That’s the way Midwesterners say “no,” with the initial “yeah” added as a sort of softener, a verbal shorthand for “I see where you’re coming from, I understand your point, but unfortunately…”
This seeming oxymoron was what ran through my head when I saw a bottle of Yellowstone Limited Edition 2022 on the shelf of a local grocery store. A cask-finished bourbon at 101 proof is not the type of thing that has me tearing my wallet out of my trouser pockets anymore. It didn’t help that the bottle in question was marked up to roughly double SRP. I snapped a photo for Twitter and went on my merry way.
As chance would have it, a sample of the bourbon in question landed in my lap less than a week later. Was my initial skepticism, however phrased, warranted? Or will this be the type of sleeper hit that has me reconsidering my natural aversion to limited editions with unexciting specs and elevated SRPs? You’ll find out soon, but first: a few words about Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is the bourbon brand of the Limestone Branch distillery, which was introduced to the Malt audience by Adam back in 2018. Though the brand has its origins in the mid-late 1800s, it passed through a number of hands until being sold by then-owner Heaven Hill to the David Sherman Company (later Luxco) in 1993. Luxco maintained a relationship with Heaven Hill for contract distilling to support the brand.
In late 2014 Lucxo took a 50% ownership stake in the revitalized Limestone Branch distillery (which opened in 2012), with the distillery taking over distillation for Yellowstone in 2015. The 2021 acquisition of Luxco by MGP means that Yellowstone (or, at least a 50% stake in the Limestone Branch partnership) is now the property of Lawrenceburg, Indiana’s finest distiller.
With respect to the distilling going on at Limestone Branch, there’s actually a (pleasantly) surprising amount of information about the production process on the Limestone Branch site. The bourbon mash bill is 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. After a three-stage open cook, a 72 hour fermentation is undertaken, using a yeast strain reclaimed from a jug in the Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum in Bardstown. An initial distillation run in a 600 gallon pot still is followed by a second distillation in an alembic still, with a barrel entry “as close to 100 proof as possible.”
However, Limestone Branch’s own distillate for Yellowstone is a maximum of seven or eight years old at this point, meaning it is – at most – a component of the expression I’ll be tasting today. Per Limestone Branch’s own site for this expression this is a “blend of 7-year, 15-year and 16-year-aged bourbons, finished in Marsala Superiore casks.” I’d suspect that the 15-and-16-year-old components are likely older Heaven Hill stock that the company had on hand.
This is the reason that I initially looked askance at this bottle. From my Blood Oath review, you’ll recall that Luxco has a habit of dressing up sourced whiskey with a dubious finish and fancy packaging as a means of justifying an elevated selling price. In my experience, the value for money has been woeful.
But hey, you never know, right? I’m keeping an open mind, as always. Final specifics, before I jump in: bottled at 101 proof (50.5% ABV), this was released in a “limited edition” of 30,000 bottles. SRP is $100, though this was a sample generously provided by Jacob, who has my sincere thanks.
Yellowstone Limited Edition 2022 – Review
Color: Medium-dark rusty orange.
On the nose: Thick, oily, fruity sweetness jumps right out of the glass. There’s stewed orchard and stone fruit here, as well as a rich honeyed note. There’s also a faint and salutary whiff of gasoline, making the overall presentation similar to a very mature Auslese Riesling. Some time in the glass reveals more herbal scents of eucalyptus and camphor, as well as stone and dusty cherry notes suggestive of the better Wild Turkey bourbons.
In the mouth: Starts where the nose left off, with the pert flavor of limestone and some creamy sweetness on the tip of the tongue. This is carried up the tongue by an astringent woodiness that turns bitter, puckering the mouth. At midpalate, I get more of that creamy cherry note, balanced against a resurgence of the austere stoniness. Regrettably, this fades fast into and through the finish, where some of the sharper-edged notes meet with the bitter nuttiness of almonds. A fleeting flavor of brown sugar simple syrup is all there is to suggest the delicious sweetness that was on such abundant display on the nose.
A great start (aromatically) was followed by a real belly flop on the palate. If this had a body to match the plump and sweet fruitiness of the nose, then I might have actually been looking to acquire a bottle of this for SRP. As it turns out, unfortunately, the pleasures of the nose exist in only momentary form in the mouth. They’re crowded out by a wood influence that – whether it came from the original barrels or the finishing casks – gets pushed into uncomfortably astringent and bitter territory. In total, a disappointment.
How to score this? It’s below-average on its own merits, even taking the very appealing nose into account. There’s certainly no scarcity premium warranted, given the proliferation of finished bourbons at price points well below the SRP for this expression. In total, docking two points off of average feels most consistent with our house methodology.
Though “limited edition” is a word pair that should evoke skepticism in seasoned whiskey drinkers, they’re not all bad. Some distilleries and brands are better at justifying the greater financial outlay for these bottlings, while others consistently fall short. Until proven innocent, Luxco and its associated products will belong in this latter category. Unless you’re able to try before you buy, I’d encourage you to channel your inner Midwesterner with a polite but firm “Yeah, no…” when the temptation to splurge arises.
Lead image courtesy of Yellowstone/Limestone Branch.