During the final leg of my recent Louisville trip, our crew embarked on a brisk 4-block stroll down Main Street to reach Angel’s Envy, marking our sixth distillery visit and fourth tour. By this point, we were damn near experts. That said, our newly garnered a wealth of bourbon knowledge was still lacking in one area: finishing. Which made it quite fitting that we finished our tour here.
Woodford Reserve. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Gentleman Jack. These are three well known whiskeys that were all developed by one man: Lincoln Henderson, the 40-year master distiller at the Brown-Forman Corporation.
Henderson retired in 2003 after an illustrious career, but he either became bored, or was not yet content with his contributions to the bourbon world because he opened Angel’s Envy only a few years later in 2006.
Angel’s Envy is often referred to as Henderson’s masterpiece, one that he was able to create with his son Wes. Founded as a small batch whiskey company, the focus was to take the traditional bourbon process and add additional flavor and complexity through a finishing process where bourbon is transferred to Portuguese port barrels to age just a little longer. Creating a new product was just as important as building his family legacy. A third Henderson, Wes’s son Kyle, also joined the company shortly after opening the doors.
Angel’s Envy launched its first product in 2011, five years after production started. Two years after that, the main street distillery opened in downtown Louisville. An immaculate distillery in a former elevator factory, some original rails and beams were even retained and feature prominently on the distillery floor.
Sadly, in 2013, shortly after the groundbreaking on the distillery, Lincoln Henderson passed away.
In 2015, Angel’s Envy was acquired by Bacardi Limited. Henderson’s son, Wes, served as the Chief Innovation Officer until 2022 when he stepped down to spend more time with family. However, Wes’ son Kyle still works at the distillery as the production manager.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The process to make Angel’s Envy reminds me a lot of the process used at Maker’s Mark. Not because they are both bourbon, but because they know who they are and they strive to do that really well. In this case, Angel’s Envy bourbon is all about their finishing process, which is what sets them apart.
The distillation process for Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey starts the same way all whiskey does as a mixture of grains. For this bottle, they use a very traditional mashbill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. Henderson wanted a time-honored flavor for the bourbon to create a better balance the flavors added from the finishing process.
The grain is mixed with water and cooked to create a mash, which eventually makes its way to a fermentation tank to convert all the sugars into alcohol. During the tour, the guide dipped a ladle into the tank and offered a small sample to anyone who wanted one. If you have never sampled distillers beer, just envision sipping a hunk of cornbread mixed with warm water. Yeah… it’s that good.
The resulting distillers beer is then moved to the two story column still named Cameron. This is the first distillation phase, separating the alcohol from the mash. A second stage distillation takes place in the much smaller doubler, named Lee. The names are an ode to one of the Henderson brothers, Cameron Lee, who passed away at a young age.
Normally, this would bring us to the final stage in the distillation process: barreling. Angel’s Envy does not have a rickhouse on site, so the new charred American Oak barrels are filled with distillate, loaded into a truck, and shipped offsite for four to six years.
Eventually, those barrels come back for the final step. The barrels are filtered and blended before they are added to 60-gallon barrels that used to contain ruby port wine sourced from Portugal. The bourbon will remain on site in those barrels for another three to six months, after which the bourbon is considered finished and is bottled.
The Angel’s Envy bottle is a rectangular peg in a world of round holes (but not literally). From the front, the bottle flares outward in a smooth curve for most of the height of the bottle. It has a sharp shoulder that terminates in a short neck. The bottle resembles a pair of angel wings, which is also printed on the back of the bottle. For those who are more devil than angel, though, you might see the shape as a coffin. The bottle’s profile can be best described as flat, which causes it to be slightly cumbersome to hold. It’s all topped with a synthetic cork.
All of the important information is printed directly on the bottle, not on a label — which means that golden brown whiskey is the star of the show.
It’s not my favorite bottle because it’s clumsy to pour from — but if the idea was to create a bottle as unique as the brand, they’ve hit the mark as it definitely stands out on a shelf.
My grandmother used to bake these amazing sugar cookies made with buttermilk. They were rich, buttery, and dusted with sugar. When we would eat one, I remember wrapping it loosely in a paper towel and putting it in the microwave for 15 seconds to heat it up a little bit. The scent of this bourbon reminds me of that cookie, with just a hint of apricot.
The flavors of the bourbon do not disappoint. The sugar cookie-esque flavors are still mildly present in the form of a buttery vanilla flavor. There is also a bouquet of dried fruit, that is reminiscent of port wine (dates, apricot, and blackberry). In that mix of flavors you can also pick out hints of bitter chocolate and almond.
Overall, this unique flavor profile works well. No flavor is overpowering, but I still would not call it balanced. I am slightly surprised that I enjoy this as much as I do, as it’s one of the sweeter bourbons I’ve had — and those are not normally my go-to.
Often times, when drinking a bourbon on the rocks you get a mellowing of the stronger flavors. In this case, in which there really aren’t any deep or particularly dark flavors, I was more interested than usual to see how things turned out.
Overall the flavors are much more subdued, and the sweetness is completely watered away. The flavor is now mostly mellow fruit — think sugar free fruit snacks, with a slightly sour finish. There’s none of the interesting complexity or supporting sweetness to help things along, and as a result the flavor is an almost complete transformation of the spirit.
As much as enjoyed this neat, I dislike it on the rocks. Especially the sour finish.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I often see Angel’s Envy on the list of great bourbons to use in an old fashioned, so I was hopeful that this would be a great cocktail. (Despite the oddly underwhelming experience I just had when I tried it on the rocks.)
The first thing I notice is that the bourbon is completely lost behind the angostura bitters. It’s completely out of balance. Just like it was on the rocks, there are some mellow fruit flavors faintly appearing… but that’s it. I’m not sure who compiled the list of great bourbons to use in an old fashioned, but they are wrong.
That said… I could see this being partially redeemed with some different bitters, something that would be complementary with the fruity port flavors. Maybe dark cherry and black walnut bitters, for example (but that is just a hypothesis – and in terms of our reviews, we stick to the standard angostura bitters).
I was not expecting this to make a good cocktail, but low and behold, this surprisingly works well. (Maybe the person who said Angel’s Envy makes for a great old fashioned just had one drink too many and got them mixed up).
The fruity notes go well with the ginger beer, and the sour finish seems to blend well with the lime. I tend to like a rye best in a Kentucky mule — something with some backbone to stand up to the vibrant ginger beer. This is not a bourbon with the heavy spice of a rye, but instead it’s the flavors from finishing in the port barrels that brings that oomph.
I love the story – a whiskey legend’s masterpiece that he turned into a family affair. I love the distillery — it’s a gorgeous urban distillery that is beaming with pride. That all said, it’s a great bourbon neat and a surprise all-star in a mule… but it is not great on the rocks and the old fashioned does not do it for me.
The 5% of spirit lost each year during barrel aging is called the “Angel’s Share.” After tasting our finished whiskey, Lincoln joked that we’d finally gotten a better deal than the angels. And so Angel’s Envy was born.
I’ve seen several variations of the naming story, and heard a slightly different one on the tour. It’s a fun play on the natural evaporation that happens during aging, but I am not sold that they are truly envious.
|Angel's Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43.3% ABV
Price: $46.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Some high notes, some low notes… not sure how envious the Angels are.