By Richard Thomas
For their latest and fourth addition to the Colonel E.H. Taylor collection of specialty bourbons, Buffalo Trace chose to focus on producing a cask strength bourbon. The idea of a cask strength or barrel proof whiskey invariably appeals to my love of the old fashioned. While cutting bourbon with water is a very old practice, I find it easier to imagine that the whiskey in your glass is something like what was made in the antique days of the 18th and 19th Centuries if it has that a high proof content, indicating little if any water has been added.
The Colonel E.H. Taylor line specializes in delivering that traditional bourbon style. Two of the previous installments in the line were the Old Fashioned Sour Mash and the Single Barrel. The Barrel Proof delivers along the same lines, delivering an uncut, unfiltered bourbon made from a rye-heavy mashbill. After seven years of aging on the sixth floor of Taylor’s old Warehouse C, the whiskey has emerged as an old-style classic with a potent 134.5 proof (67.25% alcohol).
Like the rest of the Taylor series, the Barrel Proof comes in a canister and bottle bearing a label design reminiscent of a banknote from the era when banks still printed their own paper currency, highlighting the bourbon’s old fashioned style. The bottle is ordinary and made of clear glass, coming with the wood and cork stopper one expects with a bourbon of this caliber.
In the glass, the bourbon has a lovely deep amber color, like a lighter maple syrup. That syrupy character is present in the nose as well. The aroma is thick with caramel, along with crisp floral notes. Beware of sniffing too deeply, however. While not present on the surface or even in a middling sniff, the high alcohol content lurks in the snifter to burn the nostrils of unwary drinkers who stick a nose in and take a deep sniff.
On the palate, this bourbon starts out with a rich vanilla sweetness and oak, but the peppery character of the rye quickly jumps out. This stuff isn’t subtle. It has strong, bold flavors alongside a potent kick, but is not lacking in complexity for all that. The toasty bourbon smoke is there, hidden beneath all the stronger flavors, out flexing their muscles. The finish is long, powerful and warm, driven by the hefty alcohol load, and laced with rye pepper.
I found that the syrupy, vanilla-caramel sweetness of this bourbon remained as a noticeable aftertaste, well after the finish drifted away. It’s as if the bourbon coats the tongue, and almost constitutes a second finish!
I often judge barrel proof-style bourbons by whether I imagine hard-bitten, old school Southern politicians drinking them. By that score, this is the sort of bourbon I picture rough and tumble characters like Sam Rayburn, Frank Cheatham or Andrew Jackson imbibing. The Taylor Barrel Proof is very upfront about what it is, in every single respect of its character.
The recommended retail price for Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof bourbon is $69.99.