Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1984-1994 Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Barrel No. 016 Review

Here today is a comparison of some very old Henry McKenna side by side with a modern bottle purchased right of the shelf. I've recently done similar side by sides before, once with barrel 001 and again with barrel 008. Both of those bottles run circles around the current product with the first one being an all time favorite. Thanks to a friend I've been lucky enough to acquire a taste of yet another barrel distilled on the same day as those two in December of 1984. What I want to know is were the first two barrels flukes in terms of quality or is dusty pre-fire Henry McKenna really just that good? 
1984-1994 McKennaThanks to Alex G. for the sample and photo
1984-1994 vs. 2006-2016Left: Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/2006
Right: Barrel No. 016, Barreled on 12/14/1984
Color: As always, I don't usually remark on color but next to the current product, the 016 is considerably darker. So far though barrel 001 is still the darkest with this one being a shade lighter than the previous two.
Nose: Very rich and dense with lots of classic bourbon flavors in the form of thick vanilla caramel cake frosting. The modern bottle by comparison smells thinner, younger, and fruitier. The 016 actually has a little bit of a fruit vibe as well but it's more like boozed soaked dark pitted fruits such as prunes vs. the younger ripe banana grain of the 2016.
Taste: Similar but even more impressive than the nose. Heavy doses of classic bourbon oaky sweets and a blast of that familiar dusty profile. It's very thick and chewy, like liquified cake batter. The oak influence is strong but heavy towards the sweet end along with touches of rye spice. By comparison the 2016 tastes like young barely legal bottled in bond bourbon which is totally nuts because on any other day I enjoy McKenna and consider it a rather mature product. 
Thoughts: I'm blown away by how good these old McKennas are. Just like with previous experiences I keep thinking these taste like extremely concentrated bourbon. It's like all the flavor you get out of a high proof bourbon such Elijah Craig Barrel Proof but with considerably less heat and way more drinkability. I dunno, maybe I just have a thing for bottle conditioned pre-fire Heaven Hill because this has been a repeated pattern for me with any well aged Heaven Hill products I've had from that era. Regardless, these are about classic as bourbon gets and it's a damn shame the current product doesn't still taste like this.
Rating: A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, April 10, 2017

High West Bourye (2017 Release) Review

I've covered my feelings on High West more than a few times lately so I'll just touch on the highlight again here that they are master blenders who have sourced excellent whiskey. Bourye has become a Frankenstein of all those sources over the years as the 4 batches I'm aware of all seem to contain at least one unique component. For 2017, Bourye is composed as follows:
  • A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years.
  • Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from MGP
  • Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP
The things that jump out to me there are that the age of the oldest whiskey has gone down from previous releases and there is a new MGP rye mash in play. I was a big fan of the 2015 and 2016 releases so I have high expectations coming into this. 
bottle
No Age Statement
46% ABV
$75
Batch 17A12
Nose: Smells like a barely legal rye whiskey or a very high rye bourbon. Lots of spicy menthol on top of sugary oak sweetness. The nose is rather bold considering the middling proof. 
Taste: Sugary wood sweetness upfront, rye baking spices in the middle, and a nice sweet spicy combo rides out the finish. Some tannic, slightly bitter oak complexity also comes through in the finish. Super easy to drink - that's likely the lower ABV. I would not say it's under-proofed though, it's still got plenty of body and depth of flavor. Tastes exactly like what I would expect from a blend of 10 - 14 year bourbon and rye. 
Thoughts: High West just keeps knocking them out of the park. I really, really like this. On a pure enjoyment scale, this is up there with Wild Turkey Decades which carries twice the price tag. That's par for the course for High West lately - they keep putting out quality blends at respectable prices that are relatively easy to obtain and yet there's little if any hype train around them. Why that is, I don't know, the whisky hobby makes no sense to me most of the time. I'm not going to complain though. I'm just going to happily stroll back down to my local and buy another bottle of this while crazy people chase the hype train for the new Colonel Taylor Four Taters or whatever other carrot Buffalo Trace is dangling this month.
Rating: B+ / B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Elijah Craig Small Batch Review

