...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ancient Age Straight Bourbon Whiskey (current bottling)

Last Thursday, I reviewed my bottle of an odd but enjoyable early '80s bottling of Ancient Age.  Three days later, I spied some bottles of the current version of Ancient Age.  So I bought a 200mL.  For $2.99.  That price could have had me setting my expectations low, but I bought the dusty version in 750mL form for $9.69 and that one was fun.  So I lined up one Ancient next to the other for a tasting last night.

I'm not sure if my dusty version of Ancient Age was bottled before or after Schenley sold the brand to Age International, but it was definitely distilled before the changeover so I don't know what its mashbill was.  The current version of Ancient Age uses Sazerac / Buffalo Trace's high(er) rye mashbill.  The dusty bottle was 86 proof.  The new one is 80 proof.

They are definitely not the same whiskey.  Not too long ago, I thought Buffalo Trace could do no wrong.  I was wrong.

First, the dusty...

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%

(For more detailed notes, see last week's post)
Color -- Dark bronze
Nose -- Vibrant.  TONS of caramel.  Maple, corn syrup, earthy molasses, anise, a bit of a green herbal kick, and a definite malty note.
Palate -- Salt and caramel, met with plenty of rye spices.  SunMaid raisins.  Kinda painty.  The chemical and medicinal notes are still present but in the background.
Finish -- Caramel and salt water meet up with the medicinal note and some herbal bitterness.

Not bad.  Still a little zany.  The caramel notes keep growing as oxidation settles in more and more.

Then there was...

Owner: Sazerac and Age International
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery (technically the same distillery)
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: at least two years, but probably not more than that
Bottle code: CA131831559B (perhaps 2013?)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- Light gold
Nose -- Vague.  Woody: pulp, bark, and pine sap.  Hazelnuts and marzipan.  Pretzels, cheap plastic toys, and "plastic banana" (that sorta makes sense, right?).
Palate -- Again, not much.  Sweet to bitter.  Very corny, maybe some vanilla and caramel and black pepper.  Uh oh, going downhill quickly...  Grows bitterer.  Tastes like burning.  Burning perfume and burning bubblegum.
Finish -- Woody bitterness.  Bland barrel char.  Also begins to grow off-putting with an ever expanding acrid aftertaste.

At first, I wondered if I'd accidentally bought Ancient Age Preferred, their blended whiskey, because there seemed to be so little whiskey in the whiskey.  But, nope, it was their straight bourbon.  Slowly, the scent and flavor arrived.  Then slowly, things went sour.

The two are distinctly dissimilar.  The new version has a lower ABV, but it's only a three point difference.  So the gap comes from a marked disparity between the quality of the barrels going into each bottling.  The dense Age bottled in the early '80s shouts out, announcing its presence, whether one likes it or not.  The Age bottled in 2013 barely ekes out a whimper before soiling itself.  I'm pretty certain they have different mashbills, but that doesn't matter if Sazerac is scraping bottom to pull together the current Ancient Age.

I'm going to bring this to a quick close because the whiskey isn't worth many additional words.  This is unquestionably the worst whisk(e)y I've reviewed this year.  Will a challenger arise?

ANCIENT AGE 86 PROOF (bottled early '80s)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $9.69 is how I found it
Rating - 81

ANCIENT AGE (current bottling)
Availability - On a lower shelf at a retailer near you
Pricing - $10-$14 (Buffalo Trace is only twice the price but eleventy times better)
Rating - 63