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.
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.
Photograph and badges provided by the Whisky Exchange.