Elijah Craig is a product that's seen a lot of changes over the last few years. First the 12 year age statement was moved to the small print on the back label. Not long after that the 12 year age statement dropped completely. Then here today we have a newly introduced bottle design that I don't care for at all. Not only do I dislike the new bottle shape but the marketing bullshit slathered all over the front label rubs me all kinds of wrong ways. Sure Elijah Craig was a distiller hundreds of years ago but there's no proof that he's the "Father of Bourbon" and many noted American whiskey authorities doubt he was making anything different from his peers. Further damaging to this claim is information from bourbon historian Mike Veach that it's unlikely Craig was even barreling his whiskey because during his time whiskey was taxed by the amount produced rather than the amount sold so barrel aging would be lost profits. Beyond that, the "first to char oak barrels" bit on the label is complete poppycock as well since the French were charring oak barrels to make cognac as far back as the 15th century. 
Marketing driven label poop is the norm these days so despite that, I like Heaven Hill well enough as they haven't done much wrong by me. I got my introduction to the Elijah Craig brand 7 or so years ago when the 18 year was an incredible value at ~$50 so things got off to a good start. I'm also a huge fan of Barrel Proof as I think that is the best semi-available, sub $100, consistent, cask strength product you can buy. I was never really a fan of Elijah Craig 12 however as I always thought it was a bit too oak heavy. While that works for me in the barrel proof, when cut with water it's just a completely different experience. Now that this product is a no age statement blend though I'm expecting a less oaky experience and have higher hopes I will enjoy it.
bottle
No Age Statement
47% ABV
$33
Nose: Smells like your standard, middle aged, rye based bourbon. Vanilla, caramel, rye spice bite. It smells like a 10-12 year old bourbon with little perceptible young or grainy new make notes. If I had one complaint it does breath a little warm for only being 94 proof which is surprising because this bottle has been open a while and is nearly gone. 
Taste: Tastes like it smells. All classic bourbon notes here. Lots of oak, drinks about like a blended average of 10-11 years. Sweet vanilla/honey/caramel in the front, oak tannins in the middle, and a finish of slight rye spice, darker sweets like cocoa, and lots more oak. The palate is not as heat forward as the nose but it is still a touch hotter than I think it should if I'm being nit picky. It might even be still too oak forward for my tastes at times.
Thoughts: An incredibly okay bourbon. Plain, simple, familiar, comforting - no more, no less. While some may be upset that it no longer bears that 12 year age statement, I think I like the no age statement version better. I don't think it's as much as a bitter oak bomb as the previous version though I am just going off memory. I think this can old its own with other classics like Blanton's so when considering the price, this is a good value. A few bucks more though and you are in Four Roses Single Barrel price territory which I would take all day long over this.
Rating: C+ / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Old Ripy Review

While I'm a huge fan of Wild Turkey whiskeys, their current owner Campari can pretty much fuck right off. I mean sure they still have some really good products like Russell's Reserve Single Barrel but stuff like the current 101 and Rare Breed are mere shells of what they used to be. The more I learn about the decisions there over the years the more I come to the conclusion that they've been sacrificing quality for profits. So along that cash grab mentality, here we have the latest in whiskey innovations from them, a new series dubbed "Whiskey Barons."
✅ Limited Edition 
✅ High Price
✅ Old-timey Marketing
✅ Made up Distillery
Yep, that's about as much fuckery as Diego's Orphan Barrel line. Campari, wut r u doing. Campari, stahp. 
As for this particular product, we know it was made at the Wild Turkey distillery but not under the supervision of Eddie or Jimmy Russell who were apparently too busy at the time. Marketing materials claim it is "12-year-old and younger whiskies" which is a deceiving way of saying it's a no age statement blend. 
bottle
No Age Statement
52% ABV
Non Chill Filtered
$70 (MSRP is more like $50), 375ml
Nose: Heat is about right for 104 proof. I'm getting a dose of fruity new make and also that hallmark Wild Turkey rye baking spice bite. I'd guess about 6-8 years old from the nose. Pretty much a proofed down Rare Breed.
Taste: Upfront is a bit of fruity, grainy new make notes. A lot of wood influence starts to take over in the mid-palate and things even start to get a little bitter in the finish with some dark chocolate and tannic oak. The bitterness seems to be drowning out the Wild Turkey spice note that I love. It tastes something like a mix of a more mature Wild Turkey 101 blend and an oakier Rare Breed proofed down a few points.
Thoughts: The first time I tried this was after tasting Decades which is a pretty mature bourbon. That experience left me with an initial impression that this was rather young and not very good. Revisiting it now on its own I'm finding a lot more complexity but I still don't think it's great. It's not bad, probably on par with current Rare Breed which I am not really a fan of and truth be told I probably like regular ol' Wild Turkey 101 more. Taking the price and marketing hype into account, this is pretty lame and I feel rather ripped off. Maybe that's where the idea behind Old Ripy originated.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wild Turkey Decades Review

