Today we continue our Octoberfest of frighteningly unfamiliar and scarily cheap whiskey, moving just 57 miles down the road from Heaven Hill to Buffalo Trace. In this case, we’re taking a look at the highlighter-yellow-labeled whiskey known as Old Charter, trying to figure out who in their right mind thought blue-green and bright yellow was a color combination that anyone but my dog would appreciate.
In 1874, two brothers named Adam and Benjamin Chapeze opened the A. B. Chapeze Distillery near Bardstown, Kentucky. The two brothers split their duties, with one traveling and spreading the word about their product while the other stayed behind and actually made the stuff. Together they succeeded in creating a well known brand that saw some popularity in their area of the United States.
Their flagship product was named Old Charter, named for the Charter Oak tree of Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut, which was an early symbol of American freedom and independence.
While the distillery was somewhat successful, it was forced to close alongside most other distilleries in the United States at the start of prohibition. The brand and the distillery was sold in 1933 to the Bernheim distillery, which in turn was sold to the Schenley company in 1937, and eventually purchased by Sazerac in 1999. The Old Charter brand is produced and bottled today by Buffalo Trace.
Something interesting to note is that prior to 2014, this was branded as an 8 year aged whiskey. While that might have been true at some point, the standards have since slipped and the contents of the bottle were no longer meeting the bar for that specific labeling. The company was sued for false advertising, and lost, and as a result the bottle is now labeled as the “Old No 8 Brand” to be able to keep the number 8 on the label. There is no evidence of brands number one through seven.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There’s next to no information about this whiskey; the website is about as much information we get about what’s in the bottle, and even that is more “vibes” than hard facts.
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. Since this is made by Buffalo Trace, it’s likely that they re-used their grain bill, which the distillery states includes corn, rye, and malted 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.
I mentioned it in the opening paragraph, but I really can’t get past this color scheme.
The bottle here is actually kind of interesting — there’s a traditional shape to the glass bottle, with a cylindrical body and a medium length neck. What’s interesting to me is the faceted shoulder, which almost looks like one of those domes you might find on a Victorian mansion. It would almost look regal… if the rest of the bottle wasn’t screaming “cheap” at me.
It’s like someone stuck the bottle in front of one of those machines that paints the big yellow line in the center of a roadway. Safety yellow, designed to be eye catching and visible but not aesthetically pleasant. Add in that greenish blue color they used for the accents and this looks more like a middle school art project gone horribly wrong than a professionally designed label.
Also annoying is the way that they shoehorned the “8” into the label design. I get that it’s part of the standard visual style, but they literally lost a lawsuit because they wanted to keep the 8-year labeling after they stopped aging it that long. Let it go, folks. Move on.
The aroma coming off this glass is simple and clean: brown sugar, a touch of vanilla, and a hint of cedar wood. There’s a little bit of an aromatic lift to the aroma that’s pretty typical of an American bourbon and which I read as cedar, and that’s absolutely present here as well.
Diving into the glass, the flavors are a little lighter and less saturated than I’d like. The brown sugar is the first thing that comes across with that textbook sweetness and a hint of molasses depth and richness, combined with a little bit of dark chocolate. As the flavors develop, there’s a touch of vanilla and a hint of cedar wood, and on the finish I’m primarily getting the aromatic component of the cedar combined with the chocolate.
Keep in mind, which I say chocolate here, I’m talking about a lighter and less powerful version than we might usually see. Maybe closer to a Hershey’s bar? Definitely not the thick and deliciously rich flavor that we see elsewhere.
Normally, when I add some ice to a glass of whiskey, I get some changes. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. In this case, though, I don’t actually think that anything changed… at all.
I still get the hint of chocolate, the brown sugar, the touch of vanilla — everything that was present when taken neat. And I even let the ice melt into the drink a bit to make sure that I wasn’t just fooling myself. The flavors here might not be that complex or diverse, but they do have a remarkable staying power.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
An old fashioned can take one of two paths: either it can be dark and rich, or it can be light and fruity. This seems to try to follow down the richer path, but there just isn’t enough depth to quite pull it off.
What little chocolate is in the flavor profile just isn’t saturated enough to properly balance out the bitters. It really does need some sugar or simple syrup to properly rectify the situation and restore order to the glass rather than being able to perform that task naturally. In the end, we have something that has hints of flavor, but doesn’t have the balance or the complexity to really make for a drink that I’d want to come back to.
I’ll note that this isn’t terrible; there’s nothing truly faulty here. It just isn’t all that great, either.
The best I can say about this cocktail is that I’m not annoyed at it, but I’d definitely be disappointed if I ordered it at a bar.
The first thing I look for in a Kentucky mule is for the flavors to balance out and make for something that is delicious and drinkable. Ginger beer and lime juice tend to be citrus forward and bright flavors, which can be a bit overwhelming. Kind of like a margarita, but unlike a good margarita this drink isn’t intended to be sour. This should be balanced and drinkable, with the flavors of the bourbon coming through strong and reliably. In this case, though, I get a hint of brown sugar but that’s about it.
On the finish is probably where I’m the most disappointed. A good bourbon should provide some complexity and interesting notes here — something like black pepper spice or an interesting flavor to linger after you take a sip. But here it’s just more brown sugar, and a smooth and uninteresting texture.
Again, just like the old fashioned, it isn’t patently terrible. But it is unremarkable.
In terms of the flavors and the execution of this whiskey, it’s about what I expected. There’s nothing spectacular going on here, just a simple whiskey with some simple flavors trying to make an honest living. It’s probably an attractive choice for those on a budget, but just be aware that there are far better options available at this price point.
And for both of those choices, while the labels aren’t fantastic, they are still miles better than whatever deranged highlighter fanatic attacked this bottle.
|Old Charter Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $14.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1.5/5
An acceptable whiskey with simple flavors that just happens to be in the label equivalent of a high-vis vest.