...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 19, 2015

WTF Is This? Homestead Bourbon

Welcome to another new series, Whisk(e)y Thrillin' Friday!  That's WTF stands for, right?  Each Friday for the next (maybe) nine weeks I'll post about a whisk(e)y whose origin is either not directly stated or is a general mystery.  Or maybe it has story attached or perhaps I won't even be able to tell you WTF is up with the WTF whisky.  I'll lead off with Homestead Bourbon.

There are two words one will not find on the front of Homestead Bourbon's fashionable bottle: Kentucky and Straight.  Firstly, that's because its spirit was not distilled in Kentucky.  The non-distilling producer (NDP) Strong Spirits helpfully and legally lists that the bourbon was distilled in Indiana here:

So it's from the MGP whiskey factory in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  MGP distills millions of liters of spirit for NDPs like Strong Spirits, and in the process has been the birthplace of some very reliable, even gorgeous, whiskies.  So far so good.

But what about the missing "Straight" notation?  A producer cannot call its bourbon straight if it has spent less than two years in the barrel or if there are flavoring additives applied.  Or technically, a producer can choose to not list that its bourbon has passed those standards.  According to this Straightbourbon discussion, Chuck Cowdery says that's the spin Strong Spirits is taking.  Strong claims the bourbon "is in fact 4 years old" and, my faves, "We thought long and hard about using the term Straight and decided that the term technically only means the bourbon is over 2 years old. Because we wanted our brand to be modern (a bit minimal) we also were very specific in the message on the bottle and since we want to promote the fact that our bourbon is higher proof (as close as we can get to going from the barrel to the bottle) we decided to put the idea of barrel proof on the bottle."

Uh-huh.  It's a $50 bourbon.  At half that price one can find bourbons that have "the idea of barrel proof", bourbons that also "promote" the fact that they're Straight Bourbons by listing the word "straight" on the label.  Strong Spirits goes easy on their bottle's text, utilizing the space to print their tag line, "Stake Your Claim".  "Stake Your Claim" shouts FAUX-INSPIRATIONAL MARKETING BLURB and doesn't mean much out of context -- I would have preferred "Claim Your Steak" -- meanwhile "Straight Bourbon Whiskey" holds actual weight in and out of context......unless you can't legally use the S word because the whisky doesn't in fact meet those standards.

Okay, I had to place a hard return there because it's time to focus on the whiskey itself.  Last February, Florin (a prince) poured me some Homestead from the top of his bottle.  I found it drinkable.  He kindly let me have a 4 ounce sample.  I found that sample HOT but drinkable as well.  I must have mentioned this because he gave me the rest of the same bottle two weeks ago.  Woo-hoo!, right?  Well, I've been through seven more ounces and it is not drinkable.  Consuming it pains me.

When I prepared to take official notes on the bottle, I suddenly realized that I still had 2 ounces left of that original drinkable sample from higher up the bottle.  Would I be able to determine what the hell I was talking about four months ago...

Brand: Homestead
Owner: Strong Spirits
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Age: ???
Alcohol by volume: 56.65%

The color is dark gold.  The nose begins all caramel corn and peanuts (yet not Cracker Jack). It's slightly beefy and has some rye seeds.  Cream soda, baked banana, and classic Old Spice aftershave.  It also has a slight gaseous and varnish(eous) edge to it.  Mild heat on the palate.  Plain at first. A moderate level of corn sweetness meets a hint of rye spice and a nudge of white vinegar.  The rye element expands with time, getting very peppery.  Soon lots of wood notes (like actual pulp) enter.  The finish is mostly heat.  A little sweetness, some oak, lots of banana.

Comments: Yeah, it's drinkable, but urine is drinkable (allegedly).  I may have overestimated its quality four months ago, but it's okay.  It also stands its ground against ice pretty well.  Not something I'd buy at its price, nor half its price, but not something I'd dump down the sink.  Grading this on its own, I'd give it a 72.

The nose is comparatively muted, grassier, and mintier at first.  There's the peanut note.  Then the caramel corn one. More root beer than cream soda.  Maybe some hints of oranges and milk chocolate.  But then there's the ethyl.  Ethyl grows to be a big ol' gal, almost taking over the show.  The palate:  Heat.  Burning.  Then sugar.  Grains.  It's lightly nutty and rye-ish (again pepper).  Bitter green oak stuff.  The finish is very sweet and tannic.  Hot bitter barrel water.

Comments: It also makes for a poor highball, unless you're using it as an Angostura delivery system.  It also destroyed three different bourbon blends that I tried to make from it.  Grading this on its own, I'd give it a 61.

Final Verdict: This is my first experience with a whisk(e)y that closed up (and got hotter) the further I got into the bottle.  It's really a broken bourbon at this point.  And "at this point" I mean perhaps two-thirds of the bottle were unapproachable.  Thus I'm going to weight the latter score more than the former even though the former is itself no great shakes.  I'm not sure if the problem was from weird barrels or small barrels or bourbon that was in fact younger than two years.  While I am not a bourbon expert, I'd venture to say that this cake wasn't done baking when it was pulled.  Perhaps some more time would have helped?

Availability - CA, IL, MN, NY, though Cali seems to have the highest prices
Pricing - $40-$58
Rating - 65  (Great glass bottle, though. You could really stake your claim with that thing.)