So, what is this, exactly?
Well, it’s Blood Oath Pact No. 6, of course. If you’re anything like me, you’re now scratching your head with a cerebrum-threatening intensity. Blood Oath? Pact? This all sounds like some gruesome occult initiation ceremony. My courage is fortified by the fact that this is whiskey, and things are invariably more dull and quotidian than the elaborate labels and marketing puffery would suggest.
Sometimes it seems like much of the work I do here is akin to that of an 1850’s prospector. See, there’s this big river of malarkey, and I am panning for small golden nuggets of truth. We get a lot of words from distillers and, especially, from the non-distiller producers (NDPs), but precious little information and even fewer hard facts. My job is to wade through the deluge of verbiage, to read between the lines, and to bring you what few grains of verity I can sift out.
The NDPs, in particular, seem engaged in a perpetual game of “don’t look over there, look over HERE!” The more gossamer they can spin around the brand, the bottle, the label, and the backstory, the less they have to talk about the whiskey. Which, from their perspective, might be for the better. After all, why would we pay up for a comparable product to that being brought to us, often at a lower cost, by the folks that made it in the first place?
So rather than speaking obliquely of gory promises, how about some particulars instead: we’ve got a blend of a 14-year-old bourbon, an eight-year-old bourbon, and a seven-year-old bourbon, this latter having been finished (“rested,” says Blood Oath) in a Cognac cask. That’s altogether more straightforward and less intimidating than all these sanguinary vows. Where did these bourbons come from, you might be asking?
Blood Oath’s own site, which has all the aesthetics you’d normally associate with Anne Rice novels, gives us this bit of embroidery: “The Blood Oath attests that every batch of Blood Oath is the undertaking of one man — a student of both bourbon and science… Not to cater to anyone’s loyalties, he has sworn to never reveal where he finds his bourbon, but only to promise to choose and make the best he knows.”
To once again dispense with the Gothic ornamentation, one might say that Blood Oath sourced some whiskey and perhaps signed a nondisclosure agreement. Nothing unusual about that; they wouldn’t be the first and probably won’t be the last to go this route. It sounds less romantic to put it this way, of course, but part of what we do here at Malt is to dispel the fog created by marketing in favor of the clarity imposed by the light of truth and fact.
To further untangle this claret-soaked knot: this aforementioned “student of both bourbon and science” is, in fact, John Rempe. Mr. Rempe has a bachelor’s degree in biology and is a “Certified Food Scientist.” He has been working for Blood Oath’s parent company Luxco for 17 years and is now the head distiller at their Bardstown distillery, which started up in 2018. When you buy a bottle of Blood Oath, it’s his discernment and palate you’re paying a premium for. Keep in mind, Eddie Russell provides this same service to you, free of charge.
Some of you may be familiar with other Luxco products such as Ezra Brooks and Rebel Yell. These had previously been sourced from and/or contract distilled by Heaven Hill and MGP for bourbon and rye, respectively. Luxco is currently in the process of transitioning to distillate from their own distillery, Lux Row Distillers. Thus, an educated guess would be that the whiskeys in this blend are Heaven Hill bourbons. Given that Blood Oath’s own materials repeatedly mention the rye character of the bourbons, it’s therefore probable that this comes from Heaven Hill’s rye mash bill (78% corn, 10% rye, 12% barley) used for the likes of Evan Williams and Elijah Craig.
This is the most recent in Blood Oath’s set of annual releases, beginning with Pact No. 1 back in 2015. 17,000 three-bottle cases (roughly 38,250 liters or 51,000 bottles) of this sixth iteration are said to have been produced. Assuming an average barrel proof of 125, normal evaporation, and proportional quantities of each of the components, this would imply a batch of roughly 233 barrels. This is consistent with the stated batch size for Heaven Hill’s own “small batch” products, which are typically around 200 barrels. So, this is a “limited edition” in the sense of being finite, but the number of bottles exceeds those of other limited editions by a multiple.
As for the additional particulars: the whiskey comes to us at a potency of 98.6 proof (49.3% ABV). MSRP was $100, for which you also get a fancy box for your fancy bottle. I didn’t pay, however; this was another sample generously provided by Will, and cheers to him for that.
So, in consideration of the cold truth (rather than the fiery mythologizing), what’s the unique selling proposition here? You’ve got some mid-teens aged bourbon blended with some mid-high single-digits aged bourbon, some of which was finished in a Cognac cask. I’ve previously reviewed some of Blood Oath’s competition in the “sourced whiskey with a cask finish” game (also with a premium price) and my same misgivings about that format apply here. However, for the purposes of pretending at objectivity, I’m once again going to try to put that out of my mind and evaluate this on its own merits.
Having dispensed with all the lofty language in favor of establishing a firm factual foundation, it’s now time to taste the whiskey.
Blood Oath Pact No. 6 – Review
Color: Vibrant orange.
On the nose: There’s a fat, sweet, heaping overlay of oaky vanilla that I feel like my nose needs to cut through before I get to any of the integral aromas of this whiskey. Underneath that there’s some stalky, green notes of freshly cut vegetation. I get the corny, baked aroma of a pan of cornbread fresh from the oven. Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion (that of my own preconceptions), but I am sensing a classic Heaven Hill note of damp pennies. Maximally intense inhalation yields a fleeting note of sarsaparilla, but there’s little else to be gleaned here.
In the mouth: This is one of the most challenging whiskeys I have ever had to write tasting notes about, and I don’t mean that in a good way. From front to back, the entire thing is a muddled puddle of indistinct flavors and nondescript textures that beggars description. The most memorable part of this is its coalescence into a woody and metallic burst just before the middle of the tongue. Beyond that, I’ve got little else of note to share with you. There’s some peanut butter flavors creeping around the molars, as well as a lingering bitter astringency that tastes like juvenile wood.
It’s funny: even though I spent the majority of the preparation for this review picking apart the conceits of this brand, they must have had a subconscious effect on me. I expected this whisky to come out of the bottle bloody: a deep crimson color, with a nose bursting with fecund, meaty aromas, and a with a viscous texture and a ferric bite. I guess it goes to show you what a bit of suggestion can do to even a cynically cautious taster.
That preconception aside, this whiskey is seriously lacking. I say that in consideration of this with respect to its own merits, but more especially given the posing and pricing that attends this expression. For all the master blender’s supposedly inspired input, we’ve got a whiskey that is less interesting than the Evan Williams 1783, yet costs five times as much.
Had I paid retail price for this I’d be humiliated. This is the ultimate triumph of style over substance in whiskey, and that’s not a category that wants for competitors. I could give it an extra punitive mark at the extreme bottom of the range, but I fear that doing so would attract an undue amount of attention to a whiskey that, perhaps more than any other I have tried, is worthy of all the disregard you can muster.
Photograph kindly provided by Blood Oath.