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Remus Gatsby Reserve 2022 vs 2023 Comparison Review

Remus Gatsby Reserve 2022 vs 2023 Comparison Review

In 2019, MGP’s fledgling house brand took a leap into the land of truly premium releases. Up until this point, the most expensive product in their inventory was Remus Repeal Reserve which was priced around $100 depending on the store it was being sold at. But RRR was a tough sell to enthusiasts that year because there were still a few brands putting out highly aged MGP bourbon at the same price AND bottled at cask strength.

But MGP knew their customers that bought barrels from them and also knew that they no longer had really old barrels to sell anymore.  Therefore, it was just a matter of time before the inventories of brands like Belle Meade, Blaum Bros and Boone County dried up.  When that happened, MGP would be the only one in town with teenage barrels of their bourbon. 

The moment seemed perfect for a product that would be priced twice as much as Remus Repeal Reserve – so that’s exactly what they did.  Remus Volstead Reserve was born.  It was bottled at the same 100 proof that RRR but this time it would carry a 14 year age statement.  Enthusiasts gave it a very lukewarm reception.

Remus Volstead passes the torch to Remus Gatsby

Now you might argue that future Remus Volstead Reserve releases were delayed due to the pandemic and supply chain difficulties. I think a more interesting narrative is that the bean counters at MGP were skittish after Volstead’s lackluster reviews. Because of that, it took them almost 36 months to green light a successor: Remus Gatsby Reserve.

Initially, the popular Instagram poster “Coming Whiskey” found a TTB label submission from MGP for Remus Gatsby that showed a 15 year age statement and a bottling proof of 115. These specs were enough to make enthusiasts jump with joy. At that point in late 2022, there were no producers bottling up MGP bourbon at that proof and age anymore (except Valentine Distilling in Michigan). Buyers put their requests in at their favorite stores and waited.

In the bourbon world, nothing is ever that straightforward.  When the first bottles began appearing in stores late that Fall, pictures began to get passed around showing the label without the 115 proof point we thought we were getting.  Instead, it was bottled at 97.8 proof.  What happened to the original proof we all anticipated?  A feeling of disappointment settled onto the scene.  The typical excuses came out: “low proof MGP barrels are better than high proof” and so on.  In retrospect, this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us because MGP products are known to lose proof the longer they age in those brick warehouses in Lawrenceburg.

Overall, the 2022 release of Remus Gatsby was only a moderate success.  To keep things in perspective, all of the bottles were eventually purchased – but probably not at the speed or with the fanfare that MGP wanted to hear.  This didn’t stop the team at MGP from readying another Gatsby release for 2023.  The final proof crept up ever so slightly to 98.1 and the age remained the same.  In terms of visual cues, MGP dropped the elegant split-folding box design in favor of a simpler one with an exposed center area.  Otherwise, the heavy brass topper and Art Deco-era bottle design remained the same.

As far as the liquid inside, we know very little. It is said to be a blend of MGP’s 75/21/4 and 60/36/4 mash bills, but no ratios are given. We can also assume that barrels slightly older than 15 years have made it in the blend, but MGP remains tight-lipped about that.

MGP struggles to give us any story at all regarding this “Gatsby” release

One of my chief complaints with how MGP has handled the Gatsby (and Volstead) releases has been the complete lack of information regarding such a premium bottle. This is a golden opportunity to fill the press releases with information about warehouses, barrel locations and temperature patterns – but they won’t. To MGP, the warehouses don’t matter because they were all built to age the barrels the same. I don’t buy it, though. They have a mixture of Old Quaker warehouses along with their original Seagram’s ones (and the new metal ones, but those aren’t used for Volstead/Gatsby releases). Some of them set closer to Tanner’s Creek and absorb more summertime humidity. Some of them set east of the creek and are a bit drier. What it all boils down to is there is an opportunity to make the consumer feel more connected with the bourbon and MGP continues to ignore it. Do they not see this is a trend that distilleries from Kentucky to Tennessee are taking advantage of?

…So I guess we’ll just have to drink the whiskey instead.

Thanks to my good friend, Mike, I’m able to partake in both bottles and give you my opinion on which one is better. Let’s find out how they did. As usual, I sampled each one neat in a glencairn.

Remus Gatsby Reserve (2022, 97.8 proof) Tasting Notes

Nose: The first thing that really catches my attention about the 2022 release are the old wood and leather scents. There is also a toasted brown sugar sweetness that hits me as well. Plenty of aged vanilla and melted butter scents come forward too. As far as fruit goes, the notes are like a spiced cherry spread that you’d find on a charcuterie board. A little bit of chocolate can be found if you sniff the glencairn long enough.

Palate: I love the antiqued wood notes in each sip.  While it’s not as aggressive as some other 13-15 year old Kentucky bourbons I’ve had, it’s a joy to partake.  I’m surprised to find so many dark cherry and date flavors with each sip.  I was thinking there wasn’t going to be any fruit for a moment!  Tobacco leaf overtakes leather as the second most dominant tannin flavor here – and I’m not complaining.  It’s got an earthy, fragrant taste to it that I rarely experience in a whiskey.  To me, the anise sticks out as the most dominant spice with clove and cinnamon bringing up the rear.  The one ding I have to give is that texturally, the body lacks an oily or creamy viscosity.  I’ve come to expect one of those two from MGP barrels and I’m not really finding it here. 

