I recently visited bourbon country, and the highlight of the trip was a full day of whiskey tasting (with a reliable driver to keep the party in line). Our first stop was Bardstown Bourbon Company, a distillery I’ve seen on the shelves but had never pulled the trigger on picking up a bottle. We were booked on the Rickhouse Thieving tour, where after a brief tour through the distillery, we headed over to a glass front rickhouse to taste three samples directly from the barrel. Spoiler alert for this review: I was so enamored with the product, I decided to grab a bottle of their Collaboration Series to bring home.
Peter Loftin was a businessman who got his start in the telecommunications business, founding his first company in 1983 at the age of just 25 and growing it into a multi-million dollar success. In the following years, he became a serial entrepreneur, eventually stepping into the spirits industry in 2016 when he decided to found the Bardstown Bourbon Company. He was aiming to capitalize on bourbon’s explosion in popularity and provide a high-end source of spirits for brands who might not want to go to the trouble of building their own distillery.
The company was a huge success, and provides the spirit for brands such as Jefferson’s, High West, Belle Meade, and other private labels (some of which they do not disclose). They’ve recently bottled their first 6-year whiskey made entirely under their own brand, which is the Origin Series.
Bardstown is very transparent that most of their current product was distilled by someone else, and place a lot of emphasis on their blending as a differentiator that sets them apart. They have various “series” of bourbons, and these blends make up their Fusion, Discovery, and Collaboration series. The distillery believes that their blending process can make a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Located in Bardstown, KY, the distillery is a shining glass beacon to all bourbon lovers.
Peter Loftin sadly died in 2019 and the Bardstown Bourbon Company was sold to a private equity firm Pritzker Private Capital in March 2022.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There are four lines of spirits that the Bardstown Bourbon Company produces on its own label: the Fusion series, the Discovery series, the Origin series, and the Collaboration series. We are reviewing a Collaboration series today, but you can read Nick’s review of the Fusion Series #5 for a taste of that experience.
As mentioned, Bardstown is transparent about where the product was distilled, but not necessarily who distilled it. So transparent, in fact, that every bottle (at least the ones I’ve seen) have a chart that describes not only the mashbill, but also the blend ratios and source of the distillate. In the case of this Collaboration series with Goose Island Beer Company, none of this bourbon was distilled by Bardstown.
|56%||Kentucky||7 years||Corn 53% / Rye 26% / Malted Barley 21%|
|26%||Kentucky||6 years||Corn 53% / Rye 26% / Malted Barley 21%|
|18%||Kentucky||9 years||Corn 78% / Rye 13% / Malted Barley 9%|
This does not mean that Bardstown is not busy distilling their own product. During the tour, all eight of their fermentation tanks were full and active. Time is the most expensive part of any whiskey, and they continue to invest in their own product.
One of the interesting things about the ‘blending focused’ approach that Bardstown takes is that they purposely do not rotate their barrels in their rickhouses. A barrel that is aged for six years spends the entire time in the same rickhouse in the same space. One of the most important elements of imbuing flavor into whiskey while it’s aging is temperature change — the extreme high and low temperature changes help to move the whiskey into and out of the porous wood. So leaving barrels alone during their aging means that barrels at the top of the rickhouse (a seven-story flight) will experience higher temps and those at the bottom will stay cooler. This gives the blenders at Bardstown a large variety of flavors to work with.
In the case of this collaboration series, a blend of six- and seven-year-old Kentucky bourbon is subsequently aged for 12-months in a barrel that was used to create Goose Island’s Bourbon County stout. After that finishing, it is finally blended with a nine-year Kentucky bourbon.
What we have here is a fairly modern take on a bourbon bottle. It’s got all the same parts, but there’s some interesting geometry going on that makes it stand out.
Most prominent is the design of the body of the bottle, which has a square cross section with rounded sides and edges. It almost looks like a slightly melted ice cube. The sides of the bottle aren’t exactly straight though — they flare slightly from the base to the shoulder. At the top there’s a short, stubby neck and at the bottom there’s a nice thick glass base that should help it light up nicely on an under-lit bar shelf.
The element that makes this bottle striking is the etching of the Goose Island Barrel House logo in the back of the bottle. It creates a great visual as you view it from front of the bottle through the bourbon.
