This is not the greatest whiskey in the world.

You knew that, right? I mean, sure, Mr. Hat called it “World Whisky of the Year.” But, come on now! That designation is patently absurd, not less so for some of the… umm… questionable drams that have garnered this superlative in recent years. At best, it could reasonably be called Monsieur Chapeau’s favorite whiskey.

Señor Sombrero is a guy who drinks a lot of whiskey; one might say “too much.” I’m not impugning his moral integrity so much as second-guessing his critical faculties at the end of a long day. By way of contrast: I presume that most of the whiskey reviewed here at Malt is done in quiet moments, at home, when some time and space is permitted to facilitate concentration and contemplation. Most are likely tasted in isolation; it’s probably the rare example that is tasted as part of a flight.

Imagine trying to scale this approach up to encompass critical appraisal of more than a thousand whiskeys a year, and you’ll quickly intuit some of the challenges that present themselves. There simply isn’t enough time or gustatory bandwidth for one individual to handle a workload like this competently.

I’ve written before about the perils of high ABV whiskeys. At best, they need to be consumed in judicious measures and often benefit from a few drops of water, something proscribed by Bōshi-san (I’m running out of ideas) in his “Murray Method” guidelines for tasting whiskey. At worst, they are palate-deadening after a half measure, rendering any meaningful evaluation of subsequent whiskeys impossible.

If you’ve ever attended a marathon tasting of full-strength whiskeys, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I found myself in just such circumstances recently when a whiskey-loving friend invited me over to check out his collection. On learning it was my birthday eve, he threw open his cupboard and started proffering this and that rarity for my consideration. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expressions made way for Ardbeg Committee Releases which made way for Blanton’s Gold which made way for Longrow Red. A store pick version of this 1792 Full Proof was even included in the lineup.

Was I being spoiled rotten by an outlandishly generous host? Indubitably. Was this all good fun? Immensely. Was I able to form a critical opinion about a single one of these whiskeys in a way that would form the backbone of a fair and judicious assessment here at Malt? To quote the denizens of the blue sea of Ibrox: “No! Not one! No! Not one!”

Thus, I am sounding a note of caution: to a man who tastes whiskey all day, every day (promotional appearances and distillery visits permitting), only the most brusque and forceful whiskeys start to register on the personal Richter scale. Therefore, when such a gent awards top marks to a full proof expression, my natural skepticism kicks into sport mode. Of course you liked this, Herr Hut! It’s probably the only thing you were able to taste for a month!

All that aside, let’s talk about what we have here. My previous run-in with the Barton 1792 distillery came in the form of Very Old Barton; kindly refer to that article if you’re interested in a history of the enterprise. It is the less-heralded sibling in Sazerac’s portfolio, which of course includes the Buffalo Trace distillery and its many lauded expressions.

Thus, Barton 1792 could be commended for a bit of cheeky thunder stealing when it snagged top marks from Signor Cappello, even though the first and second runners-up were also from the Sazerac portfolio. Do you care? I don’t! Let’s move on to the whiskey itself. I’ve heard great things, j/k, lawlz.

Seriously, though, there’s a cottage industry of whiskey reviewers waiting for a prominent critic (of which there are, legitimately, perhaps three) to elevate an expression just so us Lilliputians can slag it off, thereby demonstrating that we’re so much more discerning than said critic. It’s the imagined intellectual superiority of the bear case and it’s intensely lazy.

My natural skepticism of laurels aside, I don’t believe that every big-name critic requires an immediate rebuttal, any more than I believe that their top selections are worth chasing down at any price. I’m keeping an open mind; nothing would please me more than if this were transcendent, life-changing, epoch-defining whiskey, because after all I still have the lion’s share of a bottle of it on my shelf.

Speaking of the bottle on my shelf: I paid MSRP of $45 for this at my local retailer, God bless and keep him. Based on prior aspersions cast my way, I’d like to disclose officially that I have never received a free bottle, or sample, or anything else of value from this merchant. I have not been offered an allocated bottle, nor have I ever been given a discount on anything I purchased at the store. I walked in and picked this off the shelf and paid full price for it in cash, same as you or anyone else could.