Finish: The aged wood and tobacco notes definitely take center stage after the sip is complete (cedar cigar box?). There is no denying the age in this one. The positive news is that it never gets “dry.” That’s always a risk when you’re tasting higher-aged bourbons. Instead, warm baking spices and some musty dried fruit (think – the dried fruit bits in a fruitcake) remain. Cinnamon, clove and anise are holdovers and likely stem from the high-rye nature of these barrels. They do a great job giving the finish a little something extra.

Score: 8.5/10

Remus Gatsby Reserve (2023, 98.1 proof) Tasting Notes

Nose: From the very beginning, I prefer the nose of the 2023 release over the 2022. It smells slightly more complex and rich. It’s also slightly sweeter with molasses and brown sugar. The oak is a bit more balanced than the 2022 and leans away from the latter’s “antiqued” style. There is more vanilla than the 2022, but the 2022 has more chocolate.

Palate: I wouldn’t say that this is as tannin-forward as the 2022, but the wood notes are still many. The key differences between the two is that while the 2022 had more antiqued (dusty) sensation, the 2023 has more of a seasoned wood and oak spice. Candied orange peels and dehydrated cherry pieces give slightly brighter fruit notes than the 2022 had as well. Licorice/Anise is the dominant spice note with cinnamon coming in second place. Vanilla (Nilla Wafers) and lemon custard combine with a slightly nutty taste that I can’t quite put my finger on… toasted chestnut perhaps? Overall, the palate feels slightly richer than the 2022, but the overall sensation doesn’t come off as older than it.

Finish: The finish is much more balanced with equal parts oak, spice and candied citrus zest. Tobacco leaf is very present, just like it was on the 2022. Once again, I’m impressed that a 15 year old bourbon has avoided being overly dry. There truly was some expert blending going on to achieve that. Finally, just a little bit of vanilla bean can be experienced as the finish fades away.

Score: 8.3/10

I found the aged notes help the 2022 version stand out more to me than the 2023 version did. The robust wood and tannic notes delivered an exquisite sip that was full of aged beauty. The 2023 version had those too, but less overall. Instead, the 2023 version combined more balanced oak notes to a brighter overall palate which made the whole bottle seem as if it was slightly younger than 15 years old. Is that a bad thing? No. I’m just explaining how they are different.

So which bottle comes out on top? It’s harder than just looking at the score and picking a winner (which I assume most of you will do). The difficulty comes from the fact these are both still really excellent bottles. They represent that classic Indiana bourbon profile while taking it one step further with their extreme age. But the pricetag is still something that is going to continue to be a hurdle for most.

I suppose that the decision to buy this bottle or pass all boils down to when you got into the bourbon scene.  It seems as if just a few years ago, you could still find amazing 14-15 year old MGP bourbon for less money than this.  Examples include Boone County, Mayor Pingree and Smooth Ambler who stood out for their impeccable single barrels around that age.  They also came in for much less money (without adjusting for inflation).  So if you’re familiar with that time period, you probably think Remus Gatsby is a rip-off. 

But we need to remember that the problem with single barrels is that they tend to highlight one or two characteristics of the whiskey while others are much less noticeable.  If you like the things that single barrel does right, you’ll believe it is superior.  But enthusiasts are finding out that many single barrels miss the mark of balance.  That’s where the blenders of Remus Gatsby can get a release like this right.  They had a multitude of barrels available to blend with which ensured that every flavor characteristic could be represented.  Therein lies the strength of a release like this.

Final Thoughts

$250 still feels like too much money for a bottle of Gatsby. I know that there aren’t many other bourbons out there with the same age for around this price, but it’s also about the experience you get for that much money. In that regard, much of what I experienced in Remus Gatsby felt like I’ve been there and done that before… mainly because I have. This is MGP at its finest, but it has nothing new or extraordinary to show you. And when those two things are lacking, what’s the point of buying?

MGP has taken some serious steps in their very short history of bottling their own label. They seem to have the packaging and the age statement to really impress a buyer. But they’re hampered by their inability to make the consumer care about what’s in the bottle by revealing so little about it all. Consumers in every other hobby and luxury interest buy strictly based on the story behind the goods that they buy. But until MGP can make us care more about a bottle like this, it’s destined for an ending every bit as tragic as the Great Gatsby himself.

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Tim McCoy

Tuesday 23rd of January 2024

Sir, thanks for the review. I appreciated reading it. I have a suggestion if you haven't already thought of it or done it for a little review. How about combining the 2 in equal parts and reviewing. I recently read or watched where someone did this with the Bombergers & Shenks. They're conclusion was it was better. They're review of both of those bottles was pretty much in line with yours concerning price of the bottles.