If you're a frequenter of whisky blogs, you may have heard of this bourbon. If so then that is due to one Joshua Feldman, a certain Coopered Tot.
Josh posted twice about Old Ren. The first post was an extensive historical tour of the whiskey, the distillery, and Ren Clark. It's a hell of an article and I highly recommend it. Four months later, Josh posted a followup piece about a certain aspect of the whiskey's style. Let's see if I can recap 3000 words in about 300...
Distilled in Fall 1936, Bottled in 1944 at 100 Proof (50%abv). 4/5 quart bottle. It was bottled by W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. of Vincennes, Indiana, as a one-time order for Ren Clark, the man with the hat and rabbit on the front label. Brought to the twenty-first century via the always reliable The Coopered Time Machine™.
Graham Distillery Company, Illinois Distillery No. 6. No, not a NDP. Yes, a real bourbon distillery in Illinois. Located in Rockford, it seems to have operated before and after Prohibition, but is now in Bourbon Distillery Heaven. The Graham family had a spiffy house, the distillery, and a cotton mill all in the same part of town. (Here's a link to a Straight Bourbon discussion about Graham.)
W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. had its own distillery in Indiana, for a while. They named it Old Quaker Distillery and ran it until Schenley bought it during Prohibition. Old Quaker's motto: "You don't have to be rich to enjoy rich whiskey." Yeah, that's nice. Tell that to the Scots. Anyway, Old Ren was bottled at their planet (formerly Eagle Brewery) in Vincennes, Indiana.
A. Renerick Clark was indeed a magician, president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and co-founder of the Texas Association of Magicians. He also was a banker and an executive for multiple oil companies, which is how he obtained the big bucks to leisurely peddle the magic arts. He also opened a tiki bar, Polynesian Village, in Forth Worth, Texas, with his business partner Desi Arnaz. (Yes, Mr. Lucy.) He also thought it would be great to buy a large parcel of well-aged bourbon and have it bottled in bond.
For more information, I recommend Josh's post and all of the great links he provides. Now, about the whiskey. Is it any good?
It has a cherry wood color with some maroon highlights. In the nose a pretty floral layer lingers beneath dusty old sturdy furniture in the attic (old oak, lacquer, must, and dust). Rock candy. Dense caramel sauce and vanilla beans. Hints of dried oregano and thyme in the background. After 20 minutes it's lime→cream soda→vanilla→caramel. After 30 minutes it's white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies and maple syrup. The palate is whisky candy. Loads of rich vanilla. Mint gelato and oranges at the edges. Chocolatey rye. A malty sweetness. Its spiciness increases with time. And it still has a heck of a bite to it after all these years. Intensely aromatic vanilla leads in the finish. Vanilla extract. Also vanilla beans. Vanilla. Gentle oak spice. Has that malty sweetness again, but a peep of bitterness keeps it from going overboard. Maybe some black pepper.
Vanilla was the first note Kristen found as well. And wouldn't ya know it, that was what Josh's second Old Ren post was about. In it, he and two lawyer/geeks delve into the laws behind the "Straight" designation for American whiskies. Why the "Straight" issue? Because of this:
The bottle labels were originally produced with the "Straight" designation. And then it was covered up by those printed red boxes. One could ponder, "Was this because a vanilla flavoring was added, thus challenging the Straight nomenclature?" But because the bourbon was designated Bottled-In-Bond by the government, it legally couldn't have any flavor additives anyway. Or did Ol' Ren pull a fast one in order to make sure...
...there's magic in its taste?
Or was it a super vanilla-y batch of bourbon that developed more vanilla notes after 70 years in the bottle? This is the option we're left with because as of now no one has been able to prove otherwise.
I'm giving this a high score because I loved the intensity of that vanilla character. The finish went on for twenty minutes. Overall, it wasn't massively nuanced or sophisticated. Instead it was a whiskey that puts a smile on a face and that was needed the night before my birthday. Thank you, Josh!
Price of admission - Whatever is asked
Rating - Vanilla, er, 90