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“Almost” Old Bones Reserve 9-Year-Old Bourbon Review

“Almost” Old Bones Reserve 9-Year-Old Bourbon Review

If you’re not aware of who Backbone Bourbon Company is, then you’ve been missing out on a brand that has consistently offered some of the best values in bourbon over the last eight years. The Non-Distiller Producer (NDP) is based in Indianapolis, Indiana and their business model has steadily evolved over the years. At first they were offering young MGP bourbon and rye whiskey intended as sturdy mixers for cocktails. But lately the brand has catering more to adventurous enthusiasts who crave variety.

Backbone has a keen sense of identifying barrels that are floating around on the market that would appeal to drinkers that are looking for something unique without spending a lot of money. This started around six years ago when they began to bottle whiskies outside of MGP’s standard 95/5 rye whiskey and their two bourbon recipes. In 2018, they released “Triple Down” Light Whiskey. At that time, the only Light Whiskey on the market was bottled by High West who was charging around $120 for a 14 year old, 92 proof bottle. Backbone’s version was half the price with way more proof and a few years younger.

This was followed by the release of MGP’s 95/5 Wheat Whiskey in 2019 and MGP’s 51/45/4 wheated bourbon in 2020. The latter was half the price of Boone County’s version (which used the same bourbon) and only 2-3 years younger.

Backbone Bourbon Company expands their selections

Backbone didn’t want to be known as a bottler of only MGP whiskies, they wanted to dabble in any whiskey they could. So in 2020/2021, they joined the posse of other Non-Distiller Producers (NDPs) who were bottling totes of 15-year-old Beam bourbon. The best thing was that “Old Bones 15 Year Kentucky Bourbon” was priced at a rock-bottom $110 when everyone else was selling their examples for double. And remember that 16-year-old Canadian Rye Whiskey that Barrell Craft Spirits was using in their $250 “Gray Label Seagrass?” Backbone released a non-finished version of that same rye under their Old Bones label for $100 that same year.

It was starting to become clear that if any NDP was putting out expensive, sourced bourbon that people were unfamiliar with, they could try it first in a cheaper Backbone product to see if it was going to be worth the money.

Backbone procures more Kentucky Bourbon – this time from a different source

If you didn’t know by now, barrel brokers (the middleman between distillers and NDPs) rarely sell particular barrels to just one client.  Even if a bourbon is limited with a high age statement, many NDPs won’t buy them all up.  This is why we see the same unidentified whiskies sharing the same specs spread out across a couple different producers in a narrow window of time.  Backbone isn’t the only one to bottle up the unique 75% corn, 15% rye and 10% malt mash bill, online retailer Seelbach’s has also scooped some up as well.

Now Backbone isn’t normally the kind to kiss and tell where the barrels were sourced from (and the same goes with Seelbachs), but there are some old posts mentioning it on the internet forum “,” that say it was Barton’s mash bill for their “Very Old Barton” label.  In fact, I’ve written about a few other unidentified Kentucky bourbon mash bills that have popped up around the market over the last 12 months in this article that can all be traced back to Barton.

The value of buying from Backbone

Bourbon prices have been creeping steadily higher, but it’s good to know that this bourbon has been priced at a relatively “sane” $10/year aged (and it’s bottled at 110 proof to boot). And even if other enthusiasts pass this off as “just another bottle of Barton,” I wouldn’t be so quick to write it off. Barton makes a damn good bourbon and I find their sweet spot is around 7 to 9 years old. Any older and it turns into a boring morass of leather, oak and vanilla.

Before I begin my tasting notes, I’d like to give a shoutout to my friend Adam who found this bottle locally at a shop in Indianapolis and offered to get one for me. Only 300 cases were sold, so of course I jumped on it immediately. We opened the bottle for a quick taste one snowy afternoon because he was curious if he should go buy his own bottle. So let’s see how it tastes. As usual, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Some of the first scents I encounter are cinnamon French Toast sticks. There are also notes of maple wood and table syrup. Fruit notes consist of cherry cola, raisins and even a hint of banana. I’m going to be honest that while this bourbon has all of the classic notes of a bourbon, it doesn’t initially identify as any particular distillery’s right off the bat.

Palate: There is a wave of sweet and dessert-like flavors on my tongue. Maple cream sticks combine with cinnamon coffee cake and caramel. The palate becomes slightly more rye-forward given the amount of other accompanying baking spices like allspice and oak spice. I can pick up on some leather (sometimes a telltale sign I’m drinking Barton) too. The cherry cola note from the nose also settles in nicely. It’s a well-rounded and very enjoyable dram so far. 

Finish: The finish is more of the same from the palate. I’m a little surprised that the amount of spice that I can detect seems to increase on the finish. Cinnamon leads the way there. The oak turns a bit drier on my tongue than it was before, but there is still enough sweetness to keep it balanced. Unfortunately, the fruit notes disappear at the end. I still enjoy the ending though.

Score: 8/10

As I was jotting down my notes, I kept track of which distillery certain notes reminded me of. The reason I do this is because while I’m confident that this is a bourbon sourced from Barton, I wanted to see how much it lined up with the typical Barton profile. The banana and leather seem consistent with previous Barton products I’ve had, but the curious part is the amount of cinnamon I find throughout. There were times when I was drinking it and wondering if this could have been sourced from Willett. Even more strange was the maple notes which have a distinct Brown-Forman quality about them (mainly Jack Daniel’s, but also OF1920).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this bottle of (Almost) Old Bones doesn’t fit perfectly with any one distillery. That’s kind of exciting to me because I was expecting to find something along the lines of a bottle of a 1792 Full Proof Lite. What I got was something that was much more intriguing. It was like a blend of Barton, Willett and maybe Jack Daniel’s.

Final Thoughts

Throughout my sessions with this bottle, I always found it to be such a consistently tasty treat. There are few bottles I drink through quickly, but this is one of them. I think that speaks a lot to the quality of the liquid when I find something I can enjoy in any mood.

I know this next statement is painting with a broad brush, but I think it deserves to be said: if you ever see a new Backbone product (remember, they all come in the same distinguishable square-ish bottle), it is probably worth it to buy. Whatever the whiskey is inside of it, there’s a good chance that it’s the lowest-priced option of that same whiskey available anywhere else. But don’t think that means the quality isn’t there. With releases like this bottle of Almost Old Bones, Backbone shows us that they won’t compromise on quality. And with high-priced bourbon being such a crapshoot these days, a company’s reputation goes a long way to making me feel comfortable with buying an unknown product. And this bottle shows me that Backbone’s reputation is still as strong as ever.

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Tuesday 9th of April 2024

Thanks for the reviews, you have great insight and information on the bottles you post about. Do you also put your reviews on Reddit? I saw this same review on Reddit and wanted to make sure someone wasn’t taking credit for your work.

Mike & Mike

Thursday 11th of April 2024

Yes, that's me! I got my start on Reddit before making the jump to a website format but I still post over there.

Jason Gerace

Tuesday 2nd of April 2024

Never looked very seriously at this label, although I had heard the reputation was growing. I'll pay attention now.