Over the last few years there have been a steady pace of American Whiskey coming back to the United States from Scotland. No, I’m not talking about Scotch, but I’m also not talking about bourbon either. This whiskey can’t be called bourbon because almost all of them have seen their maturation time inside of a used barrel.
Additionally, only Heaven Hill (and possibly Barton) seem to be the main culprits behind putting their bourbon distillate in a used barrel and sending them off to Scotland to age.
I wish somebody would explain what the purpose behind this was. As far as I can tell, it was just an experiment to see what would happen if bourbon was aged in a climate that was cool and damp rather than hot and humid like Kentucky.
But just because it was aged in Scotland won’t make it taste like a Scotch. The whiskey within is still made using Heaven Hill’s bourbon mashbill (78% corn) so it will take on a distinctively different character than the 100% malted barley mashbill Scotch uses.
Aged for 10 years, these single barrels were sold to some of the larger liquor store chains in the US (K&L, Specs and Binnys for example). This particular bottle was from barrel 00164 and was one of two sold by Binny’s. It was aged for 10 years and bottled at 131.6 proof.
Most of the barrels that returned from Scotland already hover around the low to mid 130’s in proof which leads me to wonder if the distillate truly entered the barrel at 125 proof like all other Heaven Hill barrels do.
I ask this because if they were already planning on barreling this in used cooperage, and therefore shrugging off the requirements needed to call it a bourbon, then why not also adjust the proof?
The thing about Scotch is that almost all of it loses proof as it ages anyway, so why not bump up the barrel entry proof to ensure you’re not going to get back 90 proof cask strength whiskey when you’re done aging?
Make note of what I just said because after I give my tasting notes, I will expand on that theory a little bit more. Until then, let’s dive in and see what it tastes like.
I want to preclude this review by saying this whiskey is very different if you drink it as your first drink of the night versus drinking it after a bourbon. It is significantly better by itself and so that is the way I recorded my profile notes. Otherwise, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The ethanol can be intense for a person not used to higher proof whiskies, but it was easy enough to overcome for me. I can identify that this noses a lot lighter than a bourbon would. There are scents of fruit cocktail in a light syrup. Peaches stand out among them as most noticeable.
The baking spices add nice roundness while vanilla adds a very American twist. Otherwise, it’s the hot nature of chili oil that gives a wallop to your nostrils with each sniff, but it makes it that much more entertaining.
Palate: Mixed fruit and heat fight for the rights over your taste buds. Watch out because it does get spicy very quickly with Saigon cinnamon and white peppercorns. It is asking a lot of your tongue to hold each sip on it, but it’s worth the experience.
There are no heavy caramels and musty oaks, but there is a very fun root beer (complete with carbonation effect!) and thin oak tannins on the palate. Additional notes come from tropical fruits, vanilla candle wax and lemon and lime peels. Unfortunately, a touch of astringency is occasionally experienced.
Finish: The sweetness turns to caramel while oak spice and peppercorns initially leave some heat behind but quickly vanish. A majority of the finish passes by quickly but still retains a slight lingering spice and sweetness for a longer period of time, likely due to the nature of the used barrel.
If you’re in the mood for the heavy punch that new charred oak gives bourbon, this whiskey won’t be for you. If you’re in the mood for a Scotch that wraps complexity into a delicate malty sip, this also won’t be for you. But what this whiskey delivers is something satisfying and enjoyable due to its uniqueness. It’s hard to explain why this is, but sometimes bourbon just begins to taste the same and Scotch can be too mild. I really enjoyed the lightness of the flavors while also not being turned off by the intensity of the heat.
As I mentioned right before my tasting notes, this is a whiskey that will become considerably less attractive if you’ve drank bourbon (or even another type of whiskey) before it. A bourbon simply overloads your mouth with tannins and shocks your taste buds into submission.
Sipping Archives immediately after a bourbon (even if you’ve cleaned your palate) somehow masks all of the beautiful light fruit notes and makes each sip seem more fiery and unapproachable. If I had reviewed this whiskey after drinking any other bourbon first, the score would’ve been much lower (probably under a 6) but I found that Archives was most alive when it was the first drink of the night. So that is how I chose to review it.
To touch one one final theory I have about this whiskey, I believe it uses a higher barrel entry proof than Heaven Hill’s standard bourbon uses (125 proof). The reason I believe this, aside from the taste, is because the final proof is extremely high for being aged in the cool, temperate climate of Scotland. Typically, Scotch barrels lose significant alcohol percentages over the years rather than gaining them.
I am saying all of this because it is likely the reason that even though this is a bourbon mashbill, it doesn’t necessarily taste like a bourbon. In fact, if you were given this whiskey blind and told it’s a whiskey that came from Kentucky, you’d be hard-pressed to guess that Heaven Hill produced it.
I think that might explain the reason why I do not detect the very distinct and prevalent “nutty” note that I always seem to get with Heaven Hill bourbons (which is a result of the yeast, not barrel type). If it was a higher barrel entry proof, or even a higher proof off the still, it might have reduced whatever traits that Heaven Hill’s bourbon yeast strain has that imparts those telltale notes.
So as long as you’re okay with tasting something unusual and high-powered, this is about as good of a bottle that you can get. I would have no problem with offering this to friends that have open minds. Just make sure you give them a pour from this bottle first.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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