Old Elk is proving to be one of the most surprisingly successful startup distilleries outside of Kentucky that have launched in the past 10 years. They owe a large amount of their fame and fortune to former MGP Master Distiller Greg Metze. Metze helped design and distill the strange, high-malt bourbon that Old Elk has MGP contract distill for them. Shortly after creating it, he jumped ship and took up the Master Distiller position with Old Elk in Colorado. The Ohio River Valley is a beautiful place, but once you experience a place like Colorado it’s no wonder he decided to make the move.
Olk Elk has released batched products and single barrels that feature the gamut of MGP mash bills. Everything from Wheat Whiskey, Wheated Bourbon, Rye Whiskey and special four grain blends have popped up in their signature bottles. They’ve even begun a finished whiskey series that sees Cognac, Sherry and Armagnac barrels used to elevate the flavors within. But what came as a bit of a surprise was that when they announced their newest bottle, Old Elk Infinity Blend, that they decided to use two different Kentucky bourbons to blend in with their contract-distilled high malt bourbon.
Old Elk Infinity Blend, explained
The name Infinity Blend is designed to be a nod to enthusiasts that tinker with creating their own blends and Infinity Bottles at home. I went through a phase of that myself and I must say that I never had much luck with creating something that was better than the individual parts. The purpose of an “Infinity Bottle” was always meant to be that you keep adding new whiskies to it so that it would never run dry. Blending, on the other hand, was the exercise of mixing whiskey together and drinking the results as they were until it was gone. That’s why this Old Elk bottle name is somewhat confusing; the press release doesn’t seem to indicate that a certain portion of the whiskey used in this new label was held back for the next. The only company that produces a true “Infinity Blend” whiskey would be Barrell Craft Spirits (check out their website for this totally whacky experiment).
So what is in Old Elk’s Infinity Blend? It looks like they used 60% of their own contract-distilled high-malt recipe bourbon (51% corn, 34% malted barley and 15% rye) and then added two different Kentucky bourbon’s to fill in the rest. These Kentucky bourbon’s aren’t specified who they are from, but we do know one of them is 11 years old and the other is 12 years old. I would bet money that one of these sets of barrels is from Barton but part of me wonders if maybe the 11 year old batch was distilled at Heaven Hill. After all, MGP bought out Luxco in April of 2021 and may have got a say in what they did with some of their Heaven Hill sourced barrels that they want to transition out of.
The only way to find out what kind of Kentucky bourbon was used is to have a drink and see if I can taste any telltale signs. So without further ado, let’s open this bottle! I sampled it neat in a glencairn.
Nose: If it wasn’t for my newfound affinity for Scotch, then I would have just glossed over the strong malt-forward notes I find on the nose. The amount of malt makes the nose sweet and soft and a little bit odd when it’s mixed in with so much aged bourbon scents. The rest of the nose consists of caramel, vanilla, oak and cinnamon rolls. Surprisingly, I’m not getting much fruit on the nose.
Palate: Sweet caramel chews coupled with chocolate malt balls (Whoppers) combine with oak and shoe leather. Basically, these are all notes I would find in a “classic” style bourbon. Fruit notes finally reveal themselves with flavors of raisins and baked apples. There is a youthfulness that I find in the base bourbon that I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe. But finding it regardless is a big no-no to me for a bottle that starts at $150. This should have been blended out by now. There is a very small amount of spice overall which makes me think that the high malt content is covering up quite a bit of it. The proof is 115 but since the spice is so blanketed, it tastes closer to 100. Overall, the most dominant flavor profile here is one that I’d call “melted candy bar” which makes me think that some of the barrels used in this are either Heaven Hill or Jim Beam.
Finish: A pleasant, lingering taste of baked orchard fruits along with soft baked cookies and oak. The chocolate hangs around too, with notes of nougat accompanying it. The candy bar profile from the palate remains true on the finish. Tannins are largely missing from the finish leaving the ending feeling like the whiskey was more youthful than the individual components would suggest.
I hate to be blunt with my assessment, but Old Elk Infinity Blend has nothing really special or unique going on here. Aside from a strange youthful note on the palate, nothing else stood out enough for me than to think that this was anything more than a Plain-Jane, classic bourbon. I also feel as if the Old Elk base bourbon was creating more of a barrier for the Kentucky sourced bourbon to try and show itself. My tasting notes reveal that I really didn’t find anything more here than simple, everyday bourbon flavors and scents.
Even though this isn’t a comparison review, the part that happened after I finished my glass must be told. About 10 minutes after I was done, I went to my closet to search for another bourbon to finish the night with. I settled on a Four Roses OBSK that was 10 years old and 118 proof. The specs for this kind of matched up with the Infinity Blend’s if you squint hard enough. But upon tasting my first sip, my senses immediately snapped to attention over how much more robust, layered and flavorful the Four Roses was compared to the Old Elk. It was night and day over which one provided the better sensory experience.
The Four Roses Private Selection was full of flavor from start to finish and had a potency that Old Elk just couldn’t match. Comparing (secondary) prices still shows two evenly matched bourbons if you only had enough money to buy 1. All of this is to say that I can’t see the value proposition in buying this Old Elk over a quality, proven Four Roses Private Selection. I love it when distilleries try new things but when prices climb over the $100 mark, you better make sure that your product doesn’t miss the mark when it’s put up against some of the big boys of Kentucky. Unfortunately, Old Elk Infinity Blend has missed its shot.
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