Think back over the last decade about all of the producers who sourced bourbon from MGP. Let’s narrow it down to the ones sourced bourbon that was aged over 10 years old. Got your list? Now tell me which of those producers still release those kinds of barrels with any sort of consistency today. I’ll wait.
The simple fact is that MGP has exhausted their supply of very old barrels over the last 5 years to the point where nobody releases them anymore. In fact, your best bet at finding MGP bourbon with an age statement over 10 years old is from MGP’s own line of Remus Repeal Reserve. Crazy, right? But there is one producer who still seems to have access to these barrels and they’re in a state that you probably wouldn’t think of: Michigan.
Valentine Distilling has been around for a very long time in terms of craft distilleries. They operate as a distillery that produces whiskey (and other spirits) but they also source a significant amount from MGP. This goes into their Mayor Pingree line named after famed Detroit mayor Hazen Pingree. You can tell what kind of product is inside based on what color the label is. Typically, the Red Label line is a blend of 4-5 year old MGP bourbon blended with their own bourbon. Their Orange Label line is younger single barrels of MGP rye whiskey or bourbon and bottled at cask strength. Their Blue Label line is older single barrels of MGP bourbon that could be anywhere from 10 to 15 years old depending on the barrel. Finally, their Black Label line is older barrels of MGP bourbon that has been batched together and bottled at cask strength. For today’s review, I’ll be looking at their newest Black Label release.
A rarity to find a bourbon this old in 2021
I’d love to dig into the history behind how Valentine continues to source such old barrels, but it feels like it’s a secret that they prefer to keep. From my limited research, I believe that Valentine Distilling does maintain a stockpile of their sourced barrels in their own storage areas which is something that other producers weren’t doing (notably: Smoke Wagon who trucks theirs to Las Vegas on an as-needed basis). The cooler Michigan seasons likely help slow down additional barrel aging enough to allow the bourbon inside to not get over-oaked while the years pile on. Another fact that I don’t believe has ever been covered is which bourbon mashbill does Mayor Pingree use? I would probably guess it’s the 21% rye (low rye) mashbill but there could be some high-rye ones in the blend too. My theory is that when an NDP uses only one mashbill, they’ll tell you which one.
The bottle I have today is a 15-year-old batched MGP bourbon that was just released at the beginning of 2022. If you know your MGP history, the bourbon that is contained inside of this bottle has a high likelihood of being produced under the incomparable Larry Ebersold in his last year with the company. If you don’t know who that is, he was the Master Distiller at the Lawrenceburg, Indiana distillery before Greg Metze. The products that rolled out of there during his tenure are often thought to be of higher quality and held in higher regard than anything produced in 2007 and beyond. This will make this bottle a literal holy grail to those who believe Ebersold was the GOAT and the stuff produced after he left is slightly less than what it used to be.
Speaking of the bourbon in this bottle, it is bottled at 114 proof and the label says it is the 6th Batch. Just having access to 15-year-old MPG in 2022 is an astonishing feat. Over the past 2 years, the only producers to release MGP this old have been Fillibuster and New Riff although I’m sure I am missing a couple others.
So how is it? I was extremely lucky to obtain a bottle and try it out myself. I poured this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Scents of rich brown sugar combine with notes of churros to give the nose an immediate sweet note. Those same traits continue with the vanilla and caramel sweetness of Flan and cappuccino. The nose isn’t a one trick pony though and the sublime aged notes of musty oak furniture can be found with every sniff. But maybe one of the most enjoyable scents this dram has to offer is the bright citrus of a lemon meringue pie
Palate: Rich and thick mouthfeel. Tons of aged oak, pipe tobacco and leather furniture demand you know this has been aged for 15 years. Soft, fruity notes of spiced baked apples, cherry compote and candied orange peel (with increasing amounts of citrus peel) show you that this pony can do more than one trick. Layers of melted white chocolate, cocoa powder and molasses drive up the sweetness. Baking spices like clove and cinnamon entertain your tastebuds and keep the intrigue up throughout the sip.
Finish: A really beautiful composition of tannins that don’t dry your mouth out but remain sweet instead. Chocolate, dark berries, baking spices and cinnamon stick give classic MGP flavors that linger for a long time.
Bourbon doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. When MGP bourbon reaches a really old age, it doesn’t seem to drop off like other bourbons can do. Instead, the liquid develops into what tastes like a rich syrup while the oak almost never seems to feel excessive. What I find most intriguing with this dram is that over the last 15 years, the oak and other tannins didn’t cover up the many other flavors in the bourbon. It just kept adding to it all. This is what made this bottle feel so special.
Mayor Pingree releases like this are still hard to find even if your state carries it; and not many do. I’m a member of a couple of Pingree Facebook pages and their fanbase’s devotion to them is wild, bordering on the Bacon-ites over in the Four Roses Groups. These guys fawn over every new release and the pictures they show of their newest scores show backgrounds that usually comprise only of Pingree bottles. Granted most of these “Hazen Heads” (I just made that up but it could be a thing) live close to Detroit and probably frequent the distillery and its newly constructed lounge, but it’s always fascinating to see a brand become this idolized. What I’m trying to say is that these 15 year old bottles will be hard to find because of the brand’s rabid fanbase gobbles them up immediately.
When you take in all of the information and tasting notes I just laid out, it’s a no-brainer to track a bottle like this down. What you’re tasting inside is probably bourbon from one of the best runs of MGP bourbon coupled with the fact that it’s at cask strength and aged 15 spectacular years. It doesn’t get much better than this.
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