Jun 13, 2015

Inside a Tax-Stamped Bourbon Tasting

The Whiskey Jug reviews some seriously old bourbon dating back to the 1960s and 70s. Here's how it all went down.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting

Last week at the SCWC (a whiskey club open to anyone in Los Angeles) we congregated to do something we’ve done only twice before… drink old tax-stamped bourbon. I’m not talking about old as in age-stated, I’m talking about old as in distilled the 60’s and 70’s old. Talking about the stuff our Dad’s and Grand-Dad’s drank. The kind of whiskey that is affectionately know as a dusty due to the fact that if found on a shelf it’s usually covered in dust. Yes friends, we’re entering an older realm of whiskey geekery today.

Tax-Stamped Bourbon tasted:

  • Ancient Age 80
  • Ancient Age 86
  • Ancient Ancient Age 10yr
  • IW Harper
  • Beams Black Label
  • Walker’s Deluxe 8yr (Peoria)
  • Walkers Deluxe (Bardstown)
  • Old Kentucky Tavern 8yr
  • Evan William’s 200th

Most of these were bottled in the 70’s and all of them had that old bottle “dusty cardboard” funk to them that dusty hunters crave when first opened, but most of them ended up opening nicely after a few minutes of stretching their legs.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting - Ancient Age

Ancient Age 80

  • Nose: Caramel, dark fruit, vanilla, multi-vitamin and a touch of acetone.
  • Palate: Cologne, sourness, caramel syrup, soap, imitation vanilla and oregano.
  • Finish: Cologne, spice, wood, sourness.
  • Overall: C- (70-72) Hot, off balanced and not very tasty. It was fun to taste, but this is a dusty I’d leave on the shelf.

Ancient Age 86

  • Nose: Caramel, citrus, vanilla, artificial fruit, light wood and a lingering dustiness.
  • Palate: Butterscotch, raw grains, cherry cough syrup, spice, old wood.
  • Finish: Cherry cough syrup, raw grain, astringency and an off aftertaste.
  • Overall: C+ (77-79) Not well balanced, but even though it’s 3% more alcohol it had less burn than the first Ancient Age. Not worth going out of your way to get a bottle of, but interesting to try for sure.

Ancient Ancient Age 10yr

  • Nose: Dark fruit, caramel, wood, vanilla, spice and a soft sweetness riding underneath.
  • Palate: Dried dark fruit, caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, spice, wood, Canadian mints and a hay-like undertone.
  • Finish: Spice, wood, citrus and smarties.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Alright, here we go now. This one is actually pretty good, in-fact it’s one I’d grab if found quietly sitting on a shelf somewhere. I wouldn’t pay a crazy amount for it on the secondary market for one, but it’s not a bad little whiskey.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting Walkers Deluxe and Kentucky Tavern

Old Kentucky Tavern 8yr

  • Nose: Rich caramel, dark sweets, wood, vanilla, spice and sweetness.
  • Palate: All the same notes as the nose but with added layers of citrus and toasted nuts – it’s really a nice bourbon.
  • Finish: Wood, dark fruit, leather, tobacco and a warm sweetness that fades out slowly.
  • Overall: A- (90-92) Wow, this one was fantastic, by far my favorite of the evening. I loved everything about it and would definitely like to track down a bottle!

Walker’s Deluxe 8yr (Peoria)

  • Nose: Dark fruit, dark sweets, oily nuts, spice and light wood.
  • Palate: Dark fruit, dark sweets, nutty, spice, wood, bit herbal and soapy towards the end.
  • Finish: Spice, herbal, woody, dark sweets and soap.
  • Overall: B (83-86) The peoria distillery shut down and this brand moved to Bardstown in 1981. This is one of those seemingly rare circumstances where the original wasn’t as good as the remake which is what we’re looking at next.

Walkers Deluxe (Bardstown)

  • Nose: Dark fruit, rich dark sweets, vanilla, oak and a bit of that musty old bottle hanging around.
  • Palate: Oak, dark fruit, dark sweets, toasted grain, vanilla and a touch of that old bottle mustiness towards the end.
  • Finish: Oak, vanilla, dark fruit, grains and citrus.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Yeah this was definitely better than the Peoria stuff, but I didn’t notice the major chasm in difference I’ve read about. Yes this one is superior, but not significantly so, it’s not like the Peoria stuff was abysmal or anything.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting - Bourbon Deluxe

Bourbon Deluxe (4 years)

  • Nose: Cherry heavy dark fruit, cinnamon, leather, caramel, vanilla and a light bit of oak.
  • Palate: Dark fruit, caramel, wood, spice, vanilla and bit of soap.
  • Finish: Soap, wood, spice and caramel.
  • Overall: B (83-86) If it wasn’t for that bit of soapiness it would have been a fantastic bourbon, but even as it is the soap doesn’t overpower it so it carries an ok balance. Would’t go to great lengths to get a bottle, but if I found it in the wild I’d grab it.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting - IW Harper - Beam Black - Evan Williams 200th

IW Harper

  • Nose: Dark sweets, astringency, some wood and… well not a whole lot else.
  • Palate: Muddled bit of sour fruit, dark sweets, salt, spice and an odd note of pottery clay.
  • Finish: Salty and spicy with some plasticy dark fruit.
  • Overall: C (73-76) This was not that good. The nose was light and sort of not-really-there. The flavor was also light, but at least had some more depth than the aroma and failed the old vs new test. The latest version might be light and fruity, but tasted side-by-side I can definitely say it’s better than this one so good job guys!

Beams Black Label

  • Nose: Sweet caramel syrup, Butterscotch, corn and vanilla.
  • Palate: Caramel, vanilla, spice and candy corn.
  • Finish: Wood, candy corn and a bit of spice.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Not incredibly deep, but solid. Though next to the current release I’m going to have to give the edge to the latest 8 year Beam Black. I don’t know how it stacks up to the new Beam Black NAS, but as soon as I get my hands on a bottle we’ll find out.

Evan William’s 200th

  • Nose: Dark fruit, caramel, toffee, cinnamon, spice and a light bit of herbals.
  • Palate: Dark fruit, dark sweets, mint, grain, spice and wood.
  • Finish: Wood, dark fruit, dark sweets and mint.
  • Overall: A- (90-92) This was a fantastic, well balanced bourbon and I had a hard time picking between this and the Old Kentucky Tavern for my favorite of the night, but I think the OKT pulled out the win by a hair.

The most surprising thing that came out of this tax-stamped bourbon tasting, for me, was that I liked the the newer versions more than the older versions. With the I.W. Harper being the biggest difference. The Beam’s were fairly close and that could have been due to the old bottle effect. If I had tried it back when it was new there’s every chance that I would have liked it more than the current one.

Events like this are invaluable because they help set a frame of reference for how whiskey has evolved and changed over the years and I can’t recommend enough joining, or creating, a club of your own. It’s easier for a group to hunt and track down bottles than an individual; you also get the knowledge, experience and insight of others. I always go away from these meetings knowing more than I went in and If you’re in Los Angeles you should join us at an upcoming SoCal Whiskey Club event.

SCWC Tax Stamp Bourbon Tasting 2

DISCLAIMER: I do not run the club and I am not compensated in any way to write about the club; I pay full member dues like everyone else.

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