Whiskey Review: Black Ridge Port Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I love a good mashup. Take two things that might be very different and blend them together to get something new and unique — done right, there’s nothing better. Chocolate and peanut butter, Jay Z and Linkin Park… you get the concept. Today we’re looking at a mashup of the alcoholic kind: specifically, a bourbon that has spent some time in a port barrel.



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 co-worker Ben Mattingly, who would also 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 Tom retired at that point, but he lived long enough to see prohibition repealed and his son take over the old distillery, bringing it back online and restarting production.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 — specifically, the label of “Kentucky Straight Bourbon”

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

That’s about the same as their standard product, but this is where the real difference occurs. Once that process is finished, the whiskey is finished in a port barrel for a period of time to absorb some of the flavors from that delicious liquid. I actually have both a bottle of the original and the port finished versions, and you can see from the photo above that the port-finished version seems to have picked up a good bit of color from those barrels.

But beyond all that, we don’t know anything else about the contents of this bottle. What else is in here? Was it aged beyond the two year minimum? Are there any coloring or additions mixed in? All are questions we can’t answer.

Packaging

On first glance, the bottle is actually pretty cool in a retro, old-school kind of way. It reminds me of Belle Meade, a modern incarnation of a historic whiskey with the same focus on horseracing. However, 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.

The only difference between this and the “standard” version is a purple addition at the bottom declaring that this is a port finished bourbon.

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

Neat

At first, things seem about the same as the original version. The aroma hasn’t changed — 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.

Where things start to change, though, is in the flavor. It’s a little richer and sweeter right out of the gate than the original version, with a bit of orchard fruit flavor coming through. Otherwise, it’s mostly the same: a good bit of toffee caramel flavors, a hint of vanilla, and a nice pepper spice to finish off the experience.

Something that has changed is that the black licorice flavor seems to be a bit enhanced here. It was more of a part player in the background in the original, but now it seems to be much more prominent.

On Ice

In my original review of the standard version, I mentioned that a little bit of ice brought out some fruity notes in the spirit and that is much the same case here. There’s some apple and orange peel coming into the mix, but that red wine port flavor is mixed in as well.

It’s actually a pretty good combination, all brought together and kept from becoming a fruit punch by the ever present vanilla, caramel, and charred oak flavor. There’s some depth and complexity here that you didn’t get before, which is interesting.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I think the benefit of the port finishing has about run its course by now. It was only a minor supporting character to begin, and by now it has pretty much given up the ghost.

As an old fashioned, this is just as serviceable as the standard version. The fruity aspects and the charred wood richness balance well with the angostura bitters, and all it needs is a splash of sweetness to balance everything out. It isn’t the greatest cocktail I’ve ever had, but it’s worth the price of admission.

Fizz (Mule)

As a mule, this has some interesting things going on.

I like that there’s a bit of fruity sweetness at the start, which makes it seem like a more cheerful drink that usual. But almost right away, that richer and darker charred oak flavor starts to creep in and add some depth and complexity.

In terms of hitting the mark for a good mule, I think it meets the criteria. It’s a little bit darker and richer than usual once that rich charred flavor kicks in, and I say the entirely in a good way.



Overall Rating

There are certainly some good things going on here, but in the end I don’t think they justified the price tag. This is $10 more than the original version, and all you are really getting is a slight attenuation of the flavor.

For me, the price is just too steep to justify compared to the competition. We’re now in Belle Meade territory with the price. Just get that instead. It’s better.

Black Ridge Port Barrel 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: $39.99 / 750 ml
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: 3/5
A good improvement over the original, but not quite good enough to justify the price tag.

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