Local Indianapolis craft distillery West Fork Whiskey has extended their popular line of Old Hamer Bourbon to include various barrel-finishes (and maybe rye whiskey in the future). Named “Hugh Hamer” after one of the two founders of Old Hamer whiskey in the early 1800’s, this first release will focus on 4+ year old sourced bourbon finished in Port wine barrels.
For those who may not know, West Fork has been sourcing a rather unique 99% corn / 1% malted barley mashbill bourbon recipe from MGP for a couple years now. No, this is not MGP’s Light Whiskey (although it uses the same mashbill) but instead it’s a bourbon because it was aged in new charred oak barrels and is barreled at 120 proof rather than the Light Whiskey’s 140 proof.
I inquired about which kind of Port wine was used for this and didn’t receive an answer. Regardless, I’m just excited that Port was used because I find it adds a spicier character and helps amp up the flavors that bourbon traditionally has. I’m also excited to see this bourbon finally hit the 4 year-old mark because I believe that’s what has been holding back buyers from pulling the trigger over the last 2 years.
At it’s core though, the Old Hamer line is trying to fill a gap that exists on most whiskey shelves: barrel proof bourbon (and now finished bourbon) at a moderate age for bargain basement prices.
Word spread quickly of this initial release of Hugh Hamer and now it’s mostly sold out around the area. There were only 4 barrels and one of them was bottled up as a single barrel for the Meijer supermarket chain. The other 3 were blended together as a small batch and distributed throughout the city. So how is this inaugural bottle? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a Glencairn.
Nose: It all begins with a wave of fruit. Plums, cherries and even some syrup-soaked peaches make this dram so enticing that you want to keep your nose buried in it for days. Some melted chocolate is identifiable as well. There is a sweet cornbread scent that I normally find in Old Hamer products that can be picked up throughout.
Sometimes a whiff catches your nose off-guard and it comes across as having a raw grain and ethanol scent. Other times it’s mellowed out by the fruit. Regardless, it’s always an interesting finish.
Palate: The port wine enhances the bourbon by becoming spicier and sweeter. Cinnamon candies mingle with cherries and red wine. The heavy, full flavor of tobacco leaf likely is more enhanced by the Port wine effect.
Raw grains can be detected underneath the surface, but since the proof is lower by about 15 points from normal cask strength Old Hamer, it doesn’t overpower the drink. Curiously, I do get a fair amount of dry oak for a product that is around 4 years old.
Finish: The port wine is the star of the show on the finish. The lingering flavors showcase that sweet wine influence. Black cherries, dry oak, some tobacco and the spicy nature of cinnamon stick remain on your tongue for a moderate amount of time.
I’m really happy with how this bottle turned out. When you’re thinking about wine-finished bourbons, you really don’t want the wine to wipe out the base distillate.
With Hugh Hamer, it appears like they found that happy medium where the wine covered up most of the young traits and left behind a sweet trail of fruits and tannins. And in reality, fruit is what the Old Hamer line seemed to be lacking in other single barrel releases I’ve tried. This was a perfect match.
There are a few choices to shop around when you’re looking for a Port finished bourbon. Angel’s Envy comes in at 86 proof and can retail as low as $43. Isaac Bowman is 92 proof and can retail in the mid-$40s. And local competitor Starlight Distillery has released a port finished bourbon that is 98.6 proof and retails at $65.
All of those bourbons are roughly 4-5 years old, which is what Hugh Hamer is too. So Hugh Hamer’s $60 price seems to fit in perfectly when you consider age and price of its competitors. But a key selling point that separates it from the pack may be its higher proof (103). This makes the Port Finish one of the best values in the segment. And the fact it’s pretty darn delicious doesn’t hurt either! I can’t wait to see what is next in this line.
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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