Picking up a bottle of no-name bourbon off the liquor store shelf is a little bit like pulling the lever on a slot machine. On occasion, this approach has been a pleasant surprise with a quality find… other times, I suffer through the bottle for the review. So in the name of finding hidden gems, I popped the cork on this bottle of McFarlane’s Reserve and prayed that I wouldn’t be regretting the decision.
IJW Whiskey Company is a privately owned whiskey company whose ownership is not disclosed. The company is based in Kentucky but doesn’t have a distillery and doesn’t seem to have a plan to build one — instead, they started by 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 McFarlane’s Reserve 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. This is the same company that also makes First Call bourbon for IJW.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There’s absolutely no information available about this whiskey besides the legally defined label on the front of the bottle. We can’t pinpoint the exact distillery it came from, the grain bill, or really anything about it other than being a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. So we’re going to have to fill in the blanks ourselves.
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. The corn and other mystery 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 two years before being proofed down and bottled — three years in the case of this specific bottle, as it has at least that much information stated on the label. 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).
There’s some effort that has gone into this bottle design, but it sticks pretty close to the standard format that you see throughout the craft spirits industry.
In terms of the physical bottle, it looks like almost everything else on the shelf. There’s a cylindrical body that flares slightly from the base to the rounded shoulder, and then a medium length neck with a bulge in the middle. The bottle is topped off with a plastic and cork stopper. It isn’t anything to write home about, but it isn’t offensive or annoying either, which is a plus.
The label is a bit bland, but at least it is bland in a semi-stylish manner. There are two main labels on here: a big, beige colored band that sports the company logo, and a smaller blue ribbon with the details near the bottom. This is a common pattern in the industry and I do like the way it looks usually, but in this case I feel like the top sticker is just a bit large considering the relatively plain logo. It covers up the whiskey inside the bottle, which is something I can forgive for a good illustration or a historical logo… but this design just feels like a lot of nothing.
It’s a little bit light in color for a straight bourbon whiskey, more like a deep gold color rather than the usual rusty orange amber we typically see. The aroma, however, is on point: orange citrus, vanilla, brown sugar, and a touch of cedar. It’s a bit more citrus-forward than typical bourbons, but that’s usually a good thing in my book.
Thankfully, the brightness and vibrancy of the aroma actually translates fairly well to the flavor. It’s a bit watery in terms of consistency and saturation, but all of the flavors seem to be there. It starts with that orange citrus combined with some brown sugar sweetness, adds a touch of vanilla, and then there’s some earthy cedar on the finish to really bring it all home. It almost tastes like an Old Fashioned with orange bitters right off the bat.
Ice can be a bit of a problem for lighter spirits like this one. Without the depth or saturation of the flavors, the ice (and associated dilution from the added water as it melts) has a tendency to wash out much of what flavor was once there.
For this spirit, pretty much the only thing left in the glass is the orange citrus with a bit of cedar and an earthy raw corn texture. These are the only flavors that were potent enough to break through and remain clearly visible amid the ice. Which, to be honest, might not be a terrible thing depending on the cocktail you’re making… but in a glass, on the rocks, all on its own, this isn’t really all that enjoyable.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is probably one of the better versions of a lighter and sweeter Old Fashioned that I’ve had, but it feels like the bitters are doing all of the heavy lifting here.
The primary flavors I’m getting are the deeper and richer notes from the angostura bitters. It adds a lot of character to the glass, to the point where everything from the whiskey has essentially been covered up either by the bitters or by the ice. All that remains from the whiskey is some of that orange citrus flavor peeking through, which gives enough zingy balance to make the cocktail work.
Here’s the thing, though — I could have made this same cocktail by just adding angostura bitters and orange bitters to a glass with some simple syrup. There’s no reason why the whiskey even needed to show up. And if that’s the case, then I feel like this whiskey is a failure in this drink. An Old Fashioned is supposed to accentuate and celebrate the flavors in the whiskey. In this case, unfortunately, the whiskey accentuates the flavors in the bitters.
Just like we saw with the Old Fashioned, the only flavor that really comes through here is the orange citrus. It does a fine job adding some extra character to this Kentucky Mule, but the unfortunate reality is that this was a citrus-forward drink to start and it hasn’t gained any balance from the spirits.
What’s in the glass here is a sharp, citrus-y cocktail and is probably closer to a margarita than it is a Kentucky Mule. I usually expect the brown sugar and vanilla notes of the whiskey to temper the ginger beer and lime juice, but their absence here means that none of that is happening. It does get some points for doing something different thanks to the orange flavor, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
I don’t necessarily regret picking up this bottle. The orange citrus flavor profile is interesting, and it actually isn’t half bad in terms of an overall flavor profile when taken neat. The problem here is that any other flavors in this bottle crumble and collapse as soon as you try to do anything to them. The closest you’ll get to a good cocktail with this is probably an Old Fashioned, and even then it’s more about the bitters than the whiskey.
There’s nothing wrong with this whiskey. It just isn’t nearly as good or as useful as anything else in the same price range.
|McFarlane's Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: McFarlane's ReserveProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $20.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
An orange-forward whiskey that works well on its own, but does not play well with ice or mixers.