Therefore, if I say something nice about this shop, it’s because the proprietor is a gent that puts desirable stock on the rack (regardless of which awards it has won) with a fair price for whomever strolls by to purchase at their pleasure. It’s an incredibly civilized way to conduct business and, unfortunately, an increasingly rare one. Thus, I’m happy to support him with my custom and encourage others to do likewise.

Having gotten that regrettably necessary disclaimer out of the way, here are some facts: this Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey underwent plate-and-frame filtration (rather than chill filtration). The mash bill is rumored to be 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% barley, though per Sazerac company policy this is not officially disclosed. Though this does not carry an age statement, the kind folks at Buffalo Trace inform me that “the target age is 8 years.”

This “Full Proof” bourbon is bottled at barrel entry proof of 125 (62.5% ABV), but it’s worth remembering that this means it has been proofed down to a standard strength through the addition of water, as evaporation will typically cause bourbon barrels to rise in strength over time. With all that in mind, let’s taste someone’s idea of the World Whisky of the Year!

1792 Full Proof – Review

Color: Medium-dark chestnut

On the nose: Very restrained. Starts with an overwhelming acetone topnote and a broad stroke of oaky vanilla. Furniture polish, the faint scent of maple syrup, and lemon juice make appearances, as well as a savory note of beef jerky, some English mustard, and an airy hint of milk chocolate. In all, I’m surprised how little this expresses aromatically. Perhaps it will be more exuberant in the mouth?

In the mouth: Nope. Starts with a sharp bite of woody alcohol, transitioning to the midpalate with a dense nuttiness. The middle of the mouth is where this is most convincing; a rounded woody flavor meets some plump red fruit and a few heavy-handed notes of toasted oak. This hits another high, sharp note as this crescendos on the back of the tongue. The finish is abbreviated, with only a faintly chemical aftertaste of woody extraction and a momentary nip of cayenne pepper.

Conclusions

Definitely not the best bourbon I’ve had in the last 12 months. Not the best bourbon I’ve had in the last month. Honestly, it’s not even the best bourbon I have had this week. This mostly underwhelms; it has a few points where the expected robustness of flavors knit together, but elsewhere this is one note and shrill. In light of this, but considering the high proof and decent price, I’m scoring it just a hair above average. If (nearly) full-strength bourbon is your thing, both Stagg Jr. and Rare Breed offer more flavor for the same or less money.

I don’t presume many of these types of folks read Malt, but I’ll say it anyway: Some of you saw the top honors awarded to this whiskey and rushed out to secure a bottle at a significant markup, either from the secondary market or from a wily retailer. On the other hand, I made a brief mental note of the plaudits and (as I had been itching to review 1792 anyway) bided my time until a fairly-priced bottle presented itself. I was therefore able to buy and try this without the exertion of hunting it down or the cost of enriching a flipper.

Imagine if we all behaved like this? Rather than chasing the most recent award winner, imagine if we just took those opinions – and that is, in fact, all they are – in stride? Imagine if we just bought bottles as they came to us, rather than engaging in constant, exhausting, expensive wild bison chases? As I mature in my whiskey appreciation, I have learned never to dash for a bottle or a bus, as there’s usually another one coming. It’s a much more pleasant way to go about life, and I invite you to experience it for yourself the next time a big name gives out a big score to big fanfare.

Score: 6/10

Photograph and badges provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. Avatar
    Duncan says:

    Great review, I just find it so strange that you can even have a “whisky of the year” with the amount of releases that come out every year. It’s crazy and I guess each person’s palate is different and more importantly in my opinion at a different “tasting stage” in its life. My palate is appreciating different whisky’s as I was 5 years ago cause I’m tasting such different stuff these days. I have 2 different releases of this 1792 full proof and they so different, one much better than the other. One much better than both versions of Stagg Jnr. that I have, which can also be inconsistent but for what you pay not unreasonable. I also think sometimes you have to build up your palate for these big boys with a couple warm ups. Again awesome review!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Duncan, glad you enjoyed the review. You highlight an important point: JM has softly walked back a prior winner (Northern Harvest Rye) with the explanation that he just got a really good batch. This, however, was only after people who had bought bottles protested that they were fairly pedestrian. With any batched whiskey there will be variations, making these “Best in the World” designations even more ludicrous. Cheers!

