Disclosure: Luxco, through their public relations firm Common Ground PR, provided samples to me for this review with no strings attached. The thoughts and opinions below are my opinion.
While most of the hype-sensitive bourbon world is searching for Pappy or anything from the BTAC, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Old Ezra Barrel Strength. Why? Read on …
Several months ago, I happened on to a bottle of Old Ezra 101-proof seven-year-old whiskey. The name was somewhat familiar, and the price was right so I made the purchase. Later in a blind taste test or two, it rated highly (and actually beat out one of my standard favorites). I continued to look for another bottle with limited success.
I began to research the bourbon and noticed numerous whiskey reviewers talking about something similar — Old Ezra Barrel Strength. A barrel strength bourbon, aged stated at seven years, expected nationwide distribution and with a supposed MSRP around $40. Wow. If this is so, I thought, this should be excellent news for the bourbon enthusiast.
Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Luxco has been a non-distiller producer for some time. In mid-2018, they opened the Lux Row Distillery in Bardstown, so they are now producing their own distillate. All of what you are currently finding on the shelves is sourced or contract produced for them, but that will change in the next few years. (Discussion of the goods and bads of NDPs is the subject of much debate and I won’t cover that in this post.)
I reached out to Luxco and learned that they do source from other distilleries throughout Kentucky and that they have had “an excellent long-standing relationship with Heaven Hill.” They went on to say that they now fill barrels from Lux Row Distillers every day, so we can assume that in the next few years we should see some of their own product.
In addition to Ezra Brooks, Lux Row also produces Rebel Yell, David Nicholson, and Blood Oath. They confirmed that what I had read from other reviewers was correct and offered to send me a sample for review.
Several days later, a package arrived containing samples of not only the Old Ezra Barrel Strength, but also David Nicholson Reserve and Rebel Yell Single Barrel — I guess we’ll have some additional reviews to do in the future. Having received two 50 ml samples of each, I split the tasting over two days to eliminate any differences due to environmental influences. Fortunately, I had a little of the Old Ezra 101° in my cabinet that I used for comparison during the review. Okay, on to the tasting.
What: Old Ezra Barrel Strength, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Aged 7 years, 58.5% Alc/Vol, 117°. Tastings performed on 10/30/2018 and 11/1/2018 from a Libbey Master’s Reserve Distilled Spirits glass after a few minutes rest.
Observation: Coppery brown (closer to an old penny than a new one). Reminiscent of fall leaves. Very similar in color to the Old Ezra 101° that this whiskey replaces. A good swirl reveals medium to thick long legs in the glass.
Nose: Brown sugar, damp oak, black pepper, slight cinnamon and just a hint of mint. It reminds me of the first time I stepped into a rickhouse. This whiskey wears its proof well; it doesn’t burn the nostrils or hit you over the head with alcohol.
Palate: You get a nice spice on the front of the tongue and a creamy mouthfeel. Caramel, but not overly so, followed by spice and earth. Well balanced, sweet enough so as not to be tannic or bitter, but not so much that you’d say maple-syrup sweet. Toward the end you get a bit of barrel char and old leather.
Finish: Warm and long. It moves to the roof of your mouth and the tingle moves to the sides of your tongue. A pleasant warm feel remains.
Overall: The Old Ezra Barrel Strength is more refined and complex compared to its predecessor. The 101° actually seems somewhat hotter and harsher, more “in your face” — and it was a good whiskey. It was the one that piqued my interest in the barrel strength. The additional 16 proof points actually seem to make the flavors come through a little more.
Since I had learned that this was most likely sourced from Heaven Hill, for kicks I grabbed a small pour of Henry McKenna bottled in bond to compare. The profiles are similar — a definite “family resemblance.” The McKenna has more caramel and barrel char in the background, rightly so as the whiskey spent at least three more years in the barrel.
Verdict: I will definitely buy this once bottles start showing up on the shelf in my area. Plusses to Luxco for going with a barrel strength, age stated bourbon. (We all know that age doesn’t guarantee goodness, but with NAS becoming the norm, it’s nice to see the age statement, and nice to see something seven years old.) While it is somewhat disappointing that the price will be higher than the 101°, the price point that they have chosen is certainly reasonable for a barrel strength expression. And if they are truly going to make the distribution widely available, then this will be a no-brainer for keeping on hand.