A recent long weekend had afforded me the time to go on a Japan binge.
Somewhere along the way of researching for future trips, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a Japanese bar owner. He has a very healthy American whiskey selection along with a wealth of knowledge. He was amused that I didn’t go for the bottles the regular customers go for. There were a fair amount of Willetts, Booker’s, and Japan-only bourbons. Instead, I went for a couple of National Distillers Bourbons hidden on the shelves: an Old Crow from 1954 and a Bottled-in-Bond Old Taylor from 1972.
This was February of 2020. Tourism had already severely dipped in Japan at that time. The plane I flew in with was only around 10% full. At the time of arrival, there were no other incoming flights at the airport. It took me under ten minutes from disembarking the airplane to leaving the airport. I was the only customer in the bar for a few hours, so I had the barman’s undivided attention. Our conversations went from favorite brands to his lamenting of how Beam set aside old historic National Distillers brands like Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and Old Taylor.
He thinks that the DNA of these brands ended up being reformulated to modern Beam brands like Knob Creek. The Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek brands were only launched in 1992. He may actually be right. Five years sounds like enough time to play with recipes and release four-year-old straight bourbon.
Old Taylor Distillery was built by Edmund Haynes (E.H.) Taylor Jr. in 1887. The Abandoned Online website mentions that Taylor was a politician who had a hand in the passage of the Bottled-in-Bond act of 1897. The site implies that he did it to revitalize a suffering industry as standards were low. This was due to American whiskey being notorious for having additives. There are records of whiskey being flavored with things such as tobacco spit, prune juice, turpentine, sugar and many more. It looks like he was successful, as Old Taylor became the first distillery to reach one million cases of straight bourbon whiskey.
According to The Distillery Trail, During Prohibition (1920 to 1933) the distillery was allowed to remain open, but distilling any new whiskey wasn’t allowed. They were only allowed to sell whiskey that was already made for medicinal purposes. After Taylor died in 1922, the distillery remained in local control until National Distillers acquired operations in 1935. Bourbon demand in America rose again during the 50’s and 60’s, but the nation’s preference eventually shifted toward other spirits like vodka, rum and Tequila, making the bourbon market decline again. This led to National Distillers halting bourbon production at the Old Taylor Distillery in 1972.
In 1987, Jim Beam bought National Distillers. They used the warehouses for storing and aging bourbon. Jim Beam sold the Old Taylor brand to Sazerac in 2009; it now appears as E.H. Taylor.
A company by the name of Peristyle LLC bought the Old Taylor Distillery from an Atlanta investor group in 2014 for $1.5 million. They made plans to restore the distillery in stages. It is now called Castle & Key. The group partnered with Marianne Barnes, who was supposedly next in line to succeed Chris Morris at Woodford. They now distill and sell vodka, gin and some rye whiskey.
According to WhiskeyID, this Old Taylor 1972 BiB was bottled in 1980. Just wow. I was able to take home a sample of an Old Taylor in the last year of production under National Distillers. Ryan Alves, who helps out with secondary market pricing, indicates that this bottle currently carries a $1,500 price tag.
Old Taylor Bottled-in-Bond (1980) – Review
On the nose: This is quite mellow for the ABV. It doesn’t have the bite most Bottled-in-Bond American whiskeys have these days. I get a mild, upfront, and lasting aroma of cherries. Behind it are slightly lighter, more brief and interchanging aromas of blood orange, dried apricots, vanilla, tannins, dates, toffee, cinnamon syrup and rye. At the back are just as intense but rounder aromas of Japanese peaches and honey.
In the mouth: Unlike on the nose, the tannins are the lasting taste here. It’s like having a tiny piece of bark stuck to my tongue as I eat an assortment of fruits. It’s also peppery. While the taste of tannins loom, I get light and alternating tastes of Japanese peaches, dried apricots, honey, cherry-flavored candy, dates, and blood orange liqueur. A hickory kind of taste, vanilla and cinnamon come out at the end.
I absolutely love the nose on this. All the aromas it gave off were pleasant and came at the right intensity. Much like a veteran, it knows when to do things at its own pace. The different aromas just slowly take turns.
The persistent tannic taste in the mouth was a bit of a letdown. It got in the way of me just enjoying the fruity tastes. I find the alternating of tastes in this to be more rushed but still very coherent.
I don’t know what the mashbill is, but it tastes like there’s a pretty high amount of rye. Maybe around 20% to 30% rye? Corn wasn’t even something I sensed in this. I’m also curious what the barrel entry proof for this was. The barrel entry proof for this doesn’t seem like 125 proof. Nothing overly oaky. Just a good balance between the wood and distillate. Regardless, this is the type of bourbon I tend to prefer and would like to taste more of.
Or all this speculation could just be useless as what I smelled and tasted is due to the age of this bottle. “Old bottle effect” is the term, I think; it’s the theory that a spirit can change in the bottle despite not being opened, plus the amount of oxidation this whiskey has received while being open.
Old Taylor Distillery image courtesy of Abandoned Online. Bottle photos author’s own, taken at the bar.