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Who on Earth is James Cree?
The James Cree whiskey brand is owned by Halewood Artisanal Spirits. Halewood are an independent distiller and bottler of spirits with an impressive portfolio of brands. The James Cree name was a new one on me but a bit of digging soon unearthed a fascinating story.
It appears the brand began life as American Eagle but an understandable challenge from Sazerac, over its likeness to their Eagle Rare brand, meant that things had to change. So Halewood rebranded but why James Cree?
Halewood also owns the Crabbie’s whisky brand and way back in 1836, when John Crabbie was just getting started, he partnered with a man named William Cree. Together, they acquired the Leith firm of James Wyld & Co and soon became very successful traders of wines and spirits.
William Cree passed away in 1840 but his son, James, had already joined the company. James E. Cree followed in his father’s footsteps and became a successful merchant but in 1885, he decided to retire and in a somewhat surprising move, bought a ranch and land in what would become New Mexico, USA.
Cree arrived in the US in September 1885 with his family in tow. There he would become instrumental in the introduction of Aberdeen Angus cows. 150 bulls were shipped across the Atlantic from Scotland with several dying on the drive from Santa Fe to the ranch but the survivors were soon breeding with the ranch’s native livestock.
As an intriguing sidenote: Cree’s first ranch manager was Pat Garret. THAT Pat Garret. The same Pat Garret who hunted down and shot Henry McCarty aka William H. Bonney aka Billy the Kid, just a few years prior, in 1881.
Cree was already 68 when he took ownership of the ranch and in 1891 he passed away. His son, also James, took over the business and the Angus V V Ranch would remain in the family until it was eventually sold on in 1931.
Now, what any of this has to do with whiskey is anyone’s guess. From what I could see, the Cree family had no involvement with American whiskey at all. I don’t think anyone would argue, however, that it’s a better story and therefore a better brand name than the rather cliched American Eagle.
*Full disclosure: This sample was included in an advent calendar which I was sent for free. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
James Cree’s Cattle Ranch Whiskey is made with a mash bill of 84% corn. As is common in the state of Tennessee, the spirit has undergone the Lincoln County Process – a charcoal filtering process that’s often associated with brands like Jack Daniel’s.
Smell: Fragrant caramel and virgin oak casks. Fizzy sweets – cola bottles. Toffee and butterscotch. Honey. Charcoal and cinnamon sticks. Sweetcorn.
Taste: There’s a little touch of the corn before the oak takes over. First there’s charcoal, then cinnamon and brown sugar. Vanilla fudge. Orange liqueur before an oaky finish that tails off quickly to leave a gentle dry wood spice tingle on the palate.
Thoughts: The nose was probably more interesting than the palate but it was still a decent budget-friendly bourbon. It’s not the heaviest but still had a chewable quality to it and it felt like I was licking it off my teeth for a while after. Nothing overly complex. The charcoal filtering has possibly added a little bit of depth to the experience though I would love to try a higher strength version – it feels like the dram could really benefit from a wee bit more intensity. Otherwise, a nice feet-up / switch off kind of whiskey.
Value for money: There’s plenty of bourbon to be picked up for £30 and the James Cree doesn’t strike me as much better or worse than anything else in that price range. Could make for an interesting alternative though, if you’re fed up with all the usual names.
For more on James Cree’s Tennessee Bourbon visit here