Let’s head back up to Wisconsin, shall we?
When I first started my virtual tour of the Midwestern craft distilling landscape, I was most impressed by the whiskies coming out of the northern neighbor to my home state of Illinois. Given the (sometimes not-so-) friendly enmity between us and the cheeseheads, it pained me to have to give top marks to their whiskies. However, the high quality of offerings from the likes of 45th Parallel and Driftless Glen set them apart from the… “less inspired” output of other craft distillers in this region.
Among the bunch, J. Henry & Sons stood out as offering something different – given their focus on heirloom corn – relative to others. I liked my first taste of their Small Batch bourbon, and an impulse purchase of a five year old Patton Road store pick cemented my positive impression of the Henry family’s wares.
It’s been a long four years since my first taste of J. Henry & Sons bourbon. My beloved Chicago Bears bested their Wisconsin rivals in the first meeting after my initial review; Da Bears have lost in each of the subsequent eight games. The message is clear: I can help the Monsters of the Midway by reviewing more Wisconsin whiskey. With the hope of improved results going forward (aided by the departure of you-know-who), I’ll once again be considering a J. Henry & Sons bourbon today.
I’m also keeping with my recently rekindled interest in checking back in with craft distilleries subsequent to trying their earlier offerings. Though the prior J. Henry & Sons’ whiskeys I tasted never seemed to want for longer in the barrel, one can’t help but get greedy. If four years is good and five years is better, then eight years must be the best, right?
That’s the hope, at least. Shortly, I’ll be tucking into an eight year old bourbon bottled under the family’s Patton Road Reserve label. What will I be looking for, in evaluating this whiskey? Additional flavor development and complexity, compared with the five-year-old expressions I have previously tried. Reviewing my notes from the previous bottles, I’ll be expecting that the youthful graininess of the Small Batch expression has subsided. I’ll also hope for a more prolonged finish than the five-year Patton Road Reserve store pick, which ended somewhat abruptly.
There’s a balancing act to achieve, however. Too much wood influence might risk overwhelming the lighter notes of fruit and sweetness that I found so appealing in each of those aforementioned expressions. I’ll be on high alert for any acrid, tannic, extracted, astringent bitterness.
If it sounds like I’m being demanding, I am, and this is partly due to the price. I can’t say firsthand, as this was a sample generously sent to me by Jacob. However, he recollects that he paid $82 for his bottle, though he recollects that retail price on release was $100. I’ll split the difference (roughly) and use $90 as my basis for evaluation on Malt’s price-sensitive scoring framework.
As repeat readers will know, I am sensitive to the fact that craft distilleries – particularly ones looking to use novel grains or other unconventional approaches to production – suffer diseconomies of scale in comparison to their larger, established competitors. However, $90 is toward the higher end of the price range for bourbon, whether we’re talking about Kentucky or elsewhere. That’s why I am laying out my strenuous criteria in advance.
Last specifics, before I dive in: this is from barrel #227, coming to us at 119.5 proof (59.75% ABV).
J. Henry & Sons Patton Road Reserve 8 Year – Review
Color: Medium-dark golden orange.
On the nose: Powerful and dense aromas of cherries, stone, tarragon, menthol, roasted pork, almonds, and polished wood. This leans into a spiciness that, looking back on my tasting notes from prior J. Henry whiskies, seems more pronounced. In certain respects, this noses more like a rye whiskey than a bourbon. That said, I think it still smells like it has enough body to not be completely overwhelmed by the wood. Let’s see if I’m correct?
In the mouth: Indeed, the first impression here is a tart and fruity note of cherries. I’m reminded of family road trips to Door County, and stopping frequently at roadside farmstands for all manner of cherry-derived goodies. This takes a spicy turn incorporating cinnamon and chili powder as the whiskey moves into the center of the mouth. There’s a very slightly bitter woodiness at midpalate as a lone misstep, though this quickly dissipates. The finish starts with a creamy vanilla oakiness on the back of the tongue, which transitions gradually into a more stern mineralic note of limestone. This leaves a gentle, elegant, and very pleasant aftertaste of cherries that lingers well beyond the final sip.
I want to start off by saying that this is very good bourbon. Diverse notes, expressed with confidence; mostly well-balanced throughout the nose and mouth. The extra time in the barrel does, indeed, seem to have dissipated the youthful corny notes while adding extra dimensions of aromatic and flavor development, with a particular tilt toward more spicy and savory notes.
However, there are points (particularly in the middle of the mouth) where this feels unbalanced toward the barrel, with the bitterly woody notes detracting from what is overall a pleasant experience.
Balancing the attributes versus the drawbacks, and considering the price, I feel like this deserved a score a notch above the middle of the range, but not higher.
Don’t let this dissurade you from trying J. Henry & Sons bourbons, though. They remain one of the most interesting craft producers out there, and you can access their whiskey for far less than this bottle cost. As before, I’ll continue to be curious about where time takes the Henry family, as well as the rest of the better craft whiskey producers dotting the landscape.
I tried their small batch a few years ago when it still carried the 5yr age statement and really liked it. Pulled the trigger on the 2019 anniversary blend and didn’t care for it at all; my least favorite whiskey to date. Small batch now carries a 4yr age on it, so hopefully the quality hasn’t diminished. Demand probably outpaces supply when 1) it’s good stuff; 2) the distillery that does the contract distilling is also small and still has to pump out their own quality product.
Thanks for the review Taylor, it’s nice to read about the local stuff.