Back when I was first getting into bourbon, I was persuaded by a Total Wine rep to purchase a bottle of their own brand called Hickory Hill. Bottled at 90 proof, aged for 12 years and even carrying a single barrel designation, it seemed too good to be true at only $45. I bought it instantly. Shortly thereafter, I was schooled on the origins of it (Barton) and my first sips were unremarkable. At least it didn’t have the strange metallic taste of other sourced Barton bourbons like Bird Dog 10 Year or the high price tag of Sam Houston 12 Year, Calumet Farm 12 Year or Cream of Kentucky.
So to the back of the bourbon cabinet it went for over a year until 1792 released a new label called “Aged 12 Years.” I decided that both were similar enough that it warranted a semi-blind comparison review. The 1792 bottle is not a single barrel and is bottled at ~6 proof points higher than the Hickory Hill, but the similarities were still there. Even in price, the 1792 Aged 12 Years was only around $10 more expensive (retail) than the Hickory Hill. So if you’re unable to find 1792’s 12 year bourbon, is the Hickory Hill a worthwhile bottle to grab?
Let’s check it out. I sampled these both neat and in a Glencairn.
Blind Glass 1
Nose: A sweet, almost cloyingly sweet scent. Red fruit’s dominate as the first and main aroma that you’re going to smell throughout, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s vanilla cupcakes and a little bit of butterscotch also on the nose, but primarily the nose is absent of any oaky tannins for an aged bourbon like this.
Palate: Raspberries is the first fruit that comes rushing forward on the palate. There’s a sharp cinnamon prickle followed by lots of old, dry oak. Literally the oak tastes a little bit like dust too (not “dusty” as in the older bourbons from decades past). There’s some black and red licorice within and then the fruit kind of melds together to remind me of the taste of Hawaiian Punch.
Finish: The finish is surprisingly short. There’s lots of red fruits with the taste of furniture polish.
The one note that I kept circling as I tasted this was how this bourbon seemed to be missing some key traits of a regular bourbon here and there, notably, the absence of tannins. Sometimes the sweetness felt overly done.
Blind Glass 2
Nose: Compared to Glass 1, there is much more oak and spice detected on the nose. The sweetness is more of a dark brown sugar and freshly baked coffee cake. There is a faint whiff of banana bread as well, something I had not really detected other times I’ve had this dram.
Palate: Spices like cinnamon and black pepper flakes first are recognizable on the tongue followed by a decent amount of seasoned oak and some sweetness with what initially tastes like caramel, but later morphs into molasses. There are some black cherries for additional sweetness and then tobacco leaf.
Finish: Toffee, still more oak, lots of hot cinnamon coupled with red and black pepper flakes.
More depth, finally some tannins! The lack of some fruit notes makes me want to just combine these two in a glass and get the perfect mix of what I’m looking for!
Glass 1: Hickory Hill Single Barrel
Glass 2: 1792 Aged 12 Years
Winner: 1792 Aged 12 Years!
Barton was obviously not going to let their own 1792 label be outdone with barrels that were sold to a merchant bottler for cheap. Hickory Hills SiB actually put up a decent fight and for $45 is a decent value for what it’s worth. But to put it up against another 12 year product, especially from Barton, it’s more than likely not going to win. The 1792 meanwhile, is a mesmerizing product that I think finds itself in one of the strangest spots in the bourbon market, second only to Henry McKenna at retail price.
Both are probably priced around what they are actually worth, yet taters grab them up immediately because the age statements can’t be ignored. Then the bourbon enthusiasts out there that just want a pleasant, easy drinker with some age have to pay grossly inflated secondary prices for them if they want them. However, since nobody really wants to pay secondary for the 1792 12 year or the McKenna, you rarely see them on secondary sites. It’s infuriating what the secondary sees as lucrative these days.
The moral to the story is that whether or not you’re in the mood for an inoffensive, fruity bourbon with an old age statement and a reasonable $45 price tag, Hickory Hill is a safe bet. And if you want an oaked, tannic darling that is somewhat hard to find, then it’s advisable to not let that bottle of 1792 12 year set on the shelf. But if you see the 1792 at a high secondary price, my best advice is to leave it.
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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