Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Some days, you can’t wait to get home and pour a nice glass of bourbon to celebrate a job well done. Other days, it’s a nice relaxing way to end a hard days work. But sometimes, sometimes you need that drink, to help you remember that the working day is over and to remind your self that your toils are not for naught.

Now, dear reader, I hope that most of your days fall into the first category, with a few in the second. But when those third kind of days arise, that may well be why God gave us bourbon in the first place.

Now Monday and Tuesday weren’t so bad, not really. Just the kind of days where little fires sprung up all day, and there never seems to be enough water to put them all out. Luckily for me, at days end I was in luck: I had brought a new bottle of bourbon into work to ask our staff photographer (and my good friend) Mike Tesh to take a picture of it for this website. Seeing as how it was days end, after all, I certainly saw no harm in sharing some of this new drink.

I’m also lucky to work at a place with a few like minded individuals. So without further ado, I also grabbed fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister and Katie Gleason to join us.  Today’s bourbon of choice came to us from the New Holland Artisan Collection, a collection of which I have tried several different brandings already. Just a few weeks back I spoke to the fun of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, and I’m hoping to get a review posted in the next couple of weeks about one of my favorite whiskeys made by them, the Zeppelin Bend.

Today we tried the smaller batch Brewers Whiskey they have named Black River Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh

The Black River bourbon bottle states it was pot distilled and aged in new American oak, as all bourbon should be. From what I have read, it is my understanding that they barrel this whiskey in smaller barrels to accelerate the aging process. I may have my doubts about the successfulness of aging a bourbon more quickly by changing the barrel size. That said, we all poured a small glass, and went to work, albeit in a more utilitarian setting then I am accustomed to.

Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon
Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon

Our take: if you have read this blog before, you know I have a pretty simple way of judging and rating Bourbons by my palate. First, I try all Bourbons straight. No ice, no mixing, just straight from the bottle to the glass. If a bourbon is impressive in a glass by itself, then it needs no mixing. My favorite Bourbons are all ones that could be had in a glass, neat.

It needs proves to be harsh, or unimpressive, then I will add in a few chips of ice. There are certainly wonderful Bourbons that really don’t become themselves until there is a little ice added. Woodford Reserve, for instance, never tastes right to me without a few rocks in the glass. Woodford may not be my favorite bourbon, but it is certainly a good bourbon and a very nice pour.

If those two methods haven’t given me enough to impress, I will try a bourbon in a mixed drink. A Manhattan, a whiskey sour, etc. Personally I rarely like mixed drinks, so that really is a last method of finding something I like about any particular bourbon. Again, there are fine Bourbons that go well in Manhattans that I wouldn’t necessarily drink straight or on the rocks. But if I had to mix you too enjoy you, you aren’t going to rate very high with me.

Unfortunately, the Black River Bourbon falls somewhere between that second and third category. It’s nose was relatively unimpressive.  There was the strong scent of corn, with an undercurrent of oak. I could pick out raisins, and some earthy tones, but mostly it was the corn and wood.

The taste could only be described as young. The mouth feel was very thin, and as Josh had pointed out to me quickly, there was an emptiness of body. The predominant taste was that of Oakwood. There was a subtle hint of cigar box, some light nuttiness and a general burnt sugar that never grew into something greater, like molasses for brown sugar, but rather, stayed with a slight singed taste.

The finish was mellow, and again the wood returned. There was nothing disagreeable, or unpleasant about this bourbon. Just unremarkable. As we drank our second set, we all agreed: there wasn’t much to say negative about this bourbon, there just wasn’t anything that positive to say either.

Not all efforts are winners. Buffalo trace, four instance, takes big risks with their Single Oak Project, and their experimental bourbon line. If this is an effort that New Holland is using to refine their process, the good news is they’ve made a quality bourbon. It just isn’t anything special. Not yet anyway.

As for us, well, as Josh and I joked, the worst day drinking bourbon at work beats the best day not!”

Dan’s Rating: 6.9

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

10 days and counting until the Bourbon Classic, and the excitement continues to build, in spite of a second round of Polar Vortex weather here in frozen Michigan.  I received some great feedback on last weeks DBotW (Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition), so this week I continue on with Michigan based bourbons: the New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

New Holland Brewing is responsible for many of the fantastic, Michigan-based brands of beer.  I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a great connoisseur of beer, but even I am aware of their qualities.  The Hatter series are renowned in the area, and one of their most unique and popular labels is the “Dragon’s Milk,” a stout beer aged in Oak bourbon barrels.  It is a tasty and satisfying beer, and it’s with this product in mind that New Holland – who extended their beverage creation to the New Holland Artisan Spirits a few years back – created the Beer Barrel Bourbon.

Just as Dragon’s Milk is aged in oak bourbon barrels, New Holland created their Beer Barrel Bourbon by finishing a pre-aged bourbon (sourced from a distiller in Indiana) in former Dragon’s Milk barrels.  There is, of course, an irony to this – the bourbon is being finished in actual bourbon barrels that had been ‘borrowed’ to age beer.  But it promises a unique finish – taking a bourbon and introducing it to the barrel flavor of a rich, creamy, vanilla-strong stout beer.

Like last week, I should admit here that I have serious reservations about bourbons where the juice itself was prepared offsite and the label company was responsible only for finishing and bottling.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, they say (who says that?  I don’t know – i suppose either the purse or bacon industries).  So the idea that you can take a less-than bourbon and make it something worthwhile by disguising its real taste is upsetting to me.  Allow me to say that the New Holland Bourbon is from neither the best nor worst stock. It’s unfinished taste is straightforward and young.  I feel pretty confident that, without the beer finishing, I would not be overly fond of this beverage. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, rather, its mellow, young and not impressively unique.  However, I’m not judging it without the finish.

My take:

From the cool New Holland bottle, Beer Barrel Bourbon is a nice pour.  It has a rich amber color, and looks nice enough in the glass.  It’s nose, I couldn’t help but notice, changed with a bit of time.  At first blush it has a nice blend of vanilla, toffee and oak, but with a few minutes in the glass, it opens up some malt and hop scents.  A faint smell of the beer finish is introduced, and becomes stronger the longer it is in the glass.

It has a thicker mouth feel – not necessarily creamy, but not too light, It has caramel, and corn (a bit more corn than I like), and it delicately smooth on sip.  There are oak flavors, but I didn’t get tannins, and it was a pleasant drink.

The finish is where it gets the most interesting.  While the sip is easy on the throat,  it is really then that the Dragon’s Milk influence comes out – you taste the stout beer presence on the finish – almost like it had it’s own chaser.  Given the good pour that Dragon’s Milk is, this was a wholly welcome development.

Also worth noting is the finishing kick this bourbon has – my wife and I both noticed that this one left that warm from-the-stomach-headed-up feeling other liquors do.  On such a cold winters night, it was kind of appreciated, and it certainly sets it apart.  The finish actually had more kick than the drink!

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: One of my favorite parts of being a bourbon nut are the scents that are left in a glass after finishing it.  I revel in the magical sweet smells you can find in a glass minutes or even hours after a drink has been finished.  This one was no exception, but one thing was significantly different: the glass smelled like beer.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dan’s rating: 7.8 (higher if you are a micro-brew aficionado)