Joseph Magnus seems to have a lot of things going for it in the market. Its history of family members reviving the brand is captivating. It sources some really old bourbon from MGP in Indiana. The packaging is well done and looks fancy. Hell, even the price tag is tens of dollars less than its competitors at the same age and proof. So why is it that their single barrel bottles seem to set on the shelves everywhere you look?
Joseph Magnus joins a very small number of bottlers that continuously sells MGP bourbon aged at least 10 years or more in single barrel form. The others, of course, are Smoke Wagon, Backbone Bourbon and to a lesser extent, Belle Meade. But whereas bourbon carrying double digit age statements from the latter 3 bottlers seem to get gobbled up immediately, Joseph Magnus bottles aren’t held in the same high regard. The belief within bourbon circles is that Joseph Magnus simply doesn’t select great barrels from MGP.
When you’re going to list a bottle for $100 or more, things like reputation get scrutinized way more. So however this reputation got started or why it continues to this day is something that I’ll be looking at as I take in this single barrel that was selected by Rootstock Hospitality Group in Indianapolis. Supposedly this bottle is aged for 13 years and comes in at an even 106 proof, yet I was able to persuade someone to sell this bottle at cost almost a year after it was picked. Why? I sampled this neat and in a Glencairn to find out.
Nose: The nose starts out soft with pleasant fruit and oak scents. The citrus zest, soft cinnamon and toasted brown sugar notes kind of remind me of a granola bar. Some of the heavy rye mashbill peaks through with some freshly grated nutmeg as well.
Palate: Nice and oily with a spicy cinnamon and red pepper flake heat. The cherry and orange citrus notes take the lead while oak envelopes everything quite nicely. The sweetness found in most other MGP bourbons is noticeable in its absence. In fact, if there’s any sweetness at all, it’s almost like a burnt caramel. The tannins start out nicely but as the session goes on, they turn very bitter and tannic. In fact, the bitterness could be some of the reason why I feel the sweetness is lacking.
Finish: There is no other way to put this: the tannins are too overpowering. There is lots of oak and dry tobacco leaf followed by some dark chocolate. But some of the fruit notes that were noticeable in the palate are hard to find on the finish. While there are a little bit of sweet and buttery notes at the end, it’s not that enjoyable. Over-oaked fans may not see anything wrong with this finish, but in terms of balance, it’s distractingly obvious.
The nose had me excited to dive into what I was hoping was a great start to an underrated bottle. But as the session grew on, the flavors on the palate and finish grew noticeably more one-dimensional with the oak and tannins. I find that MGP bourbon, especially at this age, typically walk that fine line between well rounded profiles of sweetness, dark fruits and oak.But this one was a barrel that was probably past its prime. In fact, the gentleman who sold me this bottle told me that Indiana got somewhere between 6-8 single barrels from Joseph Magnus in the last year and this was the best of the bunch. This probably is the reason I see so many of the others still on the shelf.
All of this leads me back to my initial question of why doesn’t JM get the accolades from their Single Barrel selections? If this barrel is evident of their selection as a whole, then the barrels they purchased might just be better suited for a batched product in the end.
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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