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Last year, another reviewer graciously provided me with a sample of 13th Colony Double Oaked Bourbon Batch 1. At that time, I couldn’t understand the hype others were bestowing on it. I had seen regular releases of 13th Colony bottles in some stores in Northern Kentucky in the past, but I understood them to be either a young craft brand or an NDP bottling whatever sourced barrels they could find.
Imagine my surprise when years later I see them topping “Best of” listicles with a Double Barreled Bourbon that was taking the community by storm. Had I been asleep at the wheel or something? What was I missing?
The 13th Colony Distillery
Located in Americus, Georgia, 13th Colony Distillery first opened in 2009 in an old mattress factory. Shortly thereafter they began to release their first clear spirit which they called Plantation Vodka. I believe they claimed to distill it on their 250 gallon pot still too. By 2013, they were “producing” at least 8 distinct spirits. I think a lot of people assumed that the whiskey they were bottling had been distilled by them at their distillery. But after many days of research, I’m going to come out and say it: I don’t believe that any of the whiskey that 13th Colony has bottled has ever been the product of distillate they’ve produced. It’s all been sourced.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that they use sourced bourbon and rye whiskey. On the contrary, I think that the brand’s reputation is mostly positive because of it. Consumers and reviewers alike seem to like what they’ve tasted so far. It’s just a shame that they don’t come out and admit it. It could be clearly put on their label or on their website and we consumers would be happy and carry on with our lives. But I’ll give them one thing; at least they’ve never lied on their label by putting “Distilled at 13th Colony Distillery.”
What 13th Colony should draw attention to is their penchant for maturation and finishing techniques. Part of what has generated so much hype for their products is the fact that they have thrived on finishing woods – usually in the form of Maple or French Oak wood spirals – to enhance the whiskey’s taste while it’s still inside of the barrel. They also try to push temperature and humidity changes onto their barrels whenever they can in an effort to get more liquid-to-wood interaction. Finally, it’s been their experimentation with double-barreling that has brought about some of the biggest changes to their sourced bourbon. This was one of the most important keys to success behind their Double Oaked Bourbon.
Breaking down what 13th Colony Double Oaked is
Based on numerous YouTube videos and reviews, the 2023 release of 13th Colony Double Oaked is at least 9 years old (in one instance, I heard it referred to as being 10 years old). That’s not technically its age. The reason is because the liquid only spent around 7 years in their original barrel before being dumped into a secondary barrel. That stops its “legal” aging process and means that regardless of whatever container it goes into next doesn’t count.
But still, that means the bourbon they sourced was likely distilled in 2014. Where did it come from? That’s tough because there are so many sources that it could have been. Here’s a short list of the various bourbon’s they’ve sourced so far:
13th Colony’s Southern Bourbon line uses what I believe to be Dickel bourbon. But if you want to argue with me that it doesn’t taste like the traditional 84/8/8 barrels, I would concur. Instead, I think they’re sourcing some of those experimental recipe barrels that many others have used before them. Barrell Bourbon is the most noteworthy NDP sourcing them. There’s even a comment in this Bourbon Junkies video (5:38 timestamp) where the 13th Colony representative drops a hint about a 22% rye they have available which I am assuming is the same 22% rye that others have sourced from Cascade Hollow.
I also believe their Southern Rye uses a slightly tweaked MGP rye whiskey recipe (96/4 – just to throw us off the scent). Other reviewers have picked up some dead giveaway tasting notes that include pine needles. And the Sour Mash Whiskey (that is being discontinued) was clearly listed as coming from Wyoming (Whiskey). I even looked back on their old website (back when it was just thirteenthcolony.com instead of 13thcolonydistillery.com) using the Wayback Machine and saw they were sourcing a mysterious 4 year old 70/25/5 recipe as far back as 2013. This recipe was also used by Barrell and a few others and could have either come from Tennessee or Kentucky.
They’re all over the place! But I want to put one rumor to rest; that the mash bill for their Double Oaked is 70/21/9. It’s not. That recipe is most notably contract distilled at Green River Distilling (and to a lesser extent – maybe at MGP for a brief period of time). But it’s too new to have been distilled 9 years ago. Therefore, it is my assumption that the base bourbon used in their Double Oaked release is that 70/25/5 mash bill made either in Kentucky (Heaven Hill or Barton) or in Tennessee by Dickel.
The 2023 Double Oaked release stats
Whatever the base bourbon is, it’s been doubled oaked in a new charred oak cask and had maple wood staves (spirals?) added inside of it. These secondary barrels have been aging the bourbon for at least 2 years – with some approaching 3. That’s quite a long time for finishing which may explain the bottle’s signature dark liquid (seriously, have you ever seen anything so dark?). I imagine that Woodford Reserve Double Double Oaked or Old Forester 117 Series 1910 Extra Extra Old would look like this at barrel proof, but they are proofed down into the 90’s. That’s not the case with this bottle which is bottled barrel proof – a face-melting 136.8 proof.
