Whiskey Review: Black Button Pre-Prohibition Style Straight Bourbon Whiskey

While I might live in Texas, I was born and raised in New York. And the more I look into the craft distilleries of NY, the more I find interesting gems scattered across different corners of the state. Today’s bourbon comes from a Rochester based distillery, a city on the shores of Lake Ontario which I can confidently say I’ve never even visited. But today, a little piece of Rochester is coming to visit me in here in Texas.


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History

Jason Barret grew up in Rochester, New York and spent his youth helping out his family in their button manufacturing factory. While he wanted to take over and work the family business, there was one problem: he was colorblind. The only buttons he could reliably work on were the black ones.

Instead, Jason decided to strike out on his own. He graduated with a degree in political science and moved to Washington, D.C., where he briefly worked in politics before transitioning into the business world as a cardboard box salesman and earning his MBA. He started hanging out in the craft brewing scene in D.C. and soon had the opportunity to purchase a brewery in North Carolina. which he dreamed of turning into a distillery. That specific business didn’t work out, but it gave him enough experience to move back home to Rochester and open his own new facility.

Jason literally sold his house to invest the cash into what would become Black Button Distilling, the first new distillery in Rochester since prohibition. The business was founded in 2012 and remains a family owned business.

Product

Black Button Distilling takes advantage of the farm distilling laws in New York State, which means that the vast majority of the raw materials for this whiskey come from local farms in the state of New York.

According to some reports, what makes a whiskey “pre-prohibition style” is usually a higher proportion of rye in the raw materials, a higher barrel entry proof, and a higher proof in the bottle. For this release, Black Button starts with a grain bill of 80% corn, 10% rye, and 10% malted barley. Those grains are cooked, fermented, and batch distilled in their hybrid pot & column still before being placed into charred new oak barrels to age.

This bourbon reportedly stays in the barrels for a full four years prior to bottling, but that doesn’t seem to be reflected on the label. It’s also bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV), which is slightly elevated compared to other similar spirits.

Black Button has more details about the spirit on their blog post here.

Packaging

The bottle itself here isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It’s a standard design for bourbon bottles: a cylindrical body (that flares slightly from base to shoulder), a rounded shoulder, and a medium length neck with a bulge in the middle for easy pouring. The bottle is capped off with a plastic stopper.

Where this really shines is the label. The text and adornments are painted onto the glass bottle, leaving the majority of the area transparent and allowing some of that beautiful brown liquid to shine through. The font and design is fantastic, really embracing that early 1900’s vibe with the font and style with a more colorful modern twist. I really appreciate when a distillery showcases the product inside without sacrificing on label aesthetic — and this is pulling off that balance perfectly.

Neat

I love the color on this spirit. It’s this beautiful deep rust color that looks great in a glass. The clearest aroma I get coming off the glass is actually cedar wood, with some sawdust. The other components are much more muted in comparison, with a bit of toffee, vanilla, brown sugar, and leather thrown in for good measure.

That cedar note actually carries over into the flavor as well, providing an interesting herbal and almost aromatic component to the whiskey. After that, you get a lot of the flavors traditional in a high rye content bourbon: brown sugar, vanilla, toffee, caramel, baking spices, and closer to the finish there’s some black pepper spice added in. There’s a nice, dark richness to the flavor profile here — which hopefully bodes well for the cocktails to come.

On Ice

I was expecting the cedar flavor to be completely wiped out by the ice but, while it’s definitely much more muted, it’s still hanging on.

The most prominent thing in here now is that darker, richer flavor — almost like a dark chocolate with some baking spices and black pepper. That’s what you get first, before it develops into more of a vanilla and caramel toffee and the cedar aromatics kick back in. On the finish, I get a touch of fruit — specifically, apple (which I usually associate with a good bit of rye content).

It certainly tastes more like a rich rye than a bourbon at this point, and I’m not mad about it at all.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This is delicious. Not that this was surprising, given what we saw neat and on ice.

On ice, this was a darker and richer take on bourbon that had a bunch of interesting flavors going on. Adding some angostura bitters to that spirit, though, adds some herbal aspects and complexity that elevates the spirit and makes for a well balanced cocktail. I think even that cedar in the flavor profile works well here, adding a unique note and almost a minty coolness that you don’t always find in an Old Fashioned.

Fizz (Mule)

The one constant throughout this test was that the cedar note in this bourbon has been a unique and interesting component. Unfortunately, though, once we added the ginger beer that cedar pretty much drops out of the running.

This is still a really good Kentucky Mule. The caramel and vanilla in the bourbon balances out the bitterness of the ginger beer, and the richness of that dark chocolate flavor provides some much needed depth and complexity. And to top it off, the black pepper spice comes in at the end and gives it that little bit of kick that it needs.

All of that praise aside, I keep finding myself wondering “what if” — what if that cedar note had stuck around? I have a feeling it would have added a truly unique herbal note that would have taken this Kentucky Mule from good to great.


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Overall Rating

I like what they’re doing here with this bourbon. It’s an interesting twist on the category, pulling out some different flavors compared to what we usually see and doing it all with locally grown New York state grains. I would have liked to see that cedar note a little bit more prominently in the cocktails — but I do understand that, if that were the case, it probably would have been too overpowering when taken neat. As is, this is just the right level to be interesting and enjoyable.

Black Button Pre-Prohibition Style Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Black Button
Production Location: New York, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $?????
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
This is a delicious, approachable bourbon that has some interesting characteristics and works really well no matter how you take it.


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