There are distilleries whose entire business model is never being seen. (For example, Indiana-based MGP: a distillery that produces spirits for many of the labels you see on the shelves, but you’ll never see them credited on the bottle.) Bardstown Bourbon Company started out as one of those distilleries, making stuff for resale under other people’s names, but they recently started putting out some interesting blends and experiments under their own mark as well.
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, stepping into the spirits industry in 2016 when he decided to found the Bardstown Bourbon Company 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 others. As mentioned, they also have started shipping their own self-branded line of spirits and selling them under their own name, which is what we have to review today.
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 two primary lines of spirits that the Bardstown Bourbon Company produces on its own label: the Fusion series and the Discovery series. What we are reviewing today is the Fusion Series #5 blend, which is a combination of three different strains of Kentucky bourbon — only two of which were produced at the Bardstown Bourbon Company facility.
In all of these cases, the whiskey starts as a combination of different grains in what’s called a “mash bill”. The grains are cooked, fermented, and then distilled (usually in a column still or continuous still) to produce a raw whiskey. That raw whiskey is then placed into charred new oak barrels for a period of time before being blended together and bottled.
Normally, we don’t really get to know the grain bill or the proportion of which strains of whiskey are added to the bottle. In this case, however, they helpfully print that information right on the label in a level of transparency that is frankly refreshing.
|Bardstown Bourbon Company
12% Malted Barley
|Bardstown Bourbon Company
4% Malted Barley
|Unlisted Kentucky distiller
12% Malted Barley
The only thing that isn’t fully transparent is where that bottom 30% proportion of whiskey is sourced. It’s from somewhere in Kentucky and eleven years old, the information about it is slightly limited compared to the other two whiskeys.
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 very 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 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.
There’s a distinct aroma of butterscotch coming off the glass — lots of caramel, a hint of vanilla, and a good bit of sugary sweetness. Behind that is a bit of orange zest, some raw corn, and a bit of charred oak in the background.
Taking a sip, that charred oak becomes the first flavor you taste and that smoky charred component colors the rest of the flavor profile. After a beat, some caramel and brown sugar start to appear, followed by a bit of vanilla and cherry (all solid barrel aging flavors). At times, that cherry combined with the charred oak almost gets into that medicinal cherry flavor, but it stops short of crossing the line. From there, the cherry morphs into more of a orange zest kind of vibe, and then on the finish that high rye content in the mash bill adds some black pepper spice that lingers into the finish with the charred oak and cherry.
Bourbon is one of those spirits where the addition of some ice cubes isn’t an offense against the liquor — heck, Pappy Van Winkle himself drank his own stuff on the rocks with a twist of lemon. And in this case, I think the addition of the ice turns this from a challenging flavor profile into a delightful sipping spirit.
The biggest change here is that the dark charred oak flavor is significantly scaled back. It’s still there, but more like a background player adding character than the primary component it was. Front and center now is the caramel combined with a bit of orange zest, almost making this seem like an old fashioned cocktail before we even add the bitters. There’s also a bit of black pepper spice in there and a hint of apple fruit adding some interesting characteristics.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I like a darker and richer version of an old fashioned, and I think this is pulling it off nicely.
The aromatics in the bitters are exactly what the spirit needed to add some light herbal notes and round out the flavor profile, but there’s still enough depth in the charred oak and brown sugar to keep this a smoky and delicious cocktail. Even the little bit of orange zest we’ve seen before kicks in and compliments the rest of the flavors nicely.
This absolutely hits the nail on the head for an ideal, standard Kentucky Mule. The sweetness from the corn and the caramel flavors in the spirit balances nicely with the ginger beer to produce a good, sippable cocktail — and there’s even a bit of that charred oak flavor that adds some depth and complexity to the flavor profile that you don’t get with other spirits. It does well, and I’d happily drink this any day.
I will note, I am a little bit disappointed that the rye content doesn’t seem to make that big of an appearance. I’m not getting the distinct black pepper spice that I usually see with high rye content bourbons, but that might just be a factor of the longer aging mellowing it out. Either way, it’s still eminently drinkable.
Taken neat, some of the flavors are a bit overwhelming, and I think that’s primarily due to the 11 year aged stock that’s in here. In my opinion, that’s where this spirit picks up a lot of the deeply charred aspects, and there just isn’t enough attenuation from the younger components to properly balance it.
But all of that concern disappears the second you add some ice or use it in a cocktail. In those applications. this is a delicious example of a good bourbon, and one that adds some nice charred and smoky characteristics to whatever you put it in.
|Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Series #5 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Bardstown Bourbon CompanyProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47.45% ABV
Price: $60 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A well aged spirit with a lot of charred and smoky characteristics. It might be slightly overwhelming when taken neat, but is just about perfect in an old fashioned.