      1. Avatar
        Ken Mckinney says:

        Taylor, I’ve drank 1792 for awhile now and I like it, but I’m no expert by any means so I ask you this. What is your favorite bourbon so that I can go try it.

        Ps I didn’t even know 1792 won whisky of the year lol

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Ken, you should try to remain oblivious to these awards as much as possible. Check my prior reviews on this site, but I’d point you to WT Rare Breed, Stagg Jr, and Kentucky Peerless as worthy of your investigation. Cheers!

  2. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    I was shocked when this was named Whiskey of the Year. Especially considering the number of whiskeys coming out every year. Personally, over all these years, I think the only time I agreed with the Whiskey of the Year was for the Yamazaki 18, from ages ago. Other than that, seems like a marketing gimmick to draw attention to mediocre whiskeys, and subsequently drive their prices up. Like that year when Crown Noble Cornerstone’s price went up. Some outfitters were asking $100 for a Crown Noble??!!!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      PB, it clearly helps the trade by stirring up some enthusiasm and moving a ton of bottles. Price gouging is just the cherry on that shite sundae. As always, thanks for the comments and GO BLUE!

  3. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Additional note: with all these questionable “best”, don’t critics dilute their personal brands especially when the “best” are popularly considered mediocre ? I think I’ve bought more from reading articles here than from those critics that label “best”.

    Oh—-by the way—-on a related note, I’m in love with cider now…cheap and damn good

      1. Avatar
        Jason says:

        This is a great and accurate review. I have a bottle of the stuff at home which has been relegated to making old fashioneds because it is much more drinkable after it’s been diluted a little bit from melting ice. More importantly I appreciate your position on these whiskey of the year and similar awards. I hope that most people take the time to explore a variety of whiskeys and find their personal favorite. For me, this typically comes to Oban 14 (and sometimes 18)… but can vary based on mood or other conditions that I haven’t quite figured out yet.

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Jason, kind of you to say, thanks. Each of our tastes and preferences remain our own; I encourage all our readers to find out what suits them best, no matter what any experts have to say about it. Cheers!

      2. Avatar
        Andy says:

        I’m just a songwriter from KY, who has an affinity for bourbon and who stumbled upon this article while aimlessly scrolling his phone at night, giving way to Google presented whims and I’ve no accredited knowledge or authority to speak on behalf of this particular whisky; But, I felt compelled to say that I enjoyed the rhythm in your writing, Taylor. Nicely written article, sir!

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Andy, welcome to Malt, and thank you so much for the kind compliment! If you like good writing then you should check out some of my colleagues’ work on the site, especially Adam. If there was and award for “World Whisky Writer of the Year,” he’d deserve it. Cheers!

  4. Avatar
    Pyrrhus says:

    Honestly I found it much more enjoyable than your review shows. Is it the best whiskey of the year maybe not, but you already had a preconceived opinion about the bourbon in question which I think caused you to view it in a negative light.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Pyrrhus, verbatim from the review: “ I’m keeping an open mind; nothing would please me more than if this were transcendent, life-changing, epoch-defining whiskey, because after all I still have the lion’s share of a bottle of it on my shelf.”

      A negative or critical review of a whiskey you like is not evidence of bias. It just means we have different tastes.

  5. Graham
    Graham says:

    Taylor,

    I award this article the Best Article of 2020 With 1792 in the Title Published on Malt.

    Congratulations.

