When I think about the better bourbons I’ve tasted, I’ve realized they’re not the ones that have spent 20+ years aging in barrel.
In fact, when it comes to my preferred bourbons, the age is in the range of nine to 12 years old. I remind myself of this when a new bourbon with a few decades on it is unveiled to the world, and the clickity-clack of bourbon forum age debates start up again.
When I wrote about Balcones Mirador, I got to harp on my affection for whiskies that go light on the wood influence. This is something I’ve always wanted to see more of in the bourbon world. Which, I understand, goes against one of its most essential tenets: new oak barrels. Nonetheless, I would toss up ideas with other whiskey geeks about meeting aging minimums and re-racking, and many theories and pitches would spiral out from there.
Then I started seeing and tasting some light whiskies, a category which seems to be defined as a whiskey distilled between 160 and 190 proof and aged in used or un-charred new oak barrels. This was not quite what past Sam had in mind, but perhaps the beginning of something close to it. However, like any jaded whiskey drinker, I was suspicious of what the ultimate purpose of this whiskey would be.
Was this an attempt to achieve a new style in the American whiskey stable? Create a new component to add to a Bourbon maker’s list of possible ingredients? Or would it be just another way to make filler whiskey? The answer is likely not so binary. In fact, we may find the answer is yes to all three of these questions.
That’s where today’s tipple comes into play: Joseph A. Magnus Murray (yes the name is still going) Hill Club Bourbon Blend. To take directly from
their website: “Artfully marries 18 and 11-year-old bourbon with 9-year-old light whiskey…”
If you want to read up on the brand, feel free to click the “Our Story” link on their website. It weaves together a personal history of Magnus, along with a plethora of vintage ads. Honeyed words and American whiskey nostalgia aside, this blend appealed to me on paper. The idea of taking some strongly flavored older bourbon and complementing it with lighter flavored stock seemed to be, potentially, a good one.
Of course, what isn’t mentioned is the percentage of each stock that goes into making the final blend. Much like Compass Box’s jibe at age statement regulations with their three-year-old deluxe, which had less than 1% of three-year-old whisky but had to be labeled as such. This blend could be chock full of light whiskey and lightly garnished with the older bourbons.
But before I start judging the whiskey too harshly, let’s try it.
Jos. A. Magnus Murray Hill Club Bourbon Blend Batch #21 – Review
Bottled at 103 Proof (51.5% ABV).
On the nose: Initially, it is quite hot, and in my opinion, hotter than a 51% ABV should be. However, with time and a few waves of the hand, there are notes of caramelized nuts, dried fruits, saw dust, and powdered peanuts.
In the mouth: Up front, there’s ripe red apples, juicy cherries, and some nuttiness. This initial burst of flavor is really pleasing. It is very reminiscent (to me) of Russell’s Reserve from Wild Turkey. On the mid-palate, the heat spikes again, but there is a nice note of dried caramel. The finish follows quickly with mild spices and brown butter.
This has a lot of initial impact. The big fruit notes and wallop of alcohol are what stand out the most. That said, there isn’t much after that. A whiskey doesn’t necessarily need secondary or tertiary flavors to be great, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some depth from whiskey that is 10+ years old. There are traces of older whiskey flavors in this, but without much staying power.
The youthful fruit flavors are great, and make for a nice contrast with the more sugary caramel notes. As I said before, it makes me think of Russell’s Reserve. This is where the consumer in me chimes in:
“Is it vastly superior to Russell’s?”
“Then why would we get this?”
When I look at the prices for the Murray Hill Club bourbon blend, it’s hard to dodge that point. While it was nice to see that the Magnus isn’t too hard to get online, the prices make it a discouraging proposition, as they seem to range from $90 to $140.
This bourbon blend does have some maturity that younger (and cheaper) whiskies like Russell’s don’t, however, that difference doesn’t necessarily make for a better overall experience.
The bourbon blend is good. And in a situation where you get a free pour, I think most people would enjoy it. But to ask $100+ for a bottle of it, in a category flush with inexpensive but just as good alternatives, makes it a lousy value. Older whiskey is more expensive to make, but if it doesn’t make for something better, what are we paying for?
I don’t know what will become of light whiskey. Like most things in whiskey, more time needs to pass before we can really see the use and shape of it. I know I haven’t tried nearly enough to have an informed opinion. That said, this whiskey brings me one taste closer.