRP, for 750 ml of this.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Bottled in Bond
Color: Medium-light gold with brownish glints.
On the nose: Key lime, vanilla custard, underripe tangerines. Some smoky scents of campfire emerge, along with the piquantly woody aroma of mesquite. A moistly meaty scent of roasted bone-in chicken breast presents itself, as well as a hint of black licorice. There’s a heaping dollop of vanilla and some damp pennies in here, but this keeps coming back to smells of stern rye grain.
In the mouth: At the front of the mouth, this is possessed by a piquantly bitter rye grain flavor, carrying on from the nose’s dominant influence. Fulsome red fruit flavors balance this out at midpalate, which also has the salutary richness of polished wood. I get nuances of red brick (not that I’ve ever tasted one, but you know…) as this becomes mineral-dominated toward the back of the tongue. A firm flavor of fluoride and a dash of mocha carries this into the pepper-accented finish, which lingers briefly before fading into oblivion.
Good complexity, mostly well-balanced, nice bottling strength. There’s a lot to like about this. However, I’m not sure it’s thrice as good as Wild Turkey 101 Rye, though it is three times as expensive. I’m scoring this slightly above average.
It didn’t matter a whit to the scoring, but the obfuscation around the source of this whisky – and the shell games played by Buffalo Trace and the industry more broadly – really stick in my craw. If bourbon producers can’t be honest with us now, at the point of maximal enthusiasm for their product, when can they be? I’m still awaiting an answer.
Image kindly provided by Buffalo Trace.