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Whiskey Barons “Bond & Lillard” Batch 1 Review

Whiskey Barons “Bond & Lillard” Batch 1 Review

This is the second of three “Whisky Barons Collection” reviews. Read the rest of the story by clicking on the links for Old Ripy and W.B. Saffell when you’re done!

A few months after Campari (owners of Wild Turkey) released their first Whiskey Barons series called “Old Ripy,” they gave us another one called “Bond & Lillard.” And just like Old Ripy, this name is a throwback to another famous name(s) in the long history of distilleries located in Anderson County.

I’m going to skip over the historical bits that talk about who William E Bond and Christopher C Lillard were. There is plenty about them in the press release that Campari gave us. But I did find one interesting story about the fate of Bond & Lillard as a brand. Apparently a person on asked where they could buy a bottle of Bond & Lillard similar to the one they just drank at Chicago’s Hyatt hotel bar in 2002. The bottle had “Distilled in Frankfort, KY” on the label.

Chuck Cowdery, a longtime resident of Chicago, chimed in about how it was likely distilled at the Old Grand Dad distillery before Beam had purchased it from National Distillers in 1987. This meant that it had a good chance of being produced up until the 1980’s. It is assumed that Beam let the rights to the brand expire which is how Campari eventually got their hands on it and resurrected it decades later.

Bond & Lillard is charcoal filtered – why?

Rumors surrounded the release of Old Ripy – the first bottle of the Whiskey Barons Collection – that it was not made from stocks of Wild Turkey bourbon. These had been mostly debunked by time Bond & Lillard was released. Instead, the focus of what made this bottle unique centered mainly around the charcoal filtration that this bourbon went through.

There are many different styles of filtering whiskey through charcoal, but Campari never expanded on what the exact process was. Jack Daniel’s charcoal filters their whiskey through a stack of sugar maple charcoal that’s 10 feet thick before it goes into the barrel. Heaven Hill dumps their aged barrels through a bucket of crushed charcoal that acts like an activated carbon filter. But Campari has traditionally never done either of these processes.

It’s probably safe to assume that the whiskey was not filtered before it entered the barrel because that would have required planning this experiment out all the way back in 2010. That means it was charcoal filtered sometime after maturation was complete. This was done to achieve the look and taste of the original B&L that won “Best Whiskey” at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

I wanted to expand a little bit more on how ironic it was that Bond & Lillard was released in the second half of 2017 and Wild Turkey Longbranch came to market ~6 months later. Longbranch also uses a charcoal filtration method (which Wild Turkey literature calls “charcoal refinement” but is assumed to be the same thing). Did Wild Turkey invest in a charcoal filtration technique that they wanted to get their money out of? Maybe. Nobody else has ever connected the dots on these two bourbons before.

Bond & Lillard specs

The 2017 version of B&L is said to be a blend of mostly 7 year old barrels. Optimists will chime in that there could be older barrels in the blend. Pessimists will chirp back that there could be younger barrels in the blend. The bottom line is we don’t really know. What I think really matters is that almost all of the bourbon used to make this release was distilled prior to the new Wild Turkey Distillery being built in 2011. I might be making a big deal about nothing, but a lot of Wild Turkey enthusiasts complain that the taste profile of Wild Turkey changed when the old distillery was torn down and the new one was built.

Before we move on with the tasting notes, I want to point out that the bottle I’m reviewing today is from Batch 1. This batch allegedly had no involvement from the Russell’s in blending or barrel selection. Batch 2 would see Eddie take the reins and guide its creation. So if you disagree with my tasting notes because you have experience with this bottle, check to see which batch you have. Speaking of tasting notes, let’s get to them. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: If you’ve nosed a lot of young, craft bourbons, then you’ll probably familiar with a scent that can be only described as “youthful.” This bottle of Bond & Lillard has that scent. It’s a cross between bready and “green.” A lot of times the characteristics of the nose follow the proof. In that case, this smells like it’s around 80 proof. There aren’t a whole lot of scents here aside from the occasional vanilla and some basic baking spices. It doesn’t smell astringent or anything – there is a mild sweetness to it – but it’s very lacking in almost all tannic or caramelized scents.

Palate: The lack of spice and heat makes for a rather neutral-tasting bourbon on the tongue. I can taste oak, but it’s not like it was charred or anything. Perhaps “fresh cut oak” is a more apt description. There are some sweet notes like caramel and honey. I am also picking up on lighter flavors like vanilla wafers and honey’ed malt. Every now and then a peppery pop will appear along with a limited amount of vanilla. As for fruit flavors, orange peel is about the only thing here.

Finish: After going through the steps on the nose and palate, I’m not surprised to find a finish that is very short. I get some lingering notes of vanilla poundcake, mild oak and ground cinnamon, but that’s about it. The charcoal filtration must have stripped away a lot on this bourbon.

Score: 5.1/10

While my tasting notes might seem harsh, I feel as if my “average” score is justified. This isn’t a bad bourbon in the sense that it made me want to spit it out or stop drinking it, it’s just that it had no redeeming qualities about it.

It’s interesting to taste what Wild Turkey can taste like when it’s been charcoal filtered, but I would’ve expected a bit more. The note that I kept circling in my notebook as I drank this was “malt whiskey” which was kind of strange. I’ve had plenty of malt whiskeys before (usually Scotch) and this seemed similar to the kinds that are more mellow and sweet – Glen Moray comes to mind – and the lack of much spice certainly wasn’t giving off any bourbon vibes. Take that info for what it’s worth.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been given the gift of hindsight by doing this review so far from when this bourbon was first released, but I want to say that I can totally see why Eddie would want to help (or take over) the production of the second batch of Bond & Lillard. It’s supposed to be a totally different experience from Batch 1. And while I haven’t had the second batch yet, I’m sure anything he does will be a welcome improvement.

Would I buy this bottle again? No. Aside from an attractive label, the almost straw-colored liquid should’ve been a warning to stay away from it. The flavor ended up being just as flat. I would’ve loved to see Wild Turkey bring this label back to prominence over a century later, but after this debacle, it might be another 100 years before we see another attempt to get it right.

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