What’s the last whiskey you’d drink?
I don’t mean this in the sense of “which whiskey would be your least preferred choice?” Rather, I’m thinking about it from the perspective of someone doomed to savor one final glass before they depart. In the way that a condemned man is offered a last meal of his choosing, it would be only fitting that those of us enamored of the “water of life” were permitted a final taste of a chosen dram before life concluded.
I am pondering this because a member of my household just tested positive for COVID. The fact that we’re all vaccinated, and the mildness of the symptoms, suggests that this will be little more than a short inconvenience. While I’m not legitimately afraid for anyone’s life or long-term health, I do harbor trepidations about the loss of taste and smell, or changes thereto as described by Evrim.
At the time of writing, I am asymptomatic, though twinges of hypochondriacal paranoia occasionally convince me that I’m running a fever or have a tickle in my throat. Turning instead toward reflection, I am forced to consider which of my favorite bottles I’d be pouring from if I had only one more chance to enjoy a whiskey before oblivion.
I won’t bore you with a list of all-time great drams, though I am happy to report that the contenders are many. However, I believe that instincts are often better than intellect. When I think of special whiskey, my mind immediately jumps to a specific bottle: the Single Cask Nation Pre-Fire 24 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Single Cask Nation’s descriptive materials inform me that “This bottling of Bourbon comes from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery. It was distilled in October 1994 and bottled in November 2020. It has spent 12 years maturing in Kentucky before 12 years maturing in Scotland. This global release is 1500 bottles at 47.4% ABV.” The label on this bottle states “One of 1200 bottles,” with the remaining 300 allocated to the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. Price on release was $295 for 750 ml.
As is their wont, Jason and Joshua of SCN are happy to veil their sources in the thinnest, most threadbare lace when circumstances prevent them from disclosing the producer of a given whiskey. Thus, we have here a bottle adorned with bold graphics of a flaming rickhouse, a nod to the fire that consumed the original Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.
I was lucky enough to get two bottles of this on release; the first has been enjoyed and shared with friends, including with my fellow Bourbon Crusaders on the eve of my first barrel pick at Heaven Hill. The second bottle was donated to the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit. This event occurred in the wake of December’s catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through western Kentucky, decimating homes and claiming 77 lives.
We talk a lot about community and generosity in bourbon, and I’m glad that I was able to put those values into action when circumstances demanded it. Though my contribution represented only a very small portion of the total $3.4 million raised, I was honored and humbled to be able to give a little back to a state that has given so much to me in terms of whiskey and hospitality. (Those who weren’t able to participate can still donate to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund).
For all the curmudgeonly reviews, ill-tempered Tweeting, and other assorted whiskey snark I produce online, I try to be a better-than-decent human being in real life. This bottle is a small manifestation of that; tasting it reminds me of both good times and not-so-good times, and the way that a lot of people came together in the latter and stepped up to do something pretty amazing. I’ll always remember watching as the funds raised surpassed a million dollars, then two, and then three, and thinking that this bourbon community was more extraordinary than even my most hopeful aspirations.
Returning to my initial conceit: if I were gone tomorrow, I don’t think my many friends in the whiskey community would remember me principally because of written reviews, YouTube videos, podcasts, or tastings. Rather, I hope that they’d recall some good times we shared, filled with smiles and laughs and a lot of bourbon. I hope a few would recollect that I was always happy to open a bottle or distribute samples free of charge, paying forward the kindness that I have so gratefully received from others.
As far as notes to go out on, that feels like as good a one as any. As I raise this glass (not my last, Lord willing), I raise it to all of you in a spirit of heartfelt gratitude and brotherly love.
Single Cask Nation Pre-Fire Bourbon – Review
Color: Medium-dark burnt orange.
On the nose: There’s a totality to this that makes it difficult to pick out individual attributes, but here I go: the dominant note is a triangulation between butterscotch, fragrant wood, and a citric hint of very ripe orange. Swirling around this nucleus are diverse and interesting herbal and spice notes such as tarragon, anise and peppercorn. There’s a funky mustiness to this that harkens back to bourbons produced in days of yore, though in this example that nuance is well-balanced by the fresher aspects of the nose. With time, some richer whiffs of chocolate fudge begin to emerge, as well as a delectable aroma of buttered cornbread. Like all my favorite whiskeys, this is so aromatically captivating that the nose becomes fascinated and one nearly forgets to go ahead and taste the stuff!
In the mouth: This starts with pert kiss of limestone minerality. That note softens to reveal a woodiness that starts with a somewhat astringent tannic character, though this dissipates quickly in favor of more of those exotically herbal flavors, similar to the nose. There’s a blooming note of mint leaf that soars up toward the roof of the mouth. This has a slight return to the stony side as the whiskey moves toward the back of the mouth. On the finish, that initial butterscotch note reemerges, imparting a lingering richness that is balanced against some more tart citric flavors of clementines and a subtly metallic flavor and texture that vibrates on the palate long after the last swallow.
This whiskey is a little different each time I taste it, in the best of all possible ways. It fulfills the promise of dusty bourbon in that it tastes different from anything being produced today. However, it also has plenty of Heaven Hill hallmarks that – for a reason I fully intend to sleuth out someday – remain constant between whiskeys produced at the old and new distilleries. Overall, it tastes complete and complex and provides plenty of material for extended contemplation. It’s the kind of bourbon whiskey I love, and I am scoring it thus.
The notes and the score aren’t really the point, of course. The whiskey isn’t even the point. Whiskey remains a medium to facilitate so many other, more important things. Though I have been introduced to many wonderful people due to our shared fascination with this elusive elixir, I’m hopeful that we would have found each other anyway.
Thinking about them, I’m filled with so many feelings… but the overwhelming one is always gratitude. That applies to all the readers and supporters of this site, as well. Once more, (though, again, not for the last time): thank you.