When it comes to bourbon, Wild Turkey is dear to me. The standard 101 is the house bourbon in my bar because it's a hell of a workhorse as both a daily sipper and a cocktail base. Combine that with the fact that I can almost always find it no matter where I am and it just keeps growing on me with each passing year. Then there's Russell's Reserve Single Barrel which I would say next to Four Roses Single Barrel store selections is the best bourbon you can regularly purchase today. Yet despite winning with those great products, Wild Turkey has really shit the bed in the special release department over the last few years. Diamond was such a flop that I can still find it stinking up shelves nearly 3 years after its release. Before that there was American Spirit, Tribute, and Tradition, all of which I found many years after their release and am glad I never sunk my money into. Things did take a bit of a turn for the better last year with the 17 year Master's Keep which I enjoyed but I have a hard time recommending it based on price. Even better was the Russell's Reserve 1998 which is undoubtable the best recent Wild Turkey I've ever had but at $250 MSRP, that was a big pass for me as well. 
So now we have the second release under the Wild Turkey Master's Keep label, this time dubbed "Decades". This one comes in at a higher proof and states it is aged 10-20 years which coincidentally is a violation of TTB regulations since it doesn't list the percentages but the ineptitude of the TTB is a topic for another day. The upped proof and blended aspect read on paper like this has the potential to be one of the better Wild Turkey releases but they've let us down before so I'm proceeding with caution.
bottle
Aged 10-20 years
52% ABV
Bottle No. 50782
$170 (MSRP is more like $150)
Nose: Lots of typical bourbon sweet notes of burnt caramel and vanilla. The oak influence is pretty strong. It smells like a much older aged Wild Turkey 101 which is a great thing. 
Taste: Lots of typical bourbon wood sugars, a strong oak backbone, and a big heap of baking spices. I love the bold spicy profile of Wild Turkey and this has that in droves, especially in the finish. The slightly higher proof is undoubtably contributing to that spice tingle but it's far from overly hot and I dare say the perfect amount of heat. The mouthfeel is decent; not as lush as some older dusty Wild Turkey I've had but it's no slouch. This tastes somewhere between a cross of a hyper aged 101 and the best Russell's Reserve Single Barrel you'll ever have. 
Thoughts: This is an exemplary bourbon, especially if you are a fan of Wild Turkey. The oak influence is very strong without being overly woody so it has a lot of depth. The classic bourbon sweet notes are very present as is that hallmark Turkey spice note making for a wonderful balance of sweet, spice, and oak. I have a hard time saying that any bourbon is worth a $150 retail cost these days but of the first Master's Keep, Russell's Reserve 1998, and this, I would say that Decades is easily the best value of the three. While that price is hard to swallow, there's something to be said about the fact that this was not hard for me to obtain and if I want another one I can drive to a store right now and grab another. Given the price, I'm not going to do that but I don't regret having gone after this once. 
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To Bonus: National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond 1972-1981