    Great to see a buzz again in the comments. Some low key trolling too strangely. As for awards almost everything has an award these days. For a set of business awards I am involved in one PR company told me they could write up an application that they knew would win and quoted previous winners as clients. Therefore my approach is to consider any award another form of marketing. Sometimes they can pique interest in an overlooked brand and encourage a first or renewed interest, just the same as in Instagram #ad or a classic print advertisement.

    Not all evil but not gospel either

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Graham, a prestigious honor, thank you. We didn’t get a chance to address it yet, but there’s also the issue of honey barrels or standout batches being handpicked for critics. If you think 1792 didn’t send Mr. Hat the very best juice it had, I’d say that’s pretty credulous. While that’s all well and good for him, the whiskey he anoints may bear only a passing resemblance to what you or I can pick up off the store shelf. As always, I’m just trying to interject a note of sanity into the discourse. Cheers!

  6. Avatar
    Jeff from Iowa says:

    I learned early on when I started dabbling in whisk(e)y that those gold badges on the label are as good as toilet paper. I started in 2016 when Jim Beam Black Label was crowned best Bourbon in the World. Obviously I had to have a bottle but did not find it to be as good as a few others I’ve tried in the past. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t the BEST. Not even close. Great review! I tend to stay away from 1792 all together unless it’s a store pick. I have two Full Proof picks that I was able to try before I bought, god bless and keep that retailer as well. They are both amazing in my humble opinion. And I agree with you, WT Rare Breed and Stagg Jr are going to beat out the standard 1792 FP offering all day everyday. I would venture to guess with whiskey becoming so popular now they will try to get any award slapped on their label to get that extra market share. It’s hard to watch though and dare I say irresponsible for them to do that. I was lucky enough to know better when I was fooled but imagine all the people new to whiskey drinking who actually think THAT is the best whiskey in the world and just stop there because they didn’t like it. Never trying all those other wonderful whisk(e)ys because they think, “If this is THE BEST I’m going to stick to flavored vodka and White Claw.” I really appreciate you laying this all out and I hope it helps a lot of people new to our little, yet always growing, sliver of the world. Cheers!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Jeff, thanks so much for the voluminous and insightful comments. If there’s one thing we’ve stressed repeatedly here at Malt it’s that critical praise for a whiskey – ours or that of a big name in the industry – is just one person’s opinion. Whereas I appreciate the humility and candor of Fred Minnick (who openly admits he might score the same whiskey highly one day, poorly the next, depending on mood and manifold other factors) I don’t think Jim Murray does himself – or whiskey drinkers – any favors with these headline-grabbing awards. Of course they do sell a lot of Whisky Bibles, which is where his incentives truly lie. Anyway, glad you see the value in our approach, and your kind compliments are very much appreciated. Cheers!

  7. Avatar
    Rita says:

    Everyone has a different palate. One person’s best will not be many others, of course. The litany of childish name calling directed at Jim Murray that filled the pre-review in the article was simply unnecessary, and honestly diminished YOUR credibility, for me. I personally love high proof bourbons, ECBP my favorite after GTS. A119 and C919 were fantastic, and I prefer them to 1792 Full Proof. But it is close. I find 1792 to be an absolutely delicious bourbon. I didn’t get any “beef jerky” – “furniture polish” or “lemon juice.” Seriously? What were you eating / smoking before you tried this bourbon? “Overwhelming acetone on the nose?” Maybe on first opening. Definitely not after. Between the obvious jealousy driven name calling and the silly tasting notes, I find this review …..wanting. Hope readers will make up their own mind and not be swayed by this review.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Rita, sorry to hear you didn’t care for my gentle ribbing of Jim Murray’s ridiculous affectation. Unlike Jim, I present my reviews as “just my opinion” rather than “The Word of God,” implied by the title of his “Bible.” I also love several high proof bourbons, as you can see from my other reviews on this site. I refuse to litigate my tasting notes; everyone’s palates differ, which I have always acknowledged. Similarly, I have always encouraged others to judge for themselves and not be swayed by critics, whether those critics be “big names” like Jim Murray or nobodies like me. Peace be upon you.

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