Writing whiskey reviews, I’ve been feeling a bit like an archaeologist. There’s a clear distinction between the type of spirits that are popular today and the spirits that lined the shelves in times gone by. Ancient Age was once the cool newness, but now it represents a time capsule from bygone era (that, perhaps, we should leave in the past where it belongs).
Schenley Products Company was founded in New Jersey in the 1920s by Lewis Rosenstiel. He purchased three distilleries during the decade and became one of the biggest distilling companies in the United States, eventually headquartered in the Empire State Building. The Schenley Distillers Corporation was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary in 1933 in Delaware and quickly purchased the Squibb Distillery to continue and expand their operations.
During World War II, the company also had a controlling interest in a Canadian distillery which was producing Schenley Black Label, a Canadian whiskey that was the only spirit available to submarine officers in Midway during the war. The common nickname for the spirit of “Schenley’s Black Death” should be some indication of the quality.
The company was sold to Guinness in 1983, and the Sazerac company eventually came to own the Ancient Age brand. Today, the brand is produced by the Buffalo Trace distillery.
There’s not a whole lot going on here that’s going to surprise you.
Much like other bottom shelf spirits, this blended whiskey is more aptly described as “whiskey flavored grain spirits.” According to the package, there’s only 20% actual whiskey in the bottle (most likely sourced from factory second Buffalo Trace distillate) and the rest is made up of neutral grain spirits.
If you’ve seen one bottle you’ve seen them all. This is basically a wine bottle with a screw on plastic top and some labels.
There’s only one real label and it’s the front facing one, which has some information in cursive writing and red letters on a black background. The label claims that this was “carefully blended according to the finest old traditions”… but that doesn’t say much about whether the contents are any good. Living by the “finest old traditions” leads to cholera and polio, after all.
Similarly to Seagram’s 7 Crown (another blended whiskey), there’s a chemical alcohol smell that is present in the glass here. It’s not quite as severe as with that other brand, but it seems like that aroma is a hallmark for whiskies where the “whiskey” is a minor part player and grain alcohol is the real star of the show. That alcohol smell is slightly behind some caramel and vanilla notes that are subtle and understated.
As for the flavor, there really isn’t anything there. This stays true to the typical profile of cheap blended whiskeys, as the majority of this spirit is just medicinal alcohol flavor with a teeny tiny bit of pleasantness. Like a single splash of Tabasco sauce in a sea of ranch dressing, it’s there but it’s barely noticeable.
There’s no flavor whatsoever. All you get is some alcohol and something I would almost describe as a malty smoothness that is somewhat unsettling in this context.
I’d almost say that this was a potato vodka with some caramel food coloring mixed in if I didn’t know better myself. There’s just no “there” there, if you know what I mean.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Oh my God! It’s suddenly amazing! There’s flavors pouring out from the glass that I never through were imaginable!
There’s two things that make for a bad cocktail. Either the spirit is patently offensive (like Fireball), or the spirit isn’t flavorful enough to balance the rest of the ingredients. In this case it’s a solid case of the latter, and there just isn’t enough flavor present to make a difference.
As with other less flavorful whiskeys, the whiskey gets completely lost behind the ginger beer. We use a mule specifically to find out if there’s any peppery spice or other bold flavors that can make themselves known through the ginger beer, and in this case that answer is a resounding “no.”
Once again, this is about as useful as putting vodka in your drink. It’s a Moscow mule, not a Kentucky mule.
The reason that I said this whiskey was a bit of a time capsule is that this used to be the norm. Whiskey trends ebb and flow, and much like how chardonnay was once queen of the white wines, the blended whiskey was once king of the bar. The relatively smooth taste and cheap price tag made it popular back in its heyday, but that lack of authenticity nearly killed the entire whiskey industry until the craft spirits and single barrel bottlings saved the day. Spirits like this one are why blended whiskey is still frowned upon in the United States.
I’ve had whiskey that is actively offensive, and this isn’t it. This isn’t as bad as Seagram’s 7 or (god forbid) Fireball, but instead this is offensive to my wallet. I’m not getting anything enjoyable out of the spirit that would justify the “whiskey” appellation, and as a result I feel somewhat cheated. Even at $6 a bottle.
Ancient Age Preferred Blended Whiskey
Owner: Sazerac Co. (Buffalo Trace)
Production: Frankfort, KY
Classification: Blended whiskey
Grain bill: Unknown
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $6/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
I don’t feel like I’m getting my $6 worth, and that’s a low bar.