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That Boutique-y Whisky Company are part of Atom Brands, the company behind Master of Malt, one of the premier spirits retailers online. Much of their output centres around single cask single malt whisky from Scotland but they also dabble in the spirit of other countries and in this review I’ll be looking at two such drams from their 2020 advent calendar, which they very kindly sent to me last November.
*Full disclosure: I was sent theses samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the whisky and the value for money it represents.
James E. Pepper 3 Year Old Rye Whiskey (Oloroso Cask Finish)
James E. Pepper was a whiskey maker and bourbon industrialist from Louisville, Kentucky. The third generation to make Old Pepper whiskey, James was also an avid horseman, who operated one of the most highly regarded stables in Kentucky with thoroughbreds competing in the Kentucky derby and various other races across the US and Europe.
He often travelled in a private railcar called The Old Pepper and spent much of his time in Manhattan, promoting his brand. Some say it was Pepper that introduced the Old Fashioned cocktail to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, having first tried it at the Pendennis Club in Louisville. It was also he that persuaded the state of Kentucky to change the law in order to allow him to sell his whiskey by the bottle instead of by cask.
The Old Pepper distillery eventually closed down in 1958 and remained silent for more than 50 years until an entrepreneur by the name of Amir Peay bought the site and drew up plans to relaunch the distillery. After a decade of research into the history of the brand, a new still system was installed that carefully mimicked the setup used in the original distillery back in 1934. It was even built by the same company – Vendome copper in Louisville. Tradition has also been adhered to, through the use of the same mashbill.
A release of 1622 bottles, this James E Pepper Rye Whiskey has been finished in Oloroso casks before bottling at 50% abv. Retails around £46.95.
Smell: Old leather and tobacco leaves. Vanilla pods and glacé cherries. Allspice. Rum and raisin. Dark chocolate.
Taste: Dark chocolate and toffee – reminds me of Riesen chewy chocolate sweets. There’s also juicy raisins and cherry with tobacco and peppery spice. A splash of water softened the spice a little and allowed more caramel to come through.
Value for money: As always with Boutique-y Whisky, we’re talking about 50cl bottles here but I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed this one and would be fairly happy paying just £46.95 for the pleasure of owning one.
As you’d expect from a rye whiskey finished in oloroso there’s a lot of flavour going on in the glass and at the risk of offending those within whisk(e)y circles who get upset at the use of certain words, there’s a smoothness to the arrival, with those chocolate, toffee and raisin notes enveloping the palate before the spice arrives. Not a dram for fans of spirit-led experiences but an affordable option for the flavour junkies out there.
Reservoir Distillery 2 Year Old Bourbon
The concept of Reservoir distillery was born when lifelong friends Jay Carpenter and David Cuttino shared a bourbon at a Virginia tech football game in 2008. They decided to combine their passion for whiskey with a respect for their Virginia roots to create a new unique product that would showcase local ingredients as much as possible.
They soon developed three distinct whiskies, each created with a 100% mash bill from locally sourced grains – a wheat whiskey, made from 100% wheat, rye from 100% rye and bourbon from 100% corn. Each product is made in small batches and matured in small barrels charred to level 5. There’s no official schedule for aging and releasing the spirit, instead distillers have complete creative freedom to judge when each batch is ready to be bottled.
This 2 year old is bottled at 47.6% and retails for £54.95.
Smell: The first thing I notice, and this may sound obvious, is the smell of casks. Not so much the woody character imparted to the spirit by the oak, but the aroma of the actual vessel itself – I have a hogshead that acts as a table in my front garden and it when you sit beside it, this is what you smell. After a while it shifts to charcoal-like oak char. There’s also berries and forest fruits with vanilla and freshly sawn oak.
Taste: Highland toffee and more of that oak char. Vanilla ice cream with raspberry sauce and chocolate sprinkles! Leaves a dry finish with pepper and cloves.
Value for money: Another decent dram, though if it were a straight choice between the two, the James E. Pepper at nearly £10 less would get my vote. That is not to say I wouldn’t appreciate a bottle of this perfectly passable bourbon however, I’m just a sucker for the big silly flavours of that Rye / Oloroso.
Over on the Quaich Podcast, my co-host and I once joked that all bourbon tasted the same, and whilst I understand that this is in fact, not really true, I sometimes find myself asking “why should I buy this one, as opposed to the hundreds of other similarly priced alternatives” and that’s sort of where I find myself with this Reservoir. It’s certainly nice, but maybe lacks something a little bit unique or unusual that would really make it stand out. I suppose by the same argument though, you won’t be disappointed because you know exactly what you’re going to get: good, wholesome bourbon whiskey, and there’s nowt wrong with that.
If either of the whiskies reviewed in this article have caught your eye, you can purchase them from Master of Malt…
Buy James E. Pepper 3 Year Old Oloroso-finished Rye Whiskey here.
Buy Reservoir Distillery 2 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey here.
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