When I’m in the liquor store, I often find myself drawn towards the brands that I’ve never heard of. Black Eagle is just one of those brands, and it seems like I’m in good company — the internet hasn’t really heard of it either. Naturally, I needed to bring it home and give it a try.
This whiskey is a “white label” brand produced by the United States Distilled Products Co. for Total Wine. Founded in 1981, USDP is a bottling company that imports and sources spirits from other distilleries, creates its own brands, and sells them primarily in the midwest United States.
So, okay – we know this is a version of bourbon bottled and branded specifically for Total Wine. But the question of the day: where does the “Black Eagle” name come from? The most prominent reference if you search this phrase on Google is the Order of the Black Eagle, which was the highest honor in the Kingdom of Prussia, established in 1701. Alternatively, it’s also the title of one of my favorite B movies Order of the Black Eagle (a Duncan Jax adventure where a baboon butler in a tuxedo shoots Nazis while driving a miniature tank around the woods).
While I swear I didn’t pick this whiskey solely for the purpose of referencing an obscure and hilariously bad movie, I’m not mad about it. And since there’s no official narrative or explanation from the distiller, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The whiskey we see coming out of USDP doesn’t really come with a lot of information.
In this case, the packaging says that this whiskey was “produced and bottled by” the company in question — but that doesn’t actually reveal much. USDP doesn’t claim to have any distilleries that it actually owns, so it is more likely that this was produced under contract in some undisclosed location.
What we do know is that this is a bourbon, which is a legally defined type of spirit. At a minimum, the whiskey needs to be 51% corn (the rest is left up to the distiller’s imagination) and aged in charred new oak barrels. Beyond that, we don’t get a lot of information from the bottle. There’s no mention of grain bill, aging, or really anything else that would help us understand what is in here.
The packaging isn’t terrible, and that’s one thing I’ll give USDP credit for. Whoever they use for product design should get a raise, because it might be the best aspect of their spirits.
Overall, the bottle sports a long square body with a gently rounded shoulder, a medium length neck with a pronounced bulge in the middle, and a metal screw on cap. It’s not the most groundbreaking design, but it does the job admirably. In fact, I’m fairly certain this is the exact same bottle Hayes Parker bourbon uses (which isn’t said to be negative – we liked this design then and we like it now).
The label is rocking a nice clean style: an aged-ish looking piece of paper slathered with black ink and the lettering coming out in the negative space where the ink was withheld. The font is bold and modern, and it looks very much like any of the cool hipster brands coming on the market.
Overall, nicely done.
There’s a surprising amount of fruit in the aroma coming off this glass. Especially for a bourbon. In bourbon, I always expect some brown sugar and vanilla, which is absolutely in there; but there’s also… strawberry? Cherry? Something light and sweet, which I didn’t expect.
The unfortunate thing is that I really don’t get the same experience from the flavor. It tastes pretty much exactly like oatmeal with a healthy heap of brown sugar and a dash of vanilla. There’s a lot of raw grain flavor with the traditional bourbon notes mixed in, and a bit of baking spices as the flavor develops.
There’s a touch of bitterness on the finish, but the primary things that linger are the brown sugar sweetness and the splash of vanilla. There’s a bit of peppery spice which might come from some rye content, but the lack of any sort of published grain bill makes that difficult to confirm.
Well, this is a bit strange.
Usually, ice has a tendency to improve a spirit. It typically reduces bitterness, tones down loud and obnoxious flavors, and helps things mellow out.
In this case, though, the whiskey actually gets more bitter with the addition of a bit of ice. It’s not just in the finish anymore (although it is significantly enhanced in that department). It slides into the picture early and disrupts things pretty quickly.
The fact that the rest of the flavors are diluted by the ice doesn’t help it’s case any, either. Like a faded painting, there’s just a hint of that brown sugar and vanilla remaining.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The problem here is that there really isn’t anything for the bitters to work with. Once the ice is in the picture, there isn’t enough flavor to make a difference, and what you’re left with is the equivalent of a vodka with some bitters in it and a stick of oak as garnish. Not an exciting cocktail to say the least.
You’re going to want to make sure to add a good bit of sugar, by the way. The natural bitterness isn’t helped by the addition of yet more bitterness in the bitter bitters.
Continuing the trend of boring blandness, this is really just a Moscow Mule.
In a good version of this cocktail, the whiskey should bring something unique to the table that I don’t get in a vodka. Specifically, I’m looking for the flavors in the whiskey to interact with the ginger beer to balance it out, and to bring something unique like a black pepper kick that I can’t get elsewhere. In this case, though, it does neither.
It’s fine — it isn’t patently offensive — but it just doesn’t bring anything to the party.
In my line of work, the worst thing that a whiskey can do is be absolutely boring. I love when a whiskey is good, and I love to hate on a whiskey when it’s truly bad… but a boring, bland, uninteresting whiskey with some mildly off-putting aspects doesn’t even make for a good review.
That’s what you get in this case. There are some pretty good aromas up front — but a lingering bitterness in some preparations, combined with a lackluster performance of the flavors makes this a bourbon that leaves me happy to spend a couple extra dollars on Evan Williams.
|Black Eagle Bourbon Whiskey
Minnesota, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $10.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
Does not live up to the “monkey in a tuxedo driving a tank” level of entertainment promised (in my mind) by the label.