Today’s we’re shining our giant New Arrival spotlight on a mysterious long-aged bourbon from Tennessee. We can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we can tell you that it is delicious. 

It’s not often you see a bourbon with an age statement on the bottle. In fact, to be classed as bourbon in the US, the spirit just has to be made from 51% corn and spend some time in charred new oak casks (there are some other rules but that’s pretty much the basis). But the regulations don’t say how long. So your old timey bourbon could have just spent months ageing rather than years. It’s a bit different with whiskey imported into Europe which due to EU regulations has to be aged for a minimum of three years. To further complicate matters, it’s a bit of grey area whether products sold as bourbon minus the word whiskey have to follow these rules.

All this preamble is to say that your American whiskey is very unlikely to be much much more than three years old. Now that’s not really a problem because whiskeys made from rye and corn do tend to develop delicious flavours at a younger age especially when you factor in the amount of flavour that charred new oak imparts. Combine this with the hot and humid climate you get in the heart of American whiskey country, Kentucky and Tennessee, which leads to much quicker ageing than in the cold of Scotland; the evaporation is quicker but the ABV remains higher.

Age statements are rare. In fact, you have to be quite careful because in hot climates the whiskey might become over mature and woody if left too long. Many distilleries in America have special pockets within their warehouses which are cooler so the whiskey matures more slowly. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. We can’t say much about its origins apart from that fact that it comes from Tennessee, which narrows it down somewhat. It might even come from one of the distilleries mentioned in this article. Even though whiskey from this state isn’t usually sold as bourbon, much of it is legally entitled to be.

Black & Gold, a bourbon worth taking your time over

The casks that go into Black & Gold were tasted by top whiskey sniffer Sam Simmons aka Dr Whisky; he told us: “I flew to Tennessee to select these casks in the warehouse. The phrase ‘hand selected’ is so often used and so rarely true, but in this case it actually happened.” He also revealed that the mashbill is heavy on the corn: 84-8-8 (corn-rye-barley). It spent 10 years slumbering in the heat of Appalachia before taking a slow boat across the Atlantic and finished its ageing in rainy old Britain. The result is something richer, more complex, more savoury than you usually get in a bourbon but it hasn’t dried out at all. You’re starting to get cigars there like an old Speyside malt but here’s still plenty of maple syrup, vanilla and apple pie that will appeal to bourbon lovers. It’s bottled at a nice punchy 45% ABV.

It’s very much not a speed rail bourbon for sloshing into cocktails but, though it’s probably best enjoyed neat, it certainly wouldn’t turn its nose up at a carefully made Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Then sit back and savour all those years of ageing. 

Here’s the full tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Dense vanilla, toasted brown sugar atop apple pie, gingersnaps and cinnamon sticks.

Palate: Caramelised nuts, cask char leading to earthy cigar box and vanilla pod, with a touch of maple syrup hiding in there too.

Finish: Lasting oak and forest floor richness, well-balanced by toffee and chocolate sweetness.

Overall: Everything you could want from a bourbon and more, this expression is simply astonishing.

Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.