Sometimes, the choice of what bottles to review comes down to just walking the aisles in my local liquor store, checking out the bottles, and finding one that I’ve never heard of before. And that’s exactly what happened here: as I was perusing the shelves, I came across this great looking bottle of bourbon from a brand I’d never heard of: Chestnut Farms.
Thomas S. Moore was born in 1853 and his family moved shortly thereafter to Bardstown, Kentucky. Moore later dropped out of school at the age of 11 to start working to support his mother and his sisters, after his father 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, Moore went to work for his in-laws, the Willetts, at their distilleries. There, he met coworker Ben Mattingly, who would also marry into the Willett family. The two became fast friends and colleagues and, in 1876, John Willett (head of the family and head of the company) handed the two men 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. Moore retired at that point, but he lived long enough to see prohibition repealed and his son take over the old distillery, bringing it back online and restarting production.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, including Constellation Brands who added the “1792” to the name in 2002 (a nod to the first year Kentucky was recognized as a state), eventually ending with the Sazerac Company where it remains today.
At the time of publication, Chestnut Farms is a brand of whiskey produced exclusively for retailer Total Wine at Sazerac’s Barton 1792 Distillery.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There’s next to no information about this whiskey — no website, no social media presence, not so much as a love note on the back of the bottle telling us how it’s made. All we have to go on to figure out what’s inside is the legal description on the label.
As a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, this is required to start with a grain bill of at least 51% corn… but the rest of the contents are a mystery. We can assume that since it comes from the Barton distillery, there might be some overlap with Barton 1792, which has an estimated grain bill of 74% corn, 18% rye, and 8% barley. Whatever the ultimate ratios might be, the next step is always that the grains are milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid.
After that, the grains would be distilled, which ramps up the alcohol content and selectively captures the components and flavors of the spirit that the distiller wants, resulting in raw “white” whiskey. That newly made whiskey is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of no less than two years (as required for the designation of a Kentucky Straight Bourbon), and then the barrels are blended together to create just the right flavor profile.
This bottle seems to be styled similar to Buffalo Trace’s “Antique Collection”: tall, slender bottles with minimalist branding and painted aspects of the branding. Which makes sense, since Sazerac makes both of these brands. Where this differs is in the details, as the bottle flares slightly from the base to the shoulder and has a slight bulge in the neck for easier pouring.
It looks great, with the illustration of a horse in white paint on the bottle harkening back to the horse racing history of Kentucky and the color of the spirit inside the bottle clearly visible. It’s an ideal design for this spirit that makes it feel more premium.
This is a beautiful deep amber color in the glass, almost a rusty orange in the right light. Coming off the glass are the typical aromas you’d expect from a good bourbon: brown sugar and vanilla, a bit of earthy raw corn, a slight hint of cedar wood, orange citrus, and a touch of apple (starting to confirm the suspicion of some rye content there). There’s also a bit of a malty aroma like the aroma you’d get from a scotch whisky mixed in (almost like what you’d get from a sniff of sourdough bread), which adds a bit of soft texture.
Right up front, as soon as you take a sip you see some flavors that I’d call “heads-y”: aromatic solvent-like components that typically come from the “heads” of the distillation run and give the flavor profile a bit of a lighter tone. That’s not a bad thing — it’s actually very on-point for the style of a bourbon, it’s just a bit more pronounced than usual.
Immediately following that, we get into the meat and potatoes of bourbon flavors… aka brown sugar and vanilla. As the flavors develop, there’s also some chocolate and nutmeg that gets added in for a bit of depth and character, and on the finish I’m tasting more of that black pepper and apple from the rye that we saw in the aroma.
There’s nothing surprising going on here in terms of the flavors in the glass, and it’s a smooth and delicious execution.
The real challenge here is whether all of the flavors remain as expressive and well-saturated as they were when taken neat. And while there are some differences, I think generally the important parts are still coming through.
You won’t notice the same level of aromatic “heads-y” stuff going on here. The flavors seem to just get straight down to business, with toffee caramel and vanilla being the primary components. The chocolate still comes in on cue to add some depth to the flavors, and there’s plenty of nutmeg and black pepper on the finish to make things a bit spicy.
What I’m missing are those lighter components, like the apple I saw earlier. That seems to have been displaced by the ice, unfortunately.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The key to my heart is a rich, deep, complex old fashioned. And while this makes an effort and does a serviceable job in that direction, it’s not the greatest I’ve ever had.
In terms of the flavors, the bare minimum components are there. The chocolate is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here, providing that darker note that the angostura bitters really need to balance out properly. Around the edges, those sweeter components like the vanilla and brown sugar do their best to balance the bitterness… but I think this is one of those situations where you do really need that added cube of sugar to make it perfect.
What’s missing for me in here, and what would take it to the next level, is some complexity. There’s not much in the spirit to start, with the flavors all being so straightforward. And if you wanted to try and improve the situation, the flavors are all superficial and not very saturated, which makes it difficult to add anything more interesting to the cocktail to artificially introduce that complexity for fear of wiping them out.
This cocktail is a bit hit and miss.
On the positive side of things, the flavors balance nicely up front. There’s plenty of brown sugar and vanilla to balance out the bitter ginger beer and lime juice, and the chocolate components make for a little bit of depth and complexity that works nicely in this kind of a drink. There are no surprises, but it tastes nice.
Where this falls down is in the texture — I really wish that there was more spice on the finish in this cocktail. It seems like the malted barley is coming through most strongly, providing that velvety bread-like flavor and texture on the finish instead of the spicy black pepper that I’d prefer. It’s a bit boring, if I’m honest.
Taken on its face, this is a downright drinkable bottle of bourbon. There are some good flavors in here, packaged in a good looking bottle, and I’d be happy sipping in pretty much any situation. The flavors are basic and simple, but well executed.
Where this starts to fall apart is the pricing. This bottle clocks in at about $60 a bottle at time of writing, which is on par with some fantastic bottles from other distilleries. Given the competition it seems overpriced — I’d buy this all day at $30, but I can’t recommend this at the current price point.
|Chestnut Farms Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: Chestnut FarmsProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $64.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
A simple flavor profile of brown sugar, vanilla, and rye, with some chocolate notes. Good, but overpriced.