“Don’t Give Up The Ship”: this phrase is emblazoned on the battle flag of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. In September of 1813, that flag was flying from the USS Lawrence as it left Put-In-Bay harbor, a small island in Lake Erie. That day, Perry captured the entire British Lake Erie fleet and turned the tide in the War of 1812. Today, that island is a popular summer destination with multiple restaurants, bars, a winery, a brewery, and (as of 2013) a distillery. It’s a place where people go to party, so I had to see if the bourbon is worth a spot in the day-drinking rotation.
Put-In-Bay Brewery and Distillery started solely as a brewery in 1996. It was founded by Carl Krueger, Chris Krueger, and Scott Jackson, who converted the island’s derelict volunteer fire station into a distillery after purchasing it at auction.
For the first 17 years, they only produced beer — which I know from experience is delicious in it’s own right. After installing a new copper still, though, they added “island’s first distillery” to their tagline and began distilling vodka and rum, adding bourbon to their list of products in 2021.
While visiting this summer, the outdoor patio was packed with revelers with just a handful of seats open. It was clear that cornering the market on island-produced libations was an attractive proposition for many of the island visitors.
To my knowledge, they do not distribute their sprits to any local stores – you can only buy it onsite.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There is very little information available about the process used to distill the Island Bourbon. We do know that as a bourbon, the mash bill must be comprised of at least 51% corn. Given that there are supply chain limitations with distilling on an island, I feel it’s likely that this spirit is 100% corn. (I could be wrong here, but this seems like a reasonable guess.)
Due to limiting production space (there is one single still in their facility), it is a single barrel bourbon. This means that each batch will have a slightly different, yet distinct, flavor.
Put-In-Bay Distillery has taken a very traditional approach to their bottles. They are using a rather standard round bottle with straight walls, which tapers at the shoulder to a straight neck. The bottle is topped with a cork stopper and a plastic cap that makes the cork easy to grip.
The bottle is adorned with a simple hexagonal label. Most of the text is black, with only the distillery name in a gold script. The script is difficult to read, especially with the brand logo watermarked across most of the label. If you were looking at this bottle on a crowded back bar you would only see the word “BOURBON” clearly across the front. This is a small operation with little distribution, but they could definitely clean up this label.
The color is a light amber, and the deep caramel and light oaky notes are clearly noticeable on the nose. It looks and smells like other 100% corn bourbon that I’ve had, so I think my guess at the mash bill is right. There is no aging statement on this bourbon, and the light color is an indication that these barrels may be a little rushed during the aging process.
Taking a sip, the bourbon is smooth and sweet. Up front, I get sweet corn that tastes buttery with a mild heat on the finish. As I let the drink open up more, I can start to pick up notes of coconut and oak. The flavor is not very unique to other bourbons… the only surprise is the mild coconut. In all fairness, I don’t think I could pick this out of a lineup.
With the addition of ice, the flavors do not change dramatically. The oaky aroma becomes more pronounced, though, and it almost reminds me of getting a faint whiff of a Texas barbecue pit.
The sweetness is lessened, bringing forward the buttery and oaky flavors. Its like sipping on freshly buttered popcorn… but the bad news is that I am not a big fan of popcorn.
The good news is that the heat that lingers on the finish all but disappears.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is an Old Fashioned that I would expect at any major chain restaurant. I like to be able to enjoy the bourbon in my old fashioned — it makes for a more complex and enjoyable cocktail. Sadly, there isn’t too much excitement or complexity here.
You can tell the bourbon is there, but it’s completely lost behind the bitters and orange peel. If anything, it can be too sweet if you are heavy handed with the sugar when muddling.
Normally, to make for a solid Kentucky Mule, you’re looking for the bitter ginger effervescence to complement the the bourbon.
Sadly, similar to the previous cocktail, the bourbon gets lost behind the ginger beer here. It lacks any sense of balance. I can tell there is bourbon there, but it’s not adding anything other than alcohol to the cocktail. It’s refreshing, but bland.
This bourbon is average across the board. It’s light and drinkable on the rocks, and barely noticeable in a cocktail. Not too bad for the first batch of bourbon out of the door, and I think they do have a lot of runway to build upon and improve the distillation process. That said, for the price (and considering you have to take a ferry ride to get to the island) it’s hard to recommend that you go out of your way to buy a bottle.
|Put-In-Bay Island Bourbon Single Barrel|
Produced By: Put-In-BayProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $49.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
When day drinking on an island, pace yourself and skip this bourbon.