BBS tastes seven whiskies from Luxco with Woolf Sung

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

The good ship bourbon just keeps gaining pace in the UK. So it’s no surprise that new brands keep heading across the Atlantic for their share of sterling. The Luxco raft isn’t entirely new, per se, but their whiskies are certainly rare beasts this side of the pond, newly given a push by Woolf Sung. I’d only previously tried one of them, so it was with great curiosity that I headed to Greek Street on 3rd July for a tasting led by Milroy’s alumnus and Woolf Sung ambassador Angus Martin.

First up was the value end of their offering. David Nicholson is a brand that has been knocking around for a long while; owned by the Van Winkle family until it was purchased by Luxco in 2000, and therefore afforded a measure of the lustre associated with that most fêted of bourbon names.

The two we were trying were the rye-recipe Reserve, and the wheat-recipe 1843. Both cost somewhere around the £40 mark from the most obvious channels.

The Reserve was an enigma, with a decent, if not spectacular, nose that improved out of recognition on the palate. High rye and very enjoyable indeed. I’d have no hesitation in picking a bottle up.

The 1843 was very young. I’ve had this discussion with a few BBS members now, and I’m yet to be convinced that a wheat-recipe bourbon can avoid tasting a little young and “spirity” without at least 6-8 years of knitting itself together in a cask.

This was rather borne out by a side-by-side tasting of the old 1843, with its 7 years age statement. Instantly there was a gulf in aroma class; where the current entity features fairly basic cereals and caramel over a slightly distracting estery character, the 7 year old comes across as far more the unified whole. Richer, fuller and more harmonious in every respect. A slight estery character did return on the finish; 7 years is hardly ancient, after all, but whilst your mileage may vary, my own view was that the previous 1843 is in a different league to the NAS offering.

Next up, Bower Hill Reserve Rye. Which absolutely screamd MGPI. All the herbs (“dill,” said Angus) and spice and pine and florals associated with that distillery. If you’re a fan of that style (I am – immensely so) it’s mouthwatering stuff.

But then a shock. A couple of us had been chatting, and had assumed it was the usual 95% rye recipe. Until Angus revealed that it was in fact 51% rye, and 49% malted barley. Which begged the question: where was the barley? Everything about the aroma screamed rye. Screamed “very high rye.” At a real stretch, the palate was perhaps a smidge more voluptuous in body than one might encounter on a 95%, but the seemingly total absence (or possibly masking) of any barley character was astonishing.

A revelation then; and a very tasty one. But here’s the rub: it reminded me of Bulleit 95. That’s not a bad thing – Bulleit’s a cracking rye. But I can pick up Bulleit on offer at Asda for £22. At £70+, Bower Hill’s rather ambitiously priced. Worth seeking out by the glass rather than leaping straight into a full bottle purchase perhaps. After all, it may be exactly your cup of tea. But at the RRP, there’s an awful lot of competition – Pikesville 101 jumps to mind, for example – so caveat emptor and all that...

Which leads fairly neatly into the final trio of the evening. Blood Oath Pact No.2 was overlaid by a nice splash of red fruit; had a tasty, spicy rye core and a certain amount of complexity. Yellowstone 7 years old was very good indeed; unquestionably the pick of the bunch; whistle clean, hugely well-defined flavours of classic middle-aged bourbon (though I’m not sure how much of its wine finish showed...) Bower Hill Cask Strength was a brawny, nutty, woody, muscular beast of a bourbon; the sort of thing you want slid to you across a frontier saloon’s bar.

Very tasty, impressive stuff. Yellowstone in particular drew great admiration from the majority of those assembled (indeed one or two BBS members were practically cooing!) But it is worth bearing in mind that all three of these whiskies are priced more or less in line with Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (at RRP). All things considered, I’d probably take Yellowstone over the last few editions of Eagle Rare 17. But I’d still be a little hesitant before buying a bottle. There are a lot of excellent bourbons and ryes that are considerably more affordable than the Luxcos; to my mind they’re overreaching themselves ever so slightly.

That said, I enjoyed every whiskey I tasted on 3rd July. They’re a diverse bunch with several points of difference, and they’re more than worth seeking out by the glass. Your position may differ where opinion on pricing is concerned; I only offer my tuppenceworth as a slight caution.

Thanks to the BBS, Milroy’s, Angus Martin and Sebastian Woolf for a very enjoyable evening.