Tuesday, December 28, 2010

W.H. Harrison Indiana Bourbon

Disclaimer: Any tasting notes may be a bit off as my taste buds have been thrown out of whack due to strong antibiotics.  I feel I am on the mend enough to comment on taste again.  That said I'd estimate that I'm operating at around 85% palate capacity.

I am writing this post on Christmas vacation in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Being that my in laws live here, I am usually here a couple times a year.  Indy's not a bad town.  It's a city designed for cars, so no parking and traffic problems like we face in Philly.  Indy's size makes it manageable and it has some cool stuff to see and do.  I don't think the food scene can quite match Philly, but I have to say my sister-in-law and her boyfriend have taken us to some very cool places.  One place, MacNivens, offers a fantastic scotch list at prices that would drop some jaws in Philly.   Property values are about the cheapest in the country, too.  Of course I'm always trying out Midwestern beers while I'm out here, as many of them are local and not available on the East Coast.  As a side note, I've noticed that the heavy hitting craft brewers on the shelves in New Jersey are the usual suspects out here, too; New Belgium, Founders, Bells, etc.  There is not a lot of PA representation on the beer shelves; usually an offer or two from Victory and that's about it.  Anyway, the Indiana/Illinois brewers put out some good stuff, as does my sister-in-law's boyfriend, who homebrews (here is a post of us brewing together http://urbangrain.blogspot.com/2010/09/brewing-beer.html).  He usually guides me on which local brewers are good and which are not so good.  Maybe sometime I'll do a rundown of Midwestern beer, but this post is about bourbon.

William Henry Harrison was an Indiana governor and U.S. president.   A bunch of stuff out here is named after him, including a former military base that is now offices and condos.  Now he has a bourbon named after him.  According to the bottle, this bourbon is made from Indiana corn and aged in handmade oak barrels "harvested in and around Indiana."  It has an age statement of "less than 4 years."

Folks who appreciate the raw spirit of moonshine might appreciate this bourbon, but for me it's underaged.  Especially at 35 bucks.  It has a ton of corn on the nose, and it's quite pale in color.  It goes down fairly smooth, again with a lot of corn sweetness.  But it has little of the wood character for which bourbon is known.  No cinnamon, no vanilla, no caramel, no spice.  The guy at the store said the Governer's Reserve version has more caramel due to it being barrel proof but I wasn't ready to lay down $55. 

As much as the craft beer scene has elevated our beer palates in America, the craft distilling scene is a bit of a different animal, especially when it comes to spirits that require aging.  I have been burned a few times on "craft" whiskies.  For example, I like the idea of Rogue Dead Guy Whisky, which uses the wort from their Dead Guy Ale and then ages it in barrels by the seaside.  But here again, the whisky is just too young.  Stranahan's Colorado Whisky actually has quite a good reputation but I didn't care for it; too fruity for my taste.  I have heard that Anchor makes some fantastic old style ryes but haven't tried one yet.  And of course there are others out there, e.g. I just bought my father-in-law an Oregon whisky that looks pretty good (McCarthys gets their malted barley from Scotland, then the Widmer Bros. Brewing Co. turns it into a wash for them which they distill, then they age it in Oregon wood.  Apparently it approximates Islay scotch).  It comes down to the aging.  A major producer like Heaven Hill has tons of barrels holding whisky at all different ages.  Their stock is huge, and at any given time they can look for a new flavor profile just by wandering through the rickhouse and sampling.  And if they were so inclined, they could afford to make a new recipe and let it age; they have much less to lose.  It seems to me like these upstarts, tired of losing money during the aging process, rush to get product to the market that simply isn't ready.  It's a shame, because Harrison's seems to be made of some good ingredients, i.e. it didn't taste harsh or cheap.  If they ever release a 7 or 8 year, I'd give them another go.  But a $35 bottle of whisky should taste more complex than mellowed out moonshine.  I am very curious if the Governer's Reserve does a better job in terms of flavor with it's barrel proofing and higher rye content.   But it's difficult to justify climbing a brand ladder when you are turned off by their overpriced first rung.

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