Leopold Bros. American Small Batch Whiskey
Color in glencairn glass: Faded yellow with a rose glow.
Nose: Moist, spongy, metallic with mellow sweet powdered sugar. Grapes, strawberries, green apples, waxy vanilla varnish. Fruit cocktail. There is a definite rounded, plush character on the nose.
Taste: Light brown sugar entry achieves depth with green apple skin and strawberry cream. The palate centers around a soft, serene bed of vanilla flowers with unassertive grape and apple tones, and a wash of that diluted strawberry kick. Mild, bitter pepper sprinkles along the outskirts and comes to the fore on a finish that brings to mind rosé wine and pink rose essence, and leaves little to no burn.
My biggest joy from this whiskey is the texture: it is plush and clean like satin sheets; comforting, pleasant and cooling. There is a grounding, fruit-based bitterness throughout the sip, but the overall theme with this distillate is balanced apple flesh. Drink it instead of wine with dinner. This is a friendly, charming whiskey that grew on me as I got to know the mood it encourages.
I really grew enamored of this whiskey over the course of the bottle I drank through. Though it is not specifically labeled as a bourbon, it does qualify for bourbon status, with a mashbill of roughly 65% corn, 15% rye and 20% malted barley. They age it in new American oak, and unlike many new micro-distilleries these days, Leopold Bros. ages their whiskey in full-size 53 gallon barrels, just like the big boys.
Unlike most of the big boys, this is a whiskey that has been aged for less that two years, thus it is not a straight bourbon. This young whiskey is kind of like a cross between a white dog, which is what whiskey is called right off the still before being barreled for aging, and a straight whiskey, which requires two years of age in American oak. So much of a straight bourbon or straight rye’s character comes from the influence of the barrel. Indeed, time spent aging will mellow any white dog, overwhelm some subtleties with oak influence and cover up imperfections with the chemical processes that take place when whiskey meets wood. This American Small Batch Whiskey (ASBW) has interacted only minimally with wood, and thus time has not had the luxury to sand down the sharp edges or sweeten the bitter leftovers of modern distillation. Yet, the whiskey shows itself as having a plush, creamy mouthfeel and no off-flavors.
Leopold Bros. likes to declare that the techniques they employ come from American whiskey-making traditions that predate prohibition. Instead of leveraging new technology and taking advantage of industry shortcuts that have been developed in the post-prohibition world, Leopold Bros. goes through more traditional paces, and in this product we find the ‘eau’ of their efforts. My bottle came from barrel #45; each bottle is individually numbered as it is filled directly from the barrel. It’s unfair to directly compare Leopold’s ASBW to a small batch bourbon that has been aged for 12 years like the EC12; this is a different category of whiskey. I’ll concede that though there’s a case to be made for not directly comparing the whiskeys, your $45 does not change.
Still, despite its age, I find that the quality achieved here surpasses the price tag. There’s no doubting that my enjoyment of this whiskey has been enhanced by becoming privy to some of the distillers’ process. My intellectual understanding of what I drink can’t help but figure into my experience of it. It’s an aspect that may be a bit more nebulous than the nose, palate and finish, but just as the physical sensations stimulate my imagination, so does the intellectual knowledge. Perhaps I am over-romanticizing, but it’s great to know how a product born of old-time practices tastes, and while I enjoy many, many whiskeys from distilleries that use more industrial methods, it’s important to me to keep some bottles around that do not follow suit.
I can’t wait to taste what a few more years of barrel-aging will do to this stuff!