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Old Prentice Distillery Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon (1983)

Old Prentice Distillery Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon (1983)

For many enthusiasts, chances are that Eagle Rare was one of the first bourbons that you fell in love with. There’s no shame in admitting it, because I was in that boat too. My cabinet was stocked with only two bottles of bourbon throughout most of my adult life: Woodford Reserve and Eagle Rare. But the Eagle Rare I drank and the Eagle Rare you drank probably wasn’t the same kind of Eagle Rare in this bottle.

Today I’m looking at one of the original bottles of Eagle Rare. No, it wasn’t distilled by Buffalo Trace. The distillery that made this bottle would eventually become modern-day Four Roses. But before I tell you how it tastes, pull up a seat, fill up a glass with your favorite bird-themed bourbon and learn about how Eagle Rare has transformed through the years.

Eagle vs Turkey

Back in the late 1970’s, Seagram’s was in a pickle. They owned more than a dozen distilleries (most of them were located in the United States) but were struggling to sell whiskey – especially bourbon. On the other hand, sales were doing just fine for their clear spirits. But try as they may, everything they tried to sell more whiskey and bourbon was not working. The only strategy left to explore was luring existing bourbon drinkers away from the brands they were buying, to buy theirs.

One of the brands that Seagram’s targeted was Wild Turkey. It just so happened that Seagram’s owned a distillery called Old Prentice that was right down the road from the distillery that Wild Turkey was made at in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Ever heard of Old Prentice before? You might recognize the name it goes by today: Four Roses.

Old Prentice was one of the handful of distilleries that distilled bourbon and whiskey. But most of what they distilled was used as a component for one of Seagram’s many blended whiskies. Seagram’s was famous for their high-rye mash bills which bucked the trend that most Kentucky distilleries were going towards; namely, low-rye mash bills. These high-rye recipes predated the modern recipes that Four Roses (and MGP) currently make, but by all accounts they were very similar.

Seagram’s product planners decided that they wanted a bourbon brand that looked similar enough to Wild Turkey. So they chose an Eagle. To compete against the iconic “Wild Turkey 101” brand, they decided to also bottle theirs at 101 proof. And just for good measure, they slapped a 10 year age statement in an attempt to one-up Wild Turkey’s 8 year age statement.

Eagle Rare is born

Eagle Rare was first launched in 1975. It was blended from stocks of bourbon that had already been aging for at least 10 years at “Lotus.” I was unable to find out if Lotus was its whole name or what, but you might know that campus by its current name: Cox’s Creek. That’s where Four Roses ages their bourbon even though they distill it 50 miles away in Lawrenceburg.

Lotus was a centralized warehouse aging facility for almost all of Seagram’s Kentucky distilleries (with the exception of the Louisville distillery). The thought process behind that was it would be cheaper to consolidate barrels in one location because only one team of barrel handlers, blenders and bottling line attendants would be needed.

This brings up an interesting conundrum. The bottles of Eagle Rare that claim Old Prentice on the label were probably distilled where the label says it was, but could the early years/batches have been made from distillate that was made at other Seagram’s-owned distilleries? I would say there is a good possibility that something like that occurred over the 14 year period that Seagram’s owned the brand prior to selling it to Sazerac in 1989.

Eagle Rare’s Swan Song: Seagram’s sells the brand to Sazerac

I’ll keep this next part brief because it doesn’t have much to do with the bottle being reviewed today, but it’s still a part of the story. Eagle Rare was sold to the Sazerac company in 1989. If you’re good with history and dates, you may realize that this is before Sazerac purchased the Ancient Age/George T. Stagg Distillery and renamed it Buffalo Trace.

So for almost the next 10 years, Eagle Rare wore a label that said it was bottled by the “Old Prentice Company, New Orleans, LA” The bottle shape changed slightly and most wore a distinct golden plastic screw cap. The origins of this bourbon range from leftover stock sold to Sazerac to some, like Chuck Cowdery, who speculate it may have been sourced from Heaven Hill prior to switching over to Buffalo Trace. Once it began to be re-branded into Buffalo Trace’s lineup is when we finally see it become a single barrel product. It wasn’t until 2019 that Eagle Rare 17 Year began to be bottled at 101 proof in a nod to its lineage. It’s truly a weird bit of history.

