Whiskey Review: Black Ridge Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Considering I’ve been reviewing whiskey for years now, the number of whiskey brands I don’t recognize is becoming a diminishingly small number. However, I recently came across Black Ridge Bourbon and, by virtue of its mystery, knew it definitely warranted a trial.

History

Thomas S. Moore was born in 1853, and his family moved shortly thereafter to Bardstown, Kentucky. He later dropped out of school at the age of 11 to start working to support his mother and his sisters, after his father Charles died suddenly. One of his sisters eventually married Charles Willett, whose wealthy family had made a fortune in the distilling business.

At the age of 22, Tom married Jennie Collings and went to work for his in-laws, the Willetts, at their distilleries. There he met a co-worker Ben Mattingly, who would go on to marry one into the Willett family as well. The two became fast friends and colleagues, and in 1876 John Willett (head of the family and head of the company) handed Ben and Tom ownership of one of their distilleries south of Bardstown to operate under the name “Mattingly and Moore.”

Mattingly would rather quickly sell his shares in the new company to a group of investors, but Moore would stay on for eight more years until, in 1899, he purchased around 100 acres of land directly adjacent to the old distillery and constructed a new facility in his own name. The old Mattingly and Moore distillery company kept operating until 1916, when it went bankrupt. Moore swooped in to purchase the assets, tearing down the buildings and constructing new facilities.

The Tom Moore distillery produced 10 barrels of whiskey per day in its time and was quite profitable until it was closed down by prohibition in 1920. Tom retired at that point, but he lived long enough to see prohibition repealed and his son take over the old distillery, bringing it back online and restarting production.

The distillery was sold in 1944 to a Chicago liquor merchant named Oscar Getz who changed the name to the Barton Distillery, a name he reportedly picked out of a hat. Under his ownership, the distillery produced some notable brands such as Kentucky Gentleman, Tom Moore, and Kentucky Tavern among others.

Over the years, the company expanded to include a large number of brands and varieties of spirits — more than were just produced at that single distillery. But when they sold their Canadian whiskey venture in the 1970s, things came crashing down quickly, with more expenses than revenue and unable to pay their bills. The brand was sold to a number of owners, eventually ending with the Sazerac Company where it remains today.

Black Ridge is a brand of whiskey produced by Barton Brands for Sazerac.

Product

The origins of this whiskey are a bit murky, with the label only going as far as saying the contents are bottled by the Clear Springs Distilling Co. Rumor has it that this bourbon is produced by Buffalo Trace on contract for Barton, who then re-labels it for Black Ridge. But unfortunately, we could neither confirm nor dispel that rumor.

As for the actual contents of the bottle, the only hints we have about what’s in here come from the legal definition of the words on the label:

Since its labeled as a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, we know for sure that the grain bill that went into this spirit was at least 51% corn for a bourbon, and that after distillation the whiskey was aged a minimum of two years in charred new oak barrels to be considered “straight.” We also know that the whole process took place in Kentucky.

But that’s all we know. What else is in here? Was it aged beyond the two year minimum? Are there any coloring or additions mixed in? All questions we can’t answer.

Packaging

On first glance, the bottle is actually pretty cool in a retro old-school style kind of way. It reminds me of Belle Meade, a modern incarnation of a historic whiskey with the same focus on horseracing. But while that bottle design is interesting, this one is about as exciting as a trip to the dentist. One standard unit of bottle, with straight cylindrical walls, gently sloping shoulder, and medium length neck. The whole thing is capped off with a plastic and cork stopper.

As I mentioned, the label has the same ode to horseracing theme, but the horse pictured isn’t specified. The color palette is the same though, with a yellowed label, black text, and shiny gold metallic outlines and embellishment.

It isn’t terrible, but it fails to capture the historic details and instead winds up just looking cheap.

Neat

Well, it certainly smells like a bourbon. There’s the sweet aromas of caramel and vanilla coming off the glass, just like a Werther’s Original caramel candy. But there’s also a bit of smoky charred oak coming through, adding some depth.

Taking a sip, I can definitely see the similarity to Buffalo Trace. The same flavor profile is present here — a good bit of toffee caramel flavors, a hint of vanilla, and a nice pepper spice to finish off the experience (that pepper seems to indicate a good healthy amount of rye in the grain bill). But I also get a bit of black licorice in the background, just hanging around and adding some complexity to the flavor. Not enough to ruin the party – I actually found it a good complimentary flavor – but if you truly hate black licorice, you may find this noticeable enough to be off-putting.

On Ice

It seems like the flavor profile here is keeping in lock step with the Buffalo Trace example. With a little bit of ice, things start to change — but all for the better. There are some new flavors poking their heads out thanks to the more prominent flavors being toned down by the ice. Specifically, a bit of fruit that wasn’t there before: I’m getting aspects of orange peel, apple, and maybe even a little black cherry mixed in.

Usually, ice has a pretty detrimental impact on an already sippable whiskey. But in this case, it only serves to highlight the good parts — and even brings out some new friends.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I’m usually a fan of the darker and richer flavor profiles when it comes to an old fashioned, but in this case the brighter and cheerful fruity notes work just as well. Those bright and vibrant flavors very nicely offset the richer aspects of the angostura bitters, and the sweetness in the spirit goes a long way towards counteracting the bitterness itself.

If anything, I’d almost say skip the orange peel garnish on this one. Just add a couple cocktail cherries and call it a day!

Fizz (Mule)

This actually works really well as a mule. It is a more light and vibrant Kentucky Mule than I’m used to, but it still works.

The citrus flavors and the sweetness go a long way towards mixing well with the ginger beer here. There’s a compounding effect that they have which makes it a sweeter and brighter drink in my opinion, but it never gets too cloying sweet or bright.

And as for the black pepper spice from that rye content, I think it adds a bit of a kick to the finish that gives this drink a little bit of a pick me up. Something unique and different that sets it apart from a vodka-based mule. Still, this sweeter, brighter version of the whiskey-based mule isn’t exactly new (and, in fact, continues to line up with the resemblance to Buffalo Trace), so I’m a bit bummed we haven’t seen any new tricks from this pony.

Overall Rating

It tastes like Buffalo Trace, it smells like Buffalo Trace, and it costs about as much as Buffalo Trace… but it isn’t labeled the same.

The contents of the bottle itself are not bad… but, generally speaking, not anything new or notable either. If there were a legitimate history to the brand and a unique story, I might be in for a rebottled Buffalo Trace whiskey. But in this case, I think I’ll stick to the original.

Black Ridge Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Black Ridge
Owned By: Sazerac Company
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 5 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
A buffalo by any other name?

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