Sometimes you can read a label and know exactly what you’re getting. For example, if you see the terms “Tennessee Whiskey” or “straight rye whiskey”, you can pretty easily guess the flavor profile that’s going to be in the glass. But for a broad category like “American Whiskey”, the possibilities are nearly endless… especially when it comes with an age statement like “9 year aged”, as we see here on today’s bottle of Wattie Boone & Sons.
Why didn’t they call it a bourbon? Is there something funky going on? Tons of questions, and the only way to know for sure is to crack the bottle and figure it out.
Preservation Distillery was founded by Marci Palatella (wife of famous 49ers football star Lou Palatella) in 2014. She had been in the wine and spirits industry since 1985 but when she first set eyes on an old tobacco farm that was for sale in Kentucky she knew that it was the ideal location to start her own distillery. Her concept was to focus on small batch production, meaning as few as 1 to 3 barrel runs of spirits.
Preservation currently has three brands under their umbrella, all of which are whiskeys. Not all of them are made onsite (as we’ll see with today’s bottle), but all appear to be aged there.
For those who want to know more about the owners behind the brand, we should note that in August 2021, Marci plead guilty to being part of the college admissions scandal where wealthy couples paid large sums of money for their children to get into prestigious universities and included falsifying records.
According to the distillery, Wattie Boone was the first documented bourbon producer in Kentucky, and this bottle is named in their honor.
That said, this whiskey is not produced in Kentucky (as previously mentioned).
This starts as a bourbon produced in Tennessee by an undisclosed manufacturer. I get the distinct feeling that this is a Tennessee Whiskey in type as well as name — specifically meaning that it goes through the maple charcoal mellowing process that spirits like Jack Daniel’s enjoy.
If this were in fact a Tennessee Whiskey that would mean that this spirit must come from a combination of grains containing at least 51% corn, but the exact grain bill here is also not disclosed. Again, as an “American Whiskey” the only requirement is that the spirit is made from grains and bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV. Almost everything else is dealer’s choice.
Once produced, the whiskey is packaged and shipped to Kentucky where it is placed into charred new oak barrels to age for nine years before being bottled.
The bottle design here is pretty great.
The base of the bottle has an oval shaped cross section, wider than it is deep, and it has a thick glass base. There’s a nicely rounded shoulder that leads to a neck that’s on the shorter side of the spectrum. It’s topped off with a nice wood and cork stopper.
As for the label, it’s nice… if a little pretentious. It doesn’t obscure the entire bottle, so you are able to get a good look at the whiskey inside, but the minimal space it takes up still seems to be in service of nothing. There’s some fancy writing on the front and the brand name, but suspiciously little about the actual contents. It calls itself a small batch American whiskey, which is accurate, but skirts the whole issue about where it was distilled (Tennessee) vs. where it was aged (Kentucky). This also seems to be a disservice to the namesake of the bottle, since it is named after the supposed first producer of bourbon in Kentucky… but is neither officially a Kentucky whiskey nor labeled as a bourbon.
It’s a medium-intensity amber colored liquid, which looks very appealing in the glass. The aroma is delicious and reminds me of some of the other great Tennessee whiskeys: some nice raw corn, vanilla, caramel, a bit of orange and lemon citrus, some baking spices, and a significant banana aroma that gets more intense as the spirit sits in the glass. These are the same notes I get from Jack Daniel’s or George Dickel, well-known Tennessee whiskeys.
Taking a sip, the spirit is a little oily with a surprisingly heavy body and some hot spots of bitterness or bite that occasionally pop up. A lot of the same flavors are present here that we saw in the aroma, specifically the vanilla, caramel, citrus, and banana flavors. On the finish, there’s a bitter taste that almost makes me want to equate it with dark chocolate, and it lingers for a good period of time.
I feel like this is one instance where the addition of some ice helps the spirit significantly.
Much of the roughness and hot spots we saw when taken neat seem to have disappeared or at least be covered by the ice, but thankfully the main flavors are fairly resilient and holds up against the ice. I think I’m getting much more of the orange and banana flavor now, with the vanilla and caramel taking more of a background role.
There’s still unfortunately that bitterness on the finish, which I don’t think is something that the ice can solve on its own.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
What the ice alone could not accomplish, the simple syrup (or sugar cube if you’re being fancy) finishes off. At last that bitterness and rough texture is completely gone, both from the flavors and the finish.
What we get in this case is a pretty good old fashioned. The flavors of the angostura bitters are mixing nicely with the brighter and fruitier notes of the whiskey, and resulting in something closer to a mid-century fruit-forward take on the cocktail. It’s absolutely delicious and worth a shot.
There are some good things going on here to start. I like that the fruity flavors in the whiskey are balancing out the brighter ginger beer, but still coming together to make a bright and cheerful summer-y cocktail.
The problem comes at the end. The texture gets a little flat once the initial burst of flavors has died off, almost giving it the flattened tone of a wheated whiskey finish. And then, at the end, that bitterness returns. Where the sugar content of the old fashioned was enough to tone it down, that’s not quite present enough here to make it work. The bitterness and astringency is really all I get after swallowing the sip.
In the end, what we have in this bottle is a Frankenstein’s monster of different styles and techniques that have come together to form the whiskey we are tasting today. Which, in retrospect, makes the “American Whiskey” label make sense. It isn’t labeled broadly due to any specific eccentricity about the process, but instead because that’s the only category it really fits into.
I like what they’re doing in theory… but, at least in this example, I didn’t feel like the juice was worth the squeeze. Working in it’s favor: there’s good balance and complexity in the flavors, the banana that I typically associate with the Lincoln County Process still making an appearance together with some barrel aging components, and even the raw corn still visible after all that processing and aging. But the issues come with the texture and the roughness of the spirit. It seems like even with all that filtration and aging, it still has a lot of heads-y components that (while enjoyable in other some other whiskeys) just make for a poor impression here.
I think this is a spirit that could use a bit of a tighter control on the cuts they are pulling off the still, or some more time in the barrel. They’ve got a great whiskey in there somewhere if they can strip out the bitterness and the hot spots.
|Wattie Boone & Sons 9 Year Old American Whiskey|
Produced By: Wattie Boone & SonsProduction Location: United States
Aging: 9 Years
Proof: 94.7% ABV
Price: $90 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A whiskey that, despite the nine years in a barrel, seemingly still needs some refinement.