1983 Eagle Rare 10/101

I’m tasting the bottle you see before you thanks to a good friend who prefers to stay anonymous. The bottling date was 1983 and wears a 10 year old age statement. Like most bourbon from this timeframe, we are to assume it contains some older bourbon in the blend. And while I can’t find definitive proof of this, it should be a blend of many of the same recipes that Four Roses uses today.

I’m fairly sure the yeast and barrel entry proof (120) are similar, if not the same. I know that might be heresy to hear, but I can’t find any information that rebuffs it. Seagram’s was known – above all else – for consistency in their products over the years. It was rare that they ever changed the recipes.

So how does it taste? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A sweet tanginess fills my nostrils that I can’t put my finger on. It’s a cross between. It’s like the fruit that I find have begun fermenting. Speaking of fruit, there are notes of fruit pies with every sniff: peach, raspberry and strawberry. There’s also a hint of toasted almonds. Sweet notes come by way of brown sugar and toasted brown sugar. Baking spices come in with the smell of cinnamon, vanilla bean and nutmeg. There’s also a tiny savory quality to the nose as well.

The tannins include sweet oak and antique oak. This next sentence is going to sound strange, but this is one of the most pungent noses I’ve found on a bourbon this old. Most vintage bourbon has soft, easily-accessible noses that are gentle and easy to pick apart. For context, this one is almost as strong as a modern-day Four Roses Private Select.

Palate: Finally the oak gets its time to shine. I immediately taste a lovely varnish note. There’s also a dusty element to the oak as well – the kind that distillers can’t seem to recreate anymore. The fruit flavors come by way of various jams: blueberry jam, strawberry jam and persimmon jam, You can taste that this has a bit more rye than typical vintage bourbons. I say that because of all the spearmint, camphor, black licorice, fennel and anise notes that I find. The sweetness turns into more of a molasses note with a hint of honey.

Finish: A sweet and fruity tang finishes up the dram. I find it reminiscent of this Blueberry & Goat Cheese Pie I used to love from a local Indianapolis restaurant called Three Sisters. There are lingering notes of burnt sugars, basil and anise. Tannins are courtesy of antique oak and barrel char. The finish is slightly bitter and moderate in length. It still favors a more rye-forward mash bill.

Score: 9/10

This is an impressively complex dusty bourbon. You may think that’s being redundant, but not all dusty bourbons have this many flavors and scents to sort thought. It hit all the right notes for me as I was drinking it and I can’t say enough good things about it.

A more lengthy “Final Thoughts” than usual

I was having a bit of déjà vu as I was drinking through this time capsule… I’ve tasted a lot of these flavors somewhere before, but where? Then it hit me; this tasted like a dusty version of Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition. I’m not going to debate which exact release it tasted most like, just that all of the elements that were enjoyable for those are the same elements I found in this bottle. It has a high-rye nature that gives you extra spice and fruit. It also drinks very robust compared to other dusties that are more silky smooth in their delivery.

Out of all the old bourbon I’ve had the pleasure of tasting, this one is the most similar to its modern-day counterpart. I don’t mean that as an insult or to bring down the liquid that’s in the bottle. I love virtually all Four Roses Limited Editions regardless of release.

I told my anonymous friend my take on this bottle before I published this review and I don’t think he was exactly thrilled to hear me draw that comparison. His love for this bottle was palpable and I love it too. In fact, the secondary market loves it even more because this generation of Eagle Rare fetches some ridiculous prices compared to other bottles released in the 80’s that are above 100 proof.

I know that this was distilled in an era that had very different methods of making bourbon. The bourbon inside of this was distilled during a time when urethane levels were not yet regulated. And to go off on a small tangent for a minute, I think the industry changes to limiting urethane levels after 1987 was the true split between dusty bourbon and modern bourbon. What I’m trying to say is that if you want to experience this bottle without paying over $1500 for one, then go out and buy any 4R SmBLE that has some really old bourbon in it (the 2023 was a great example). You’re 3/4 of the way there.

Everything I just said is a testament to the strict quality controls that were set forth by the Seagram’s Corporation. I’ve covered this before, but it’s these stringent guidelines that have allowed the bourbon to remain at the same caliber that it was decades prior. Some might view it as a more soulless, industrial way of producing bourbon, but its impact is undeniable – consistently great high-rye bourbon year after year. And this bottle of Eagle Rare proves it.

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