Old Elk is a brand that I don’t have much experience with. I knew they had a connection to MGP through Greg Metze (the former MGP Master Distiller after Larry Ebersold left) and I knew that none of the whiskey that has been bottled has been a product of their own distillery in Fort Collins, CO, but that’s about it.
So after much research I found that Greg Metze was still working for MGP when Curt Richardson (CEO of Otterbox) came to them looking to buy some unique whiskey for his new brand. Metze created 3 new mashbills for him (including this one which is a 51% corn, 34% malted barley and 15% rye straight bourbon) and Richardson was ecstatic.
Richardson was so pleased, in fact, that he lured Metze away from MGP and brought him on as the master distiller of Old Elk. Metze convinced him to expand the lineup to contain a fourth whiskey as well; the 95/5 rye whiskey that MGP is famous for. It must have been like moving into a new house, but being able to take a couple rooms you really liked from your old house with you.
Old Elk Bourbon
Most Old Elk bourbon is bottled at 88 proof and is a blend of three different bourbons. The bottle before us today is a single barrel of the high malt mashbill I previously mentioned and is bottled at barrel proof (a rather low 107.4 proof). It isn’t aged much over 4 years, but typically whiskies with a higher malt content tend to soften the harshness that young distillate has.
So now that we have all the facts, what does this bourbon taste like? Does Old Elk have a solid base for future single barrels? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat and with a Glencairn.
Nose: Very sweet. The nose comes off like a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal was just poured. There’s notes of cinnamon, oak spice and caramel latte. The nose leans a bit on the softer side than most bourbon, but I’m assuming that is something the extremely high malted barley content is responsible for.
Palate: The malted barley really makes for a unique drinking experience by wavering back and forth between bourbon notes and malt whiskey notes. It’s bourbon character is shown with notes of oak spice, peppercorns and caramel chips but the malt whiskey side softens things up with flavors of Malt-O-Meal hot cereal, table syrup and cinnamon stick.
The rye grain is pushed to the back but contributes with notes of licorice and fennel seed. And for around four years old, tobacco leaf and dark chocolate shavings really help round off the character of this whiskey.
Finish: For a bourbon that lacked fruit notes so far, I’m surprised to find notes of prunes and figs. But the finish leaves a darker more robust impact that seems different from the light and sweet notes I have experienced up to this point. Seasoned oak, espresso grounds and wet tobacco give it a rich, flavorful note to linger on while rye notes of cinnamon and cloves add a nice zing for complexity. The finish may be the best part of this dram.
MGP bourbons have always had fantastic mouthfeels due to them typically being non-chill filtered. Old Elk doesn’t mess with that formula and for that this sip really resonated well with my previous experiences with MGP whiskey. The darker side of this bourbon shines on the finish, giving it a pungent quality that makes it seem older than it is.
And for all the uniqueness I liked about the contradiction of heavy bourbon notes and sweeter, lighter malt notes, I still felt like this one wasn’t quite done aging. It’s not like this whiskey tasted young or harsh, but instead seemed like it had some more potential that we’ll never get to see because it was bottled somewhat young.
The final rating isn’t indicative of this being just an above average whiskey as much as it is that I’m giving it room to grow for their future releases. I think that there is more complexity and flavors that will come to light as it continues to age.
Greg Metze is methodical in his pursuit of distilling great great spirits, so I have full faith that he also sees how much more this bourbon can achieve. I’m really looking forward to tasting future barrels over the next few years. This is one bourbon to keep on your radar if you ever start to feel like all of your bourbon is starting to taste the same.
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)
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.