This is a bonus review in what was originally intended to be a 3 part series covering the ups and downs of the widely hyped bourbons from the now defunct National Distillers Group. Part One covered low end bottles that weren't worthy of much praise. Part Two stepped things up with some bottle in bond variants, one of which was pretty damn good. Part 3 is where things really kicked into high gear with the Old Grand-Dad 114 bottles that were my clear favorites.
Right as I was finished with the series a whiskey friend who had previously sent me a mystery sample I had yet to open said he had to tell me what it was. Turns out it's another bottled in bond National Distillers product from the 1980s. The 1980s bonded Old Grand-Dad faired well in my side by side tastings so I have a feeling things will go well here.
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.
bottle
Aged 9 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to /u/I_SAID_NO_GOLDFISH for the sample and photo
Color: I don't usually remark on color but it is daaaaark. Here is a side by side with a current bottle of Henry McKenna 10 year Bottled in Bond.
Nose: I could smell the old dusty funk as soon as I poured the sample. While typing up the intro here I let the pour rest in the glass and could smell the butterscotch from several feet away. Up close and personal it smells like my memory of the 1980s Old Grand-Dad. Lots of honey butterscotch and rye spice tingle. The proof is more present than the other bottled in bonds I tried and I suspect this bottle is the least oxidized of any I had yet because it is very big, bold, and rich.
Taste: Glorious. It's so viscous, thick, and chewy - it's like condensed bourbon. I've experienced this kind of concentrated intensity very recently and it was with a dusty pre-fire Heaven Hill McKenna from the 90s. This is a real powerhouse of dusty funk, caramel butterscotch sweetness, and a dash of rye spice. The finish lasts an eternity and the rye spice gets a little more bold leaving a kind of spicy Mexican dark chocolate note. 
Thoughts: A perfect, master class bourbon and I can think of no better way to close out this series. Yes, they absolutely do not make them like they used to.
Rating: A / A+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye Reviews

Over the years I've grown quite fond of Wild Turkey. A lot of that stems from a love of their vintage releases back before the turn of the century but they do have some current products that I enjoy as well. Wild Turkey 101 is my go to as a daily sipper and cocktail base of choice. And if you take Four Roses out of the equation, Russell's Reserve Single Barrel is my favorite readily available bourbon under $60. 
But as good as those two products are, Wild Turkey is on shaky ground with me when it comes to rye. Their 101 rye isn't nearly as good of a base product as the 101 bourbon. It's heavily slanted towards a young profile and not really a good value considering the 101 bourbon is more mature and cheaper. But in late 2015 Wild Turkey launched a new single barrel rye under their premium Russell's Reserve line. Though it's not age stated, the Russell's name implies it's a bit older plus it's bottled at a respectable 104 proof and is non chill filtered. 
bottle

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye

No Age Statement; 52% ABV; $67
The nose is a nice bouquet of rye flavors like baking spices, anise, and menthol. There's a very familiar modern Wild Turkey characteristic scent to it, kind of like corny cardboard that I taste in the 101 bourbon. From the nose I'd guess about 6-7 years old. The palate is similarly spicy, more so than I remember with the 101 rye. There is honey and other wood sweets up front but it's very heavy on the baking spices and other rye flavors. The corny cardboard note is toned down so it has some maturity, I'd guess maybe 7ish years old. I'm inclined to call this one a bit of a spice bomb, up there with MGP high rye whiskies but without those quirky dill notes.
Rating: B / B-

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye Liquor Barn Barrel #16

No Age Statement; 52% ABV; $70; Barrel #16, Rickhouse E, Floor 2, Selected by Liquor Barn Series #1
Pretty similar to the non store select bottle - baking spices, menthol, rye bread. The young corny cardboard notes are more muted though so there is less modern Wild Turkey familiarity to it. Overall it smells like a rye spice blast. The taste is very similar to the other barrel with the rye spice notes being very prominent but there is also more traditional wood sweetness up front and in the finish. I feel like this is the more mature of the two and I'd guess it clocks in at around 7-8 years old. I'd give the slight edge to this barrel because it offers more balance in terms of sweet and spice but that's really splitting hairs.
Rating: B

