“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha
If you’re unfamiliar with the specious story of the Seelbach cocktail, then allow me to give you a brief primer. The signature drink of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky was once believed by some of the globe’s most acclaimed cocktail historians to be a beloved pre-Prohibition recipe. That is, at least, the yarn spun by the Seelbach’s true inventor – Adam Seger – in the 1990’s when he sought to bring attention to the bar and make a name for himself.
In 2016 Seger finally admitted to the paper of record that he had invented the tale, wherein he supposedly discovered the recipe on a vintage cocktail menu for the hotel, and went so far as to claim it was created by accidentally spilling Champagne into a Manhattan. The Seelbach cocktail developed fame, and later a level of infamy, unto itself in the hospitality industry, and it continues to shine today as a modern classic.
Fast forward to 2018 and Seelbach’s – the digital distribution website – was founded by Blake Riber, who noticed that many craft spirits are regionally confined. Craft brands then and now simply don’t have the access to distribution channels that would allow people across the United States to taste their products – thus Blake’s creation was born. Distinct from either the hotel or the cocktail despite drawing inspiration from the duo, he’s since built his company into one of the most trusted sources for procuring craft spirits in the country.
Now, taking things a step further, Blake has introduced the Private Reserve series as an outlet to not just showcase a curated selection of craft spirits, but also produce “an experiment in fine whiskies” himself. For Batch 003 of the Private Reserve series, he’s drawn inspiration from the duplicitous legend of the mixed drink which shares his business’ moniker.
What we have today is a blend made up of 84% 4-year-and-9-month bourbon and 16% 15-year bourbon that is then finished independently in Triple Sec and Pinot Meunier Champagne barrels. This blend is meant to pay homage to the popular drink which contains bourbon, orange liqueur, seven dashes of disparate bitters, and Champagne.
While working a hot knife through the wax top of this bottle (a beautiful albeit cumbersome touch) I had time to consider the different threads of thought that tie all these names, ideas, and ultimately this blend together. The world of whiskey offers us no shortage of tall tales to sort through, and the parallel there certainly brought a wry smile to my face.
There’s something to be said here about the competing layers of opacity and transparency; we aren’t indulged with a source for either of the bourbons beyond them being “distilled in Bardstown,” but we are informed that it is finished and bottled by Manifest Distilling in Jacksonville, Florida. I also found it amusing that this blend primarily features a “modern classic” of sorts: four-year-old Kentucky bourbon, blended with a bit of true “vintage” fifteen-year-old Kentucky bourbon.
I imagine the inspiration Blake was drawing from for this release was centered on the finishing casks, but I couldn’t help but appreciate these unintended similarities as well. Even the fact that he’s utilized a well-known name to build his own reputation stands as a sly wrinkle spiritually uniting the three Seelbachs.
But enough about these abstract notions and let’s get down to the brass tacks. Seelbach’s Private Reserve Finished Bourbon Batch 003 comes in at 116.44 proof (58.2% ABV) and is sold via Seelbachs.com for $139.99. The mash bill for the 4 year bourbon in this blend is 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley while the mash bill of the 15 year bourbon is undisclosed.
Finally, it needs to be noted that though I will be scoring this bourbon as though I paid $140 for it, this was provided to me at no cost by the Seelbach’s team. I thank them for the opportunity, but that doesn’t mean the truth about how it tastes will be hidden below! Read onward for my unvarnished opinion of this twice finished bourbon…
Seelbach’s Private Reserve Finished Bourbon Batch 003 – Review
Color: Soft amber with a hint of orange.
On the nose: It immediately carries the implication of blood orange oleo-saccharum, combining a sugary quality with effervescent citrus notes. However, the fruit-forward qualities don’t end there as I also picked up underripe mango and a whiff of strawberry hard candy which I found intriguing. Joining those aromas, I find brown sugar and spices like cinnamon, allspice, and clove which keep the sweetness in check along with some earthy almond notes for additional balance. It’s not overly expressive in any one way but does make for an inviting medley that skews toward the lighter scents.
In the mouth: The mouthfeel is light and lively, beginning with a rambunctious rush of Triple Sec notes down the middle of the tongue. It then becomes chewy around the edge of the palate where the strawberry hard candy note finds its footing. At midpalate the earthiness briefly supplants the citrus notes as tobacco leaf and almonds curb the prominence of that initial oleo-saccharum sweetness. The earthiness quickly passes, however, making a return to the effervescent texture that initiated this whole affair. As it transitions to the finish a bit of dried cherry and plum skin develops in lockstep with more almond-like nuttiness and a notable black pepper influence rounding out the experience with medium length.
The Private Reserve’s stated raison d’être is to “make the blends that no one asked for or even thought they wanted,” but I have to admit this blend certainly makes a ton of sense conceptually. On Seelbach’s sales page, Blake Riber explains that the entire process of creating this blend took about a year, and that level of meticulous attention to detail comes out in the final blend.
Comparing it to something like Penelope’s Rosé Cask finished bourbon: they both share the effervescent texture wrought by their respective sparkling wine finishes, but Seelbach’s Private Reserve Batch 3 contains more spice by a healthy margin – and more complexity as well – making it a delicious analog to the modern classic cocktail it was inspired by. I was really impressed with how this pour brings enough flavor and balance to the table to maintain your interest beyond the overtly sweet introduction.
That said, at $140 I’m dismayed because this is an eminently approachable sipper that deserves a place on 990 whiskey shelves (the total bottle count for this release), but I’m afraid that the cost will be of concern to price-conscious consumers. I’m very happy to have tried it free of charge, and I appreciate that there’s a not-insignificant amount of 15 year old bourbon in the blend, but I’m also inclined to dock it a point under Malt’s price-sensitive scoring rubric. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think I would want this bottle as much as I do, but it’s given me a reason to keep an eye out for future Seelbach’s Private Reserve releases.