The Stitzel-Weller distillery may be the most storied distillery in bourbon lore, the original production facility of Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle (who produced Old Fitzgerald and many smaller labels) who’s more chequered recent history allowed the rediscovery of the older casks upon which the Pappy obsession was built. With the re-opening of the facility, Bulleit now claims it as home, while Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace carry on Van Winkle’s wheated bourbon traditions nearby.
Now also trading on that reputation, two very different whiskies—one a legit Bourbon, the other an intriguing blend—have emerged, using S-W as their production base, with all the heritage marketing that name can muster. I tasted these spirits neat, with a bit of water, and on ice to assess their expressions.
Blade and Bow is most closely tied to the S-W legacy, making use of what’s claimed to be the last remaining bourbon produced at S-W before it closed in 1992 in a solera method of aging (unusual in Bourbon, but certainly efficient) that reblends old with new consistently, so that every bottle can claim to have some trace amount of the original stock.
Bottled at 91 proof (45.5 abv), B&B has a lightly fruity nose with a mouth of cherry, plum, fig, coffee on the mid-palate, then lots of spice: cinnamon, black pepper on the finish. Adding water, it becomes sweeter, softer front palate, cinnamon and pepper emerge. On ice, it’s caramel, very smooth, no pepper.
Hilhaven Lodge is another matter altogether, a bottle blending Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey (like Jack Daniels) and Rye, overseen by Hollywood director Brett Ratner, who owns the Hilhaven Lodge estate in Beverly Hills. There’s not much nose to this, but the mouth is a complexity of caramel, tobacco, rose, candied fruit, and a very soft finish. Water brings out the pepper and sharpened flavors throughout. Ice brings out tobacco and cigar box spice.
Which one appeals to you may depend on your connection the mystique or the juice.
Both bottles retail at $49.99.