“No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune.” – Plutarch
Bardstown Bourbon Company is a behemoth in terms of the Kentucky bourbon landscape. They are already the seventh largest whiskey producer in the United States (producing more than seven million proof gallons annually) despite having only been in existence for eight years, which is no small feat.
A large portion of Bardstown Bourbon Company’s output goes toward contract distilling for other brands, but there’s also been no shortage of their own products hitting the market. Those products include their critically lauded Discovery Series and a cavalcade of finished expressions under their Collaborative Series, many of which have developed a following unto themselves, but today I’ll be reviewing what might presently be considered their hallmark offering: the Fusion Series.
As a relatively new whiskey producer, Bardstown Bourbon Company made the savvy decision early on to blend some of their own young distillate with some of their mature stock of sourced barrels in order to bring a product to market that would be indicative of their potential without souring future prospects. That is to say, they didn’t want to simply release young whiskey.
It has become increasingly common for new brands to do so because they don’t have the initial cash infusion to afford the soaring cost of the scant few well-aged sourced barrels on the market, nor do they have the funds to forgo releasing a whiskey in their nascent days. To bridge this gap, many companies release unaged spirits like vodka or gin in an attempt to turn a profit out of the gate and bide their time until their whiskey comes of age, typically around the two to four year mark.
Bardstown Bourbon Company’s late founder, Peter Loftin, faced no such trouble. After beginning his career as a wildly successful telecom entrepreneur, Loftin founded Bardstown Bourbon Company in 2014 and immediately set his sights on not just becoming one of Kentucky’s premier whiskey producers (their whiskey production began in the summer of 2016), but more ambitiously his aim was to position his brand as “the first Napa Valley style destination on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”
In plain terms his goal was to create an aesthetically beautiful modern distillery that would appeal both to whiskey enthusiasts by utilizing some of the most sophisticated technology in the industry and the average Joe or Jane simply looking for an enjoyable retreat complete with a world class culinary experience. Having recently visited the distillery I can personally attest to the fact that those goals have been met.
Bardstown Bourbon Company is situated on 100 acres of active farmland and, thanks to a recent expansion, will see the construction of a lake intended to be used as a water source for proofing their products, it’s clear that the brand is redefining what a modern Kentucky distillery can look like. The food in their guest center is outstanding, their selection of sought-after vintage whiskeys available by the pour is deeply impressive (curated in large part by their knowledgeable Visitor Experiences Representative, Dustin Reid), and they’ve already established themselves as perhaps the marquee destination for contract distilling in the state. By supplying whiskey for brands like Belle Meade, Blue Run, High West, plus many more, Bardstown Bourbon Company has created a reputation even with their work for other outfits for being a source of high-quality whiskey.
With a talented team in place that includes Master Distiller Steve Nally, Head Distiller Nick Smith, quality manager Travis Cantrell, the head of operations Justin Willett, and VP of new product development Dan Callaway, Bardstown Bourbon Company has not only had a fast start in catching up to the competition, but they’ve also charted a promising future toward potentially outpacing them one day. That all began with the Fusion Series, but it will also be interesting to see how they evolve moving forward.
That is because Fusion Series #8 and #9 -which I’ll be reviewing below – are the final two iterations of the Fusion lineup. After sunsetting the Fusion Series, Bardstown will transition into releasing bottles that contain 100% of their own distillate under the Origin Series banner, which I’m told we can expect in early 2023. So, while they may reintegrate the Fusion concept at some point down the road, these two expressions very much represent the end of the beginning for the brand.
For Bardstown Bourbon Fusion Series #8, they’ve blended 58% of their own four year old 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley recipe with 12% of their four year old 70% corn, 18% rye, 12% malted barley recipe together with 30% of a sourced 12 year Kentucky bourbon that utilizes a 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley recipe.
The bottling proof is 95.5 (47.75% ABV) and the price for this expression (as well as Fusion Series #9) is $64.99. These were both samples provided free of charge by Bardstown Bourbon Company which, per Malt editorial policy, does not affect my notes or scores.
Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Series #8 – Review
Color: Medium gold
On the nose: It’s bursting with fresh fruit, wow! I mean blueberries, raspberries, peaches, juicy orange… everything. After resting a moment I’m picking up a little bit of oak and it turns a bit floral with a brush of mint gum and bits of butterscotch. It’s overall very bright and sweet with just a hint of nutmeg and clove plus a dash of thyme. It doesn’t have any of the darker notes I tend to gravitate towards like brown sugar, leather, or black cherry but I’ll be damned… this is a delightful and inviting nose.