These were a welcome improvement over 101 rye and show that Wild Turkey can make a good rye whiskey. Though there were minor differences between the two, the core profile is still very similar - a modestly aged, nicely proofed, spicy whiskey. At $60+ they aren't the best value but that's pretty close in price to other rye whiskeys I'd rate similarly in enjoyment like Michter's Barrel Strength Rye and Pikesville Rye
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 13, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 3: 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1 and 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17

This is part three of a three part series where I walk through a few different bottlings of vintage National Distillers bourbon to see what the fuss around them is all about. To recap, here is the full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%
Part One covered some rather low end bottom shelf bottles and the results were no better or worse than bourbons than you can find on the bottom shelf today. Part Two stepped things up with the much more coveted age stated bottle in bond variants, one of which was a stinker but the other was really quite nice. We've covered the low end, we've covered age stated, so now let's find out how a bump in proof treats their products. 
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.

1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1

front
back
No Age Statement; 57% ABV; Lot 1; Thanks to /u/pork_bastard for the sample.
The nose is crazy dense with classic high rye bourbon notes and is the richest thus far which is no surprise given the high proof. The rye spice notes are cranked up here compared to all the others as well. The taste is a honey butterscotch bomb with dusty old wood and dry baking spices. It has sweets, vintage dusty bourbon, oak, and spice notes in droves. An amazing whiskey, up there with the best dusty bourbon profiles I've ever experienced.
Rating: A-

1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17

front
back
No Age Statement; 57% ABV; Lot 17.
Again like the lot 1, it's very dense with lots of high rye and vintage dusty bourbon notes. A little bit more of unpleasant acetone / burnt rubber note but you have to really reach for that. Again the taste is a super honey butterscotch bomb with a spicy rye finish. It's down a notch from the lot 1 and not quite as good as another 80s 114 I've sampled but it's a stellar whiskey in its own right. 
Rating: B+

When it comes to National Distillers, the 114s are my clear favorites. The proof really ramps up the sweet, spicy, and dusty notes to make these the most interesting to me. Not included here but the first National Distillers 114 I ever had was a 1982 Lot 9 (frontback) and it was even better than both of these with much more honey and way more intense dusty notes. I'm just going to assume better storage conditions on that bottle but you can't go wrong with any of them and it runs laps around the 114 on the shelf today.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 2: 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor 6 Year Bottled in Bond and 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 8 Year Bottled in Bond

This is part two of a three part series where I walk through a few different bottlings of vintage National Distillers bourbon to see what the fuss around them is all about. To recap, here is the full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%
Part One covered some rather low end bottom shelf bottles and the results were no better or worse than bourbons than you can find on the bottom shelf today. Both of those bottles were no age statement and proofed on the low side so we really shouldn't have expected much. The real hyped up National Distillers bottles though are the bottled in bond variants so let's find out what happens when you crank up the proof and slap an age statement on them.
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.
bottle

1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond

Aged 6 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to Beau for the sample.
The nose is out of this world funky and pungent - it barely smells like bourbon. As it opens up it starts to get more bourbon-ish qualities but it's a lot of wet hay, old wood, antiseptic, and old leather. I know those notes sound horrible but it's like watching a train wreck and I can't stop smelling it. The taste is just as randomly awkward with a lot of honey upfront and some old vintage bourbon notes. The finish is drying with ashy barrel char and some bitter acetone. I would have never guessed this was 100 proof as it drinks just as easy as the 80 proof deLuxe though it has more intensity. This is one of the more weird things I've ever drank and not in a good way as it's just a funky mess. 
Rating: As is, I give it an F. I have a good feeling this bottle is severely oxidized and not representative of other National Distillers bottles from this time so that rating is probably worthless.

