...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old Taylor ('85) vs. Old Taylor ('87) vs. Old Taylor ('96) 6 year old Bourbon

Once upon a time, Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon was distilled at the Old Taylor Distillery.  Alternately known as Old Taylor Castle and Stone Castle Distillery, it's really a hell of a thing to see.  Rather than swiping other people's photos, I will recommend that you click over to Fred Minnick's photo essay.  (K&L Spirits Journal has some good pics too.)

The Old Taylor brand, once actually owned by the Taylor family, was purchased by National Distillers after Prohibition had ended.  The distillery itself ran until 1972, after that the production of Old Taylor's distillate was done at other National Distillers distilleries, mostly likely OT's neighbor, the Old Crow Distillery.  In 1987, when National Distillers folded up, Beam Inc bought a bunch of brands including three Olds -- Grand Dad, Crow, and Taylor.  The Old Crow Distillery was closed down that year, its space then used for warehousing barrels.

Along with the brands, Beam picked up all of the related maturing barrels.  Due to the whisky glut in the '70s and '80s, a lot of older bourbons went into brands that had younger age statements.   As has been mentioned on the Straight Bourbon forums, Michael Jackson once wrote that in the mid-eighties, Old Taylor 6yo was around 10-12 years old.  Beam continued to bottle the original stocks until they ran out and segued to their own formula (and new labels) in the early '90s.  In 2009, Sazerac purchased Old Taylor from Beam and are now the current owners of the brand.

I've had limited success at hunting for dusty old bourbons.  But my best find has been '80s Old Taylor bourbon.  They are lovely things.  While I enjoy single malts, Irish pot still, and straight rye more than bourbon, the old Old Taylor has proved to be an exception.  It's incredibly rich, and can be used either as a brisk summertime pleasure or as something to mull over on a cold rainy night.

The first OT6 in this lineup was bottled in 1985.  Tax stamps were being phased out that year and my bottle was amongst those that didn't get that sticky paper seal.  It lists Frankfort, KY as its home, the location of the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries.

The second OT6, is a 375mL bottle from 1987.  That was the year Beam took over.  The label stayed the same except for the addition of "Clermont, KY" Beam's home.  One other difference is the listing of ABV along with the US proof, something companies had started switching to in the late-eighties.

The third OT6 has made multiple appearances on the blog this year.  First on its own, then as part of a Beam vertical.  No worries about it making a fourth appearance as it has all been processed by my liver now.  That Old Taylor was bottled in 1996 and was 100% Beam juice.  I tossed it into this lineup for the sake of comparison.  And I needed to finally finish the little 200mL bottle off.

Here are a few additional links about Old Taylor, in addition to the links above, in case you're interested:

Here are the tasting notes in bottling date order, from oldest to newest:

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1985) - 43% ABV

Owner: National Distillers at time of bottling
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, though some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 6 years old; though it has been suggested by Michael Jackson that 10+ year old whiskey is in the mix
ABV: 43% ABV
Bottle year: 1985

Please note, I zipped through this bottle much too quickly after opening it.  This sample comes from the bottom quarter of the bottle which I decanted into a smaller bottle.  It had already oxidized very quickly and the palate isn't quite what it was upon opening.

The nose leads with a nutty syrup, figs, dried cherries, and a mile of rich caramel.  There's actually a significant malty element (which appealed to this Scotch fan) and a hint of Old Bottle Effect (OBE) metal.  Then there are lavender buds, vanilla beans, cinnamon, cotton, black pepper, an old leather chair, and a slight medicinal note.  The palate starts off with Milk Duds, vanilla ice cream, and dried lavender.  Even with the oxidation, it feels much fuller and thicker than a normal 43% ABV whisk(e)y.  There's a wheaty-ness that might appeal to S-W fans (though I don't think this is a wheater).  The corn element remains very mellow.  Then some cream soda and an old moldy musty note.  Boisterous spices awake in the finish.  Then caramel, wood pulp, dates, and the musty note.  It's simple, but full and sweet.

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1987) - 43% ABV

Owner: Beam Inc at time of bottling
Distilled by: National Distillers
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, though some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky / Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 6 years old; though it has been suggested by Michael Jackson that 10+ year old whiskey is in the mix
ABV: 43% ABV
Bottle year: 1987

This sample was taken right near the top of the bottle.

The nutty syrup, figs, and big caramel show up in the nose again, but they are followed by mint leaves, vanilla fudge, and toffee.  Then lavender growing out of freshly fertilized soil.  That's followed by a whole list of fun stuff: dried stone fruits, root beer, cream soda, pipe tobacco, smoky tea, smoky butter, and maple syrup.  The palate is unbelievably rich.  Decadent salted caramel and milk chocolate.  Rose petals and dried lavender.  Vanilla extract meets whispers of smoke and savoriness.  It's a bourbon pudding.  A little more corn in the finish, along with the moldy/musty note.  Cayenne pepper generously sprinkled in caramel sauce.  A little bit of the flora, a bit of sugar, and an herbal twist at the end.

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1996) - 40% ABV

Owner: Beam, Inc. at time of bottling
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Standard 15% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 6 years old
ABV: 40% ABV
Bottle year: 1996

From the bottom half of the bottle.

First up in the nose, a bag of salted peanuts.  I missed that note in the Beam review probably due to the nuttiness in the other Beams.  Here, compared to the N.D. OTs, it shouts loudest.  That's followed by mild corn, stale dried fruits, simple caramel and vanilla, notebook paper, banana skin, nutmeg, and Cow Tales.  The palate is decently textured but nothing like its predecessors.  I find those peanuts again, along with caramel and corn syrup.  Also there's both barrel char and some actual uncharred oak.  The finish mirrors the palate.  Maybe some more salt, and then a whole cord of oak.

The '87 bottling is a knee buckler, no joke.  When I saw it in the store, I didn't know if Beam had switched to their own barrels once they bought Old Taylor, so I only bought one bottle.  Per Monday's post, as you can imagine, I wish I had bought more.  The vibrancy of the bourbon even shows itself in a flat wide tumbler glass; it's something to behold.  Had I saved a sample from the top of the '85 bottling, I'd likely say the same about it.  But all I have to go on now is a somewhat oxidized sip.  Still its nose is tremendous and the palate is still thick and tasty.  The '96 bottling is still very drinkable but almost feels like a different liquor genre next to its elders.

I'll cut straight to the meat about the National Distillers-distilled Old Taylor 6 year olds.  The only other bourbons I've had that can compare to the element of sheer joy (though for completely different reasons) are Stitzel-Weller Old Fitzgerald BIB and George T. Stagg.  If you ever find one of these old Old Taylors in the wild, I loudly recommend it.  It will probably be pretty cheap, and even if you don't find it very complex you'll at least enjoy the ride.

[Update 4/13/2014:  Now the 1987 bottling has oxidized very quickly as well.  The palate's richness has largely faded, and the finish has a slight soapy character.  But the nose remains awesome.  You gotta drink these old Old Taylors quickly, I suppose.  Straight from the bottle or mainlining or vaping the whole thing in the first night (slight exaggeration).]

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1985 bottling)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90  (was even better before it oxidized)

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1987 bottling)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 93

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1996 bottling)
Availability - More so in the Midwest, less so in the East and West
Pricing - $4-$5 for 200mL; for the current Sazerac version $12-$15 (750mL), $18-20 (1L)
Rating - 80