In the mouth: It has a very “clean” taste which I’ve found to be common with Bardstown’s Fusion series. Their own distillate has no off notes, and it has a very approachable mouthfeel. Again, the fruit flavors burst on the palate and stick to the tongue while a bit of clove and mint makes its way up the roof of the mouth complemented by some confectioners’ sugar and green tea which is a note I more typically associate with rye. After sitting with the glass for a while there are also some vanilla ice cream notes which make an appearance as well. Safe to say I’m a fan of this release.
In an alluring display of both deftness and heft, Fusion Series #8 has a lean mouthfeel to go with a well-developed flavor profile that skews light-and-bright but still manages to deliver impressive depth. Frankly I haven’t been too impressed with the Fusion series to date, but this is a new high water mark for me and it’s that fact coupled with a reasonable price point that leaves me inclined to score this a significant notch above “good” on Malt’s scoring scale.
Next I will be considering Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion #9, which is made up of 48% of their four year old 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley recipe along with 22% of their four year 60% corn, 26% rye, 10% wheat, and 4% malted barley recipe, and finally 30% of a 12 year sourced Kentucky bourbon with a 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley recipe. I’ll say here that though they don’t disclose the source of the older Kentucky bourbons in this blend, Bardstown Bourbon Company does an impressive job of offering transparency in these Fusion Series bottles, an example I’d like to see more brands follow. As aforementioned this bottle will be retailing for $64.99 and the proof for this expression is 96.8 (48.4% ABV). Once again, this was a free sample.
Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Series #9 – Review
Color: Light gold.
On the nose: Altogether much darker and more caramel-forward with plum, a touch of chocolate, and a stronger charred oak influence than Fusion Series #8. This one also has a crack of black pepper that smells delicious. There’s still a hint of mint on the nose, but overall the similarities between #8 and #9 are very limited, in all likelihood due to this containing a different Kentucky bourbon plus some of Bardstown’s wheated mashbill, which is a favorite of mine. While Fusion #8 excited me for how bright it is, Fusion #9 is exciting for being more of a traditional Kentucky bourbon blend executed efficiently.
In the mouth: The mouthfeel is denser and the caramel and vanilla that roll over the tongue on first sip are simply enchanting. This is even more mouth coating than Fusion #8 and that’s paired with a greater depth of flavor as the notes of caramel, vanilla, milk chocolate, and oak are more pronounced while the black pepper and baking spices in this expression are more prominent without throwing either the sweetness or the spice out of balance. The finish has a medium length and dries the palate only slightly, which gently encourages repeat sips. This just screams “well-rounded” to me, and it doesn’t miss the mark at any point in the tasting experience.
Though Fusion #8 and Fusion #9 offer very different experiences they both exhibit a high level of blending acumen from the Bardstown Bourbon Company team. With regard to Fusion #9 in particular I’m struck by its balance and depth of flavor, showcasing an impressive integration of young and old distillate to craft something that is greater than the sum of the parts. The richness and more prototypical bourbon notes wrought from the 12 year old sourced distillate play nicely with the “clean” mouthfeel provided by the more youthful distillate. This was my preferred pour both because the flavor profile is more in my wheelhouse but also because I think it’s a better display of the art of blending.
Frank’s Final Thoughts
On one hand, I surprised myself with how generously I initially scored these whiskeys but upon revisiting them I felt hard pressed to move them down a notch. The price is exceedingly fair, especially for a relatively young distillery that’s incorporating well-aged Kentucky bourbon into a blend, and the quality is exceptional. It should be said that the Fusion Series has long existed in the shadow of the Discovery Series due to the fact that the latter is made up of entirely sourced whiskey and has always carried a higher age statement.
However, with these two most recent iterations and the impending Origin Series on the horizon it’s clear that Bardstown Bourbon Company has built a solid foundation for themselves moving forward. It will be intriguing to see if and how they revisit the lineup in the future but with the blending acumen they’ve already displayed and the improving quality of their own distillate I have little doubt that we will see great things from Bardstown Bourbon Company down the line.
Images and samples courtesy of Bardstown Bourbon Company.