1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond

Aged 8 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to Beau for the sample.
The nose is rich and dense with lots of dark burnt sugars and some tingly rye spices. It has that old bourbon smell that I really look for in vintage whiskeys. The taste is honey and butterscotch up front with a nice blast of dusty notes in the middle and a finish of rye baking spices. The rye spice is a bit more noticeable than in other National Distillers I've had and is masking that butterscotch forward note that usually dominates the taste. This is a fantastic whiskey that is well balanced in the sweet, oak, and spice category all while carrying that hallmark old bourbon taste. I can see why people go nuts over the age stated 100 proof National Distillers bottles from this era. 
Rating: A- / B+

Well, this was interesting and there are a couple of lessons learned here. First off, be careful when chasing some of these vintage dusties because you might get burned. I'm pretty sure the Old Taylor here has gone bad which is a shame because it's the oldest whiskey I've ever tasted and I was excited to try it. As for the 80s bonded Old Grand-Dad, it's a remarkable whiskey and one that I think is worthy of some hype. Having said that, like pretty much everything these days the secondary prices on it are completely wacked out on the value scale but we'll touch more on that in part three. Spoiler alert: I'm saving the best for last.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 6, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 1: 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe and 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield

They don't make them like they used to.

I hate to be cliché but at this point in my bourbon adventures I've come to realize there is a lot of truth to that. That isn't to stay that bourbon made today isn't great, because a lot of it is. The more I branch out into vintage bourbons though the more I am fascinated by the taste profiles that while not necessarily better than stuff I can buy today, they can be vastly different and/or more interesting.
I'm not really sure why vintage stuff tastes the way it does but bourbon historian Michael Veach lays out some good theories in Old Bottle Bourbon Flavor. I think the answer is everything he's mentioned, including the bottle conditioning part. With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, just that familiar combo and that's what I find that makes them so interesting.
Further down the unique profiles rabbit hole, some dusties have an even more specific calling card which brings us to National Distillers. Up until the late 80s when they were acquired by Jim Beam, National Distillers put out Old Taylor, Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and a few other bourbons. Before Beam took over and ruined them, those brands are well known for a very sweet, butterscotch forward profile. Up until recently I've only had the NAS 80 proof and NAS 86 proof expressions of National Distillers and while I agree they were butterscotch bombs, I felt they were all mostly one-trick ponies and rather boring. But what about higher proofs? Older vintages? Higher ages? Let's take a walk through 6 different bottlings to find out if ND dusties are really worth all the hype. The full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%


1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe

bottle
No Age Statement; 40% ABV; Thanks to /u/harry_fjord for the sample. Note the picture is from Google search.
The nose is kind of thin with some butterscotch sweetness, dusty bourbon notes, and older oak. It smells richer and older than it should for an 80 proof no age statement whiskey. The nose is more impressive than the taste though. The palate entry is thin and the finish is almost nonexistent. The sweet notes from the nose are there as are faint traces of older whiskey but there is also some chemical varnish / acetone notes in the mix as well. If only the palate carried through as solid as the nose this could be great. As is, it's mildly interesting due to the faint dusty profile but it's not something I would care to have again.
Rating: D

1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield

bottle
No Age Statement; 43% ABV; Thanks to /u/flavorjunkie for the sample. Note the picture is from Google search.
Nose is a bit darker with caramelized sugars, toffee, and the hallmark butterscotch. It's still a little thin but more robust than the 80 proof deLuxe. I get some light rye in here as well but not really picking up on the dusty notes yet. The palate is super sweet and very caramel candy forward. The dusty old notes that I usually get in bourbons bottled before the 2000s are here but very, very faint. I will say this is the sweetest butterscotch/caramel bomb National Distillers whiskey I've had yet. The finish is a disappointment though as it's pretty weak. This is slightly interesting due to the classic National Distillers profile but like all the other ND whiskey I've had I'm left thinking how much better it would be with more proof.
Rating: C

So there you have it, all that glitters is not gold. These were bottom shelf turds back in the 80s and they are no better or worse than the stuff you can continue to find on the bottom shelf today. Hopefully things can only go up from here.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.