...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Something Weird: Ancient Age 86 Proof Bourbon (bottled early '80s)

Welcome back to Kravitz's Cabinet of Curiosities.  Today's sideshow is...

...Ancient Age 86 Proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled in the early 1980s; or better known in these circles as The Dog-Faced Man.

Since the start of the Ancient Age brand in 1946, there have been a whole slew of similarly named Ancient Age bourbons.  There's the regular Ancient Age (with one "Ancient"), which has had ages of 3 and 6 years, as well as at least one without an age statement.  These bottlings were released at 80, 86, 90, 100, and 107 proof at different points in time.  Then there was the Ancient Ancient Age 10 year old (hella ancient), which was recently sneakily replaced by the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star (no age statement, not hella ancient?).  The version I found while scouting curios was the Ancient Age 86 proof, which had no age statement.  Since it was bottled in the early '80s it may or may not have some old glut whiskey in there; about that I have no idea.

Ancient Age has been made in the same distillery over the past 68 years, though it has undergone name and ownership changes.  The location was often known as the Leestown Distillery, sometimes as the OFC Distillery, sometimes as the George T. Stagg Distillery, sometimes as Albert B. Blanton Distillery.  It was run by Blanton, Stagg, and E.H. Taylor at various times.  Around the time of Prohibition, Schenley Industries bought it.  Some folks say that it was called Ancient Age Distillery for a while, some folks say that was never its official name, rather AA(A) was just its best-selling brand.  The Ancient Age brand itself was sold to Age International in 1983.  Age still owns the brand and produces the whiskey at the same distillery, now known as......Buffalo Trace Distillery.  (Here are a couple of my sources: this and this.)

Today, Ancient Age is a 3 year old 80 proof bottom shelf bourbon made from BT's higher rye mashbill.  The bottling I have was obtained for all of $9.69, but I have no idea what its mashbill was.

Upon opening this bourbon six months ago, I was immediately struck by its massively astringent, salty, and medicinal palate.  It was odd, but I kinda liked it.  With time and a little oxygen, the bourbon in the bottle mellowed slightly but remained unusual.  The notes below are from samples I took at two different parts of the bottle.

Also, posting simultaneously with this review, My Annoying Opinions will be reviewing a sample from this very bottle as well!  Here's the link to his review!

So much going on here: Ancient Age just opened, Peatin'
Meetin' notes, a mystery man in the shadows, and
yes an empty bottle of Finlaggan.
Owner: Ancient Age Distillers (either Schenley Industries or Age International)
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Leestown Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: damfino
Age: Ancient
Bottle year: early 1980s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is dark woody brown.  The first thing that strikes me about the nose is how malty it is, a good ex-bourbon cask malt.  But then in rumbles some oloroso sherry.  Then Old Spice aftershave.  After that, it's all bourbon.  Corn syrup, caramel, and honey with some peppery rye hints around the edges.  It smells like it's going to be a sweetie.  But on the palate, it's not.  It's still somewhat astringent and medicinal.  Some toffee thrown in.  Then it picks up its case of the weirds.  Shaving cream smell (as a flavor), hairspray, and a hint of soap.  So there's this chemical angle, yet it's still fully palatable (for me).  The chemicals don't stick around in the sweeter finish.  Some salt and caramel.  Spices like black pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Maybe a little of the soap sticks around.

Most of that malt note is gone now from the nose, though a nutty sherry remains.  It's much more vegetal and corny now.  Savory herbs, corn chips, paint fumes.  Then some rye seeds to go with a lot of caramel and vanilla.  Vanilla and caramel also lead off a palate which seems to be cured of the chemicals. Though that soap hint remains.  Much more corn whiskey now.  It's sweeter, spicier, savorier, and saltier.  The chemical thing peeks in at the finish, along with ripe banana, black pepper, and granulated sugar.

So, this bottle gave me three whiskies for the price of a bottom-shelfer.  Pretty swell deal, I'd say.  As mentioned above, the top of the bottle was a raw sharp medicinal stinger.  The middle of the bottle smelled great and tasted strangely.  The bottom third was more like a contemporary bourbon of better than acceptable quality for a $10 bottle.  One thing was consistent though: It does not work in a mixed drink, highball, mint julep, etc.  It just doesn't play well with others.

I'm sort of mystified as how to grade it.  So I'll have to provide a disclaimer to whatever number I make up.  I like it A LOT more than the previous two Curiosities, and would even consider getting another bottle if I found one for $10 again.  If you wind up discovering a bottle of this (with the faux tax stamp), and want to get in on the weird, I don't recommend letting too much oxygen get to it.  Split it up amongst your friends peers and watch everyone make faces.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $9.69 is how I found it
Rating - 81 (Disclaimers: 1. Rating only covers this era of this bourbon, not the current version. 2. The whiskey changes often in the bottle.  3. It can be a little weird. 4. You should probably disregard this rating altogether.)


  1. I liked it a lot more than you did. I seem to have gotten the nose from your mid-bottle and the palate from your bottom third. And I didn't get any off-notes. Maybe the lesson is that cheap bourbon should be bottle matured further in 2 ounce jars?

    1. Man, I'm glad you liked it. I half expected to see a "What the f*** did you send me?" comment. I think your sample came from the spot between my two review pours.

  2. I started reading this post and my first thought was you should send a sample to MAO or Florin to weird them out. Then I got to the last lines....

    I have to say that this review didn't sound like a bourbon at first. In fact I'd say it sounded more like a weird single malt. Since Ancient Age shares a mashbill with Elmer T. Lee, Blanton's, and Rock Hill Farm, I wonder how this bottle compares with its siblings.

    1. By the way, if you want a taste of truly awful whiskey, ask the LA Whiskey Society for a sample of Usuikyou 1983 (if they have any left which is probably likely). I've never tried it but it's the funniest set of reviews on their site: http://www.lawhiskeysociety.com/whiskey-profile/1261/Usuikyou-1983

    2. The current version of Ancient Age definitely shares a mashbill with the other Age Intl bourbons. Because the bottle I found is possibly before the Age Intl purchase, before Blanton's, and before ETL, I'm not sure what mashbill was being used. Someday I may do a comparison between this one, one from a little later, and the current version to see if there's been consistency in what is essentially a bottom shelf bourbon. I like Blanton's a lot though, so I'm hoping the current version is just Blanton's baby brother.

      My favorite of the You Suck You notes is Adam's take on its nose. That sounds like the penalty whisky to beat all penalty whisky.

    3. No thank you, Eric and Michael. I'm still recovering after Michael's "Bearded Lady", aka dusty Suntory, but with most of the dust and other things on the inside of the bottle. That was undrinkable and could fit many of the notes in the UsukU. I remember that the nose had nothing organic about it, it was something between sweaty oil-based paint peeling off a musty garage wall and very old Play Doh. On the masochist-hedonist scale I'm leaning right so I poured most of it out. Sorry Michael - and thanks a lot!

    4. Forgot to add - the kitchen sink has been draining as a charm after I poured this thing in!

    5. Ah, yes. The Bearded Lady. I may be able to clear the shower drain with the final six ounces. I can actually smell and taste bourbon barrel Yamazaki in it (not the drain, the whisky), but there's a wall of chemicals blocking any further approach.

      Also, you're welcome!