In early February of 2020, I was invited along for a barrel pick to be done by the Rural Inn at local Indianapolis distillery, West Fork Whiskey Co. West Fork had resurrected a defunct label named Old Hamer in 2019. In the interest of full transparency, they let everyone know that they were sourcing the bourbon from MGP. But what made this bourbon unique is that they were using the 99% corn, 1% malted rye mashbill. To the casual MGP fan, they would immediately say “isn’t that the MGP Light Whiskey recipe?” Yes it is. But this time the mashbill was going to be aged in new, charred oak barrels (Light Whiskey uses used barrels) and the distillate would come off the still far under the 161-189.9 proof that Light Whiskey is. It would also enter the barrel at 120 proof rather than 140 like the Light Whiskey. So in a way, this product is going to be very much different.
2020 Rural Inn Store Pick
I had high praise for a previous Old Hamer Cask Strength bottling last year, but each barrel is different, so we would have to taste them to see which one was the best. I sampled 5 barrels that day along with the rest of Ray’s hand-picked team as Kevin and Blake from West Fork led us through each one. The passion for their distilling as well as the barrels that they were sourcing from MGP was evident. These guys love whiskey. And to have access to a rare mashbill whiskey that you don’t normally see on the shelves is even better. This barrel that we selected was unanimous among all of us. There was one other barrel that caught the interest of some of the guys, but in the end, every hand was raised for this one. That’s why when we all went to sign the barrel, I wrote down what the guys at West Fork told us after our selection: “This is the best single barrel we’ve got.”
So with that high praise in mind, let’s revisit this whiskey to jog my memory from that fun day. I sampled this neat and in a Glencairn.
Nose: With a mashbill of almost entirely corn, it’s no surprise that the sweet scent of cornbread is the first thing you smell. The aroma of melted cinnamon butter and sweet cream also are pronounced. It’s a very pleasant nose without as much alcohol as you’d think it would have for being around 3 years old.
Palate: This is very drinkable. A handful of kettle corn is most dominant along with some nice cinnamon and clove spice. There’s some heat lurking in the form of red and black pepper, but it’s easy to overcome. I’m also getting a sweet taste much like a churro and a fruit that reminds me of baked apples. Very delicious overall.
Finish: The sweetness of a light corn syrup coupled with spicy pepper and cinnamon remind you of the proof as it fades away in your mouth. The finish is nice, but could be a little longer. There’s also some barrel char notes which add a bit of depth.
Old Hamer’s strength lies in the ability of its producer to get every last bit of sweetness from a young corn-forward bourbon with no flavoring grain. This is somewhat hard to do. It didn’t magically generate any unexpected flavors, but it did a great job at showcasing the ones it had. Old Hamer was distilled to be just like the original recipe of Old Hamer back in the 1800’s, which was almost entirely corn back then as well. For people that are afraid of the spicy nature of rye or the “liquid bread” nature of young wheated whiskies, Old Hamer will probably hit the spot.
For more serious whiskey drinkers, Old Hamer will satisfy when you just want to enjoy a sweet sip. At a price of under $40 (this was $38), its high proof more than proves its value. I highly suggest you find a bottle whenever you can. And if you decide to wait a couple years, I can guarantee that it will continue to get better.
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.