One of the things I’ve learned about spirits collectors is we can be a speculative bunch. We will speculate about an eventual drop in the quality of products when a large company buys in, or buys out, a smaller distiller. We will also speculate what whisky could be the next big thing when it wins an award. And we will speculate that the quality of a brand drops when the label changes.
This is especially true for fans of American whisky. I was late to the bourbon and rye game, as I only got into it during 2014. However, I learned from the online ramblings of the long time American whisky fans that a label change usually means a change in quality. A lot of well-known brands have gone through a few changes in the 2 decades.
A couple of examples being the Old Weller Antique 107 and Elijah Craig having changed labels twice. The Old Weller Antique 107 used to have the 7 year age statement. Then it became a No Age Statement (NAS) with only a verbal guarantee from Sazerac that the average age of the blend is 7 years. The bottle also changed into a rounder shape. Then, it changed again into a taller bottle a few years ago.
It’s the same for Elijah Craig Small Batch. It used to have the 12-year age statement at the front. Then Heaven Hill (HH) moved the age statement to the back when more people started buying more of it. This quickly led to online speculations that it will lose its age statement soon. The speculators were correct as HH quickly changed the bourbon’s bottle and began selling it as just a NAS Small Batch.
These kinds of incidents aren’t exclusive to American whisky. This has happened to Scotch as well. The easiest example I can give is Highland Park. It used to have a much simpler packaging. But it underwent a Viking rebranding to, I can safely guess, attract the less knowledgeable drinker. As expected, the opinions of more learned drinkers on the rebranded HP12 was not positive.
Nothing against HH and Sazerac though. They worked hard to make the market larger. Catering to a larger market means rolling out more stocks for the growing demand. But it’s hard to blame the enthusiasts and collectors for fearing the drop in quality and price hikes. There are those who feel they deserve something for being there earlier. Also, we understand that fancier packaging often means crappier quality products. It’s the same analogy as a man with a small phallus will usually have a big car. This time, it’s the brand that’s compensating for their insufficiencies.
For this review, I will compare an older NAS Noah’s Mill release, which has the wax top, to the newer NAS Noah’s Mill release with a foil top. I very recently “re-discovered” this Noah’s Mill wax top in my collection. as I have time to rearrange it. So, I decided to put on my tinfoil hat and compare these two releases.
The wax top is from proprietor 13-71. The foil top is from proprietor 15-43. These bottles have similar abv (57.15%) and labels (aside from the top part). The inconsistencies here being, the wax top has been opened longer and has less whisky in the bottler. While the foil top has been open for a shorter amount of time and has more whisky. I have no idea if the average age of the blends is different. I also have no idea if KBD’s blends of these can be inconsistent, as I haven’t had the chance to do a deep dive on Willet.
Noah’s Mill Wax top – review
On the nose: Old wooden furniture & leather up front. They give way to quick whiffs of cloves & nutmeg. The bourbon sweetness finally comes out. Corn, vanilla, honey, demerara syrup, cinnamon, almonds with skin, orange peel, peaches and apples.
In the mouth: A spicy and semi-sweet greeting. The upfront old wooden furniture with leather is accompanied by sweet corn, honey, vanilla and cinnamon syrup. Then they quickly turn into more peppery corn, vanilla, honey, demerara syrup, cinnamon, almonds with skin, orange peel, peaches and apples. But hints of spices like nutmeg and cloves appear in the middle until the end.
Noah’s Mill Foil top – review
On the nose: There’s no old wooden furniture smell in this. This has more spice and is sharper upfront. The cloves are more pronounced but are accompanied by pink peppercorns and the sweetness takes a back seat. Another ethanol spike followed by less coherent sweetness. I get some peaches, apples, orange peel and diluted demerara syrup. The vanilla, cinnamon and honey finally appear.
In the mouth: More rounded but this came with a different greeting. It has more tastes like dates, dark chocolate and civet coffee. Nuttier like a mix of pecan pie, hazelnuts and almonds and diluted coffee. Where’s the corn and vanilla in this?
These two are definitely different. The wax top is more of a bourbon than the foil top. Wax top has the stereotype bourbon flavors which makes me think of Heaven Hill or Beam bourbons. Despite having the same abv, this is more rounded. Which makes me wonder if this might have more older bourbon in the blend? This is said to be a blend of bourbon aged 5 to 15 years by the way.
The foil top baffles me. It’s hotter and sharper which makes me think this has younger bourbon in the blend. But more importantly, where did the bourbon character go?
Is it simply due to a blending inconsistency? Did my bias create a difference in perception of flavor? Or did the recipe really change after the slight change in packaging? Were the differences created by the different fill levels of the bottles and different oxidation rates?