By Richard Thomas
Kentucky might be on the fringe of “Tornado Alley,” but even so, those powerful storms seem to be a fixture of life in the Bluegrass. Kentuckians received a fairly vicious reminder of that fact in early March 2012, when twisters tore through the state and left almost two dozen dead.
Yet sometimes a tornado strike isn’t all bad, as Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “Tornado Survivor” bourbon whiskey testifies to. The Colonel E.H. Taylor label is basically a series of Buffalo Trace limited editions (past installments include a single barrel and a 19th Century-style sour mash), named for the man who founded the Old Taylor Distillery in 1887 and is known to some as the “father of the modern bourbon industry.”
24,000 barrels of bourbon destined for a Colonel E.H. Taylor bottling were aging in Taylor’s own Warehouse C (dating to 1881) when a tornado struck the Buffalo Trace property in 2006, and ripped both it and another empty bourbon warehouse to pieces. The Taylor warehouse lost its roof and some of its walls, and while the barrels emerged from the disaster unscathed, they went on to an almost unique aging experience, as they received the full brunt of the Kentucky summer while the warehouse was painstakingly rebuilt around them.
It is hard to understate just how thoroughly “cooked” the bourbon was that summer. I have commented in the past on how important the southern summer heat is to bourbon’s aging vis-a-vis the whiskey’s cousins in Scotland and Ireland, but direct exposure to the sweltering summer climate produced extreme results. The ultimate evaporation rate for the “Tornado bourbon,” as Buffalo Trace calls it, was more than doubled to an extreme “angel’s share” of 63.9%.
This installment of Colonel Taylor’s bourbon was aged between 9 years, 8 months and 11 years, 11 months. As that suggests, this is technically a small batch rather than a single barrel, as the previous Colonel Taylor release was. The bourbon comes in an old fashioned, no frills bottle with a wood and cork stopper, and has a rich amber color in the glass. “Tornado Survivor” bourbon is bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol).
The nose has an airy, fragrant character, with thick notes of citrus and a spicy rye undertone. On the palate, the woodiness of the bourbon elbows its way to the forefront, but plenty of rich, citrus sweetness remains. The rye and its attendant spiciness slip farther back on the palate, but are still very much there. The finish starts spicy and woody, but ends long and full of lingering warmth. It amazes me that something as abused as this whiskey was comes across as so balanced and pleasant, but it seems the angels left behind the better third of the bourbon.
The suggested retail price for Colonel Taylor “Tornado Survivor” bourbon is $69, but I have heard it is more often priced slightly higher, at $75 a bottle.