Whiskey Review: First Call Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Now that I review whiskey for a (pseudo) living, I try to keep an eye on when new brands come out. This one seemed to slip my notice until my local Total Wine started advertising the heck out of it. I’d never heard of it before, so I figured it would be a good bottle to pick up and investigate further.


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History

IJW Whiskey Company is a privately owned whiskey company (whose ownership is not disclosed) based in Kentucky. The business doesn’t have a distillery and doesn’t seem to have a plan to build one — instead, they started sourcing whiskey from other distilleries and laid down the first barrels of spirits for aging in their Danville, Kentucky based warehouse in 2016.

While that whiskey ages, it seems like IJW is trying to put out a handful of brands based on spirits produced by other existing distilleries and sources. With the First Call brand, according to TTB records, the whiskey is being produced by Lodestone Beverages, a white label whiskey producer in Kentucky that bottles whiskey from undisclosed sources for third party companies.

First Call is reportedly a brand that is unique to the Total Wine chain of stores.

Product

From an ownership perspective, this is like a Russian nesting doll. Companies within companies, outsourcing to additional companies. As such, the labeling on this bottle is completely missing any indication of the actual source of the spirit. (As in, the distillery where it was born. We know where it was bottled, but that’s about it.)

As a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, we can surmise that this started out life as a mixture of grains that are at least 51% corn, but the other components are not identified. Those grains are cooked and fermented into a mildly alcoholic beer, which is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol. The spirits are then placed into new charred oak casks for a period of at least three years before being proofed down and bottled. All of these functions take place in the state of Kentucky (which we only know because that’s required in order for this to be labeled a Kentucky straight bourbon).

Packaging

It’s a slick but unremarkable bottle.

In terms of overall design, the glass bottle has an oval cross section with rounded edges and corners. There’s a slight flare from the very thick base to the shoulder, but it quickly rounds into a medium length neck. The whole thing is topped with a wood and cork stopper.

I’m usually the first to hate on an unnecessarily large label, but here I think it strikes the right balance. I’m digging the black background with white images and lettering here, I think it’s a smart design that helps the bottle stand out on the shelves. It is a bit large, but I think it’s appropriately proportional to the bottle size and there’s plenty of space on all sides of the bottle to see the color of the liquid inside.

One major issue I do have is that this feels about as authentic of a whiskey as the Tilted Kilt franchise of restaurants is to an Irish pub. The branding is borrowing heavily from the horse racing history of Kentucky, but there’s nothing tying this specific brand to that history other than the production location. I look at Belle Meade as a great example of a whiskey company using horse racing in their branding — and actually ties this into the story behind the company. I don’t feel any of that association here. It’s just a coat of paint they chose to market their product with.

Neat

Initially, there’s a good bit of butterscotch coming off the glass. However, as it sits, that aroma slowly turns into a more oak-y wood note that’s more vanilla forward with a bit of brown sugar backing it up.

Taking a sip, that brown sugar and vanilla flavor is what hits you initially… but (much like a pointillist painting) when you get too close, the vanilla and brown sugar elements deconstruct into something closer to raw wood as the flavor develops. There’s that sweetness from the corn that stays constant throughout, but the only other flavor that really stays consistent is a touch of vanilla.

On the finish, there’s a smoothness that almost seems to coat your mouth, much like how a lot of wheated bourbons seem to do in my opinion. I also see a bit of black pepper spice that tingles the lips for a second but it absolutely is not a core component of the experience.

On Ice

When sipping neat, the overall impression is that this is a very light bourbon in terms of flavor profile… which typically spells trouble with some added ice. The dilution and lower temperatures tend to drop the less well-saturated flavors out of the running leaving behind only a shadow of the former brilliance.

Surprisingly, that isn’t the case here. Most of the flavors we saw originally have remained behind, only with slight corrections. The aroma coming off the glass is almost completely eliminated, sure, but you can see the sweetness of the corn mixed in with some of the oak notes to form a nice caramel impression, and there’s even a bit of vanilla slapped in there for good measure. The biggest thing that’s missing is that transition to more of a wood-y oak-y flavor that I saw before, which seems to have mellowed out.

It’s one standard unit of bourbon.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I didn’t walk into this expecting miracles, and what I got was a pretty solid old fashioned. I’d call that mission accomplished.

Generally speaking, I prefer a bourbon to provide something more interesting to the conversation when it comes to a cocktail. I like some spice or some darkness to the flavor profile that adds a unique twist on the concept. Here, we have just a standard old fashioned with the standard old fashioned flavors — the sweetness of the caramel balancing with the angostura bitters and providing a pleasant drinking experience.

Probably needs that dash of sugar to make it work properly — but even without, it isn’t bad.

Fizz (Mule)

This really only hits half the criteria for what we’re looking for in a good mule.

In this case, the caramel sweetness absolutely does a great job balancing with the bitter and bright ginger beer (criteria #1). It tones that flavor down very nicely, adding some complexity and pleasantness to the drink.

The problem is that it’s a one trick pony. That’s all it’s got. There’s not really any noticeable pepper spice from any undisclosed rye content, nor is there any dark or rich tones that add a uniqueness to the experience (criteria #2). It’s just plain bourbon.


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Overall Rating

This bourbon may have been called to the post, but it isn’t necessarily a thoroughbred racehorse. There are some glimmers of good stuff in here, but in the end it’s more of a middle of the pack finisher. Which, to be clear, isn’t terrible. A good cheap bourbon is something people need frequently, and this would serve that purpose well… as would dozens of similar brands.

First Call Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Produced By: First Call
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $18.99 / 750 ml
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: 3/5
Unlikely to win, place, or show, but guaranteed to be a solid consistent bet.


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