The labeling here is clean, understated, and really lets the color of the bourbon inside shine through nicely. The primary label is made from this textured paper and has a very simple, clean logo on it with the minimum information required. It’s a well-executed, modern take on a bourbon label and I really appreciate the aesthetics of it.
This is a strikingly dark bourbon — almost like pouring yourself a cup of black tea. There’s still some orange around the edges and especially in the refraction of light through the bottle, but there’s no doubt that this is one of the darker offerings that they have from this distillery.
Coming off that glass are some of the aromas that you would normally find in bourbon: sweet caramel, toffee, and mild vanilla — but that stout beer barrel maturation period seems to have had a significant impact, adding notes of coffee, chocolate, and dark malt that are familiar with any stout beer.
This bourbon is incredibly smooth, and the flavors are rich and deeply delicious. The immediate flavor that comes to mind as soon as I take a sip is dark chocolate, which is closely followed with some roasted malt. As the flavor develops, I can start detecting some coffee and caramel as well, but there’s also some dried raisins that join the party and add some much needed fruity and sweet flavors to balance out the darker notes.
Towards the end of the experience there’s some dark cherry that gets added to the mix, helping those dried raisins balance the spirit further, along with a lingering oaky flavor that adds a complex spiciness and a subtle warmth.
When enjoyed on the rocks, this bourbon undergoes a delicious transformation. As you might expect, the ice has the effect of mellowing out some of the harsher depths of the dark chocolate and coffee that might be a little much for those who haven’t killed off 90% of their taste buds by deciding to do a stupid thing like review whiskey for a (partial) living.
In this version, the cherry and fruit notes are more pronounced and slightly tangy but still nicely balanced with the chocolate and vanilla components. There’s also enough of the spicy oak flavors to keep things interesting, and the end result is something that feels like sipping a boozy dessert reminiscent of crème brûlée.
Some spirits have a tendency to become boring on ice, but this is one example where the flavors are still vibrant and dynamic — even under the hardship of those added cubes.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The whole point of an old fashioned cocktail is to highlight and celebrate the flavors in the whiskey. It’s a distinctly boozy drink, and while a mediocre bourbon can be saved by the bitters, a truly great bourbon will thrive in this kind of environment. Thankfully I think we have a case of the latter.
In this version, the characters of the bourbon are distinctly present even with the other components that we’ve thrown in the glass, harmonizing with the bitters. What sets it apart is the subtle infusion of beer notes, providing an added layer of complexity. Just the slightest hint of stout undertones add an earthy richness that complements the drink’s overall profile. The finishing touch is a vibrant citrus note from the orange garnish, which brightens the palate, making this old fashioned a well-rounded and satisfying cocktail experience.
On the one hand, this isn’t something that I really enjoyed all that much. But it technically meets the criteria we’re looking for, and I want to give this bourbon some points for swinging for the fences with their flavors.
What we’re looking for here first and foremost is a bourbon where the flavors are clearly visible despite the overpowering mixers that go into the drink — lime juice and ginger beer. Lesser spirits basically get watered down to invisibility, but this passes the test and the richer and darker flavors of this spirit are clear and present in the cocktail.
That said, the bourbon’s flavors don’t pass the second test: complimenting well with the ginger beer. This doesn’t really synergize with that ginger, resulting in a cocktail that doesn’t truly shine. While it’s not terrible, it doesn’t reach the heights of a great mule. This is one space where I do not think the stout undertones help add to this spirit.
This bourbon is great neat, on the rocks, or in an old fashioned. It may not be a winner with some ginger beer, but that does not take away from the overall product.
None of the distillate was produced by Bardstown Bourbon Company, but that’s only a problem (in our opinion) if the distiller tries to hide that fact. Here, they celebrate their sourcing and blending — and the emphasize the blending as the origin of their magic. The blending of three bourbons — two of which are left to age in Goose Island Bourbon County stout barrels — creates a unique and complex bourbon that is worth every penny.
|Bardstown Bourbon Company Collaborative Series Goose Island Bourbon County|
Produced By: Bardstown Bourbon CompanyProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 6 Years
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $159.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 5/5
Bardstown provides more than just a label to this well aged spirt.