The 2023 release saw extremely limited distribution and was instantly sold out when it went up for sale on Seelbach’s. That makes sense because only 3,200 total bottles were produced. To put that into perspective, that’s probably around the same amount of bottles that are released of Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year each year. The price that Seelbach’s had it listed for was $199.99 while the suggested retail price was closer to $130. When the very first batch of Double Oaked came out, it was only $80. These price increases demonstrate the popularity of this bottle among the enthusiast community.
Now all that is left is to taste it. Thanks to an anonymous friend who sent me the sample of the first batch, I’ll be reviewing both today! As usual, I’ve sampled these neat in a glencairn.
13th Colony Double Oaked Batch 1 (2022)
Nose: I am frankly amazed at the avalanche of sweet, chocolatey and woody scents. Immediately I can smell Nutella and Oreo cookies. Tannins (if you can call these that) revolve around oak, light smoke and ash. Sweetness comes from maple syrup and vanilla extract. There is also so much chocolate. I understand how most of these scents came to be, but I wasn’t expecting it in this magnitude.
Palate: The palate is full of flavor but is a little rough around the edges. There is powerful spice, more Nutella, and chocolate raspberry cheesecake. The “rough around the edges” part is due to a prickly spice note that tastes a little bit hot and untamed. Honestly, for 135+ proof, I expected much worse!
Heat and spice comes by way of cinnamon, green peppercorns and chili flakes. There is a hint of youthfulness hiding in the background of every sip. If you can look past it, you’ll find a tiny bit of green oak and astringency. They impact the palate very little though. The viscosity and flavors far exceed what I was thinking I’d find.
Finish: The finish combines almost all of the great notes that I loved from palate. There is a residual sweetness – kind of like a sweet oak note – that lingers along with chocolate notes too. The whole finish is wrapped in slightly smokey flavors too. It’s a rich and satisfying way for the dram to end.
13th Colony Double Oaked Batch 2 (2023)
Nose: The bold scents are trying to beat my nose into submission. I have decided to give up the fight and let them do what they want. Scents of maple candies mix with vanilla and caramel. The oak is just as woody as Batch 1 was and the chocolate is slightly darker and drier. It’s still an amazing sensory experience.
Palate: Waves of chocolate, maple syrup and brown sugar coat my tongue while the full power of all 136.8 proof points shows itself to be a little more restrained than Batch 1 was. This tastes more like it was bottled at 120 proof – not a bad trait to have! Heat comes by way of cinnamon and red pepper flakes. Of course the oak and wood notes are everywhere, but they’re sweet and not at all bitter. The balance is great.
Finish: Expecting to breathe fire once the sip was done, I was pleasantly surprised to find only a decent amount of residual heat. A lot of it is courtesy of cinnamon spice. Barrel char and dark chocolate make the finish dark and foreboding – kind of like a really rich cake. Oak is everywhere, but you won’t find me complaining.
I’m absolutely shocked at how good this bourbon is. When people compared it to George T. Stagg or William Larue Weller, I laughed. Then I drank it. Now I see what they mean. While I’m not about ready to say it’s exactly on that same level, what 13th Colony has achieved here is nothing short of incredible. Double-Oaking with Maple Staves (spirals?) is a combination that achieves results unlike anything I’ve had before.
At its original price of $80, it was a steal. At the MSRP price of $130, it was a category-leader. Heck, even at $199 on Seelbach’s, it was a worth every penny. This is probably one of the most unique whiskies I’ve had in 2023. Usually I would say something about how much I think a whiskey is worth in relation to its price, but at all of those prices it still seemed worth it to me.
Of course the big question is if it’s worth $550 – which is about the going rate this bottle carries on the secondary market. And as a person with firsthand knowledge of that question (because I paid secondary for this bottle), the answer shocks me to admit… but yes it is. This was one of two bottles that I paid $500 for this year (the other was Barrell Dovetail Gold) and there’s no contest this was better. I feel almost zero buyer’s remorse too – which is odd for me to admit because I’m much more frugal than you might think I am.
I will not elevate this to “Whiskey of the Year” for 2023, but it does get damn close. I can say that this certifiably impressed me in ways that I didn’t think it would. If this review makes you want to go out and get one, I must caution you that it’s not a perfect product. But it might be the most fun and enjoyable whiskey I’ve drank this year. The look on my friends’ faces have been priceless when they take that first sip from this bottle. It has been universally loved so far – which is a rare sight to see among enthusiasts. I can only hope that it lasts me for a long time because the more people find out about this bottle, the less chances I’ll have to ever get one again.
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