Distilled Sunshine

Showdown! Hancock’s Reserve, Stagg Jr. and Rowan’s Creek


On Christmas eve I had the opportunity to visit Wang’s Table, a popular Chinese restaurant and whiskey bar in Haverhill, Massachusetts. We had some lovely vegetarian appetizers and dinner. Perusing the vast spirits menu – over 100 whiskeys, which is amazing for the Merrimack Valley area – I then went to the bar and had a great conversation with their bartender, Jeff, who was both knowledgeable and helpful.

I was indebted to him for setting me up a flight consisting of Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, Stagg Jr. and Rowan’s Creek

And here we are, ready to review this lovely flight!

First, a look at the bar.

Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Distilled at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. No age statement.

Mash bill #2. More than 51% corn, 12% to 15% rye, and then the rest is barley.

88.9 Proof/44.45% ABV

This is the same mash bill that Buffalo Trace uses to create Ancient Age, Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, and Rock Hill Farms bourbon.  Since Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee are a couple of my all time favorites, I was looking forward to this bourbon being equally excellent, although surprisingly I was let down by this offering.

nose: lots of ethanol, too much, but a richness underneath. A hint of some fruity ester.

palate: Right off the bat I noticed that this was brasher than expected. It’s ok, but not special. Not planning on buying this.

Stagg Jr.

Distilled at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. No age statement.

Mash bill #1. More than 51% corn, less than 10% rye, and then the rest is barley.

No age statement, likely around 8 years old. About 129 proof.

This bourbon is a somewhat younger version of George T. Stagg, a very popular bourbon which is part of  the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, known to whiskey drinkers as BTAC. That is extremely hard to find, and so people have been looking for Stagg Jr. instead – and now even Stagg Jr. is a bit more challenging to find in some markets.

nose: Despite the much higher proof, this has an unexpectedly gentler nose – and hints of chocolate!

palate: Wowza, the high proof sure does set me back at first. Strong stuff. I’m used to 80 proof whiskey, not this beast! Then, as I hold it in my mouth, the flavors reveal themselves. Caramel, almost a sweet candy corn. . When I add some ice and let it melt, it drops down to around 90 proof, and then the flavors here really reveal themselves, nice! Despite this being the same mash bill as Buffalo Trace (which I’m not a fan of) this one I like. Would but a bottle.

Rowan’s Creek

From Willet, also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD)

50.05% ABV./100.1 proof.  No age statement.

Who distilled this? In previous years all Rowan’s Creek was sourced from some other, unnamed distiller – possibly Bernheim or Heaven Hill. It was age stated at 12 years. But recently they took the age statement off, meaning that it now likely contains a blend of newer bourbons, and hopefully some older stock as well. So what is in the bottle now? Is it all sourced from some other distiller? Likely. But it may be a blend of their own bourbon, with some older sourced whiskey. (Michter’s is following this strategy.) It is highly unlikely that Rowan’s Creek at this time is all their own product.

KBD/Willet is one of the few family owned and operated large distilleries in the USA, in operation since 1936. In recent years most of their products have been sourced from another distillery, and as such KBD/Willet is still primarily a NDP (non-distiller producer.)

KBD also operates as a contract bottler for various brands that are owned by others. [Other brands] owned by KBD do not actually identify KBD as the producing company… Instead [they use] fictitious company names…. Old Bardstown Distilling Company … and the Noah’s Mill Distilling Company…
KBD did not operate as a distillery during the period between the early 1980s and January 2012… However, KBD [began distilling again in 2012.]  The company does not identify where in Kentucky its products are distilled, although [it is commonly felt that it is likely] Heaven Hill Distillery… For its new distilling operation, the company has three operating stills – a column still, a “doubler”, and a pot still.
– adapted from Willet Distillery, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

nose: Too much ethanol on the nose for my tastes.

palate: Very gentle on the front palate – more bite on the rear palate. I’m detecting oak, cherry and corn, but this isn’t as favorable as I would have hoped. Not bad – just nothing special.  Would be interesting to do a comparison of this, Willet Pot Still, and Noah’s Mill bourbon (all from Willet.)

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