By S.D. Peters
The Whiskey Reviewer has visited the work of Buffalo Trace Distillery several times, including the storied Pappy Van Winkle 20-year Old Bourbon, and most recently their Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey. In particular, I refer you to our review of their name-bearer Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey to learn a bit more about the distillery itself.
As we noted there, the distillery’s origins date back to 1792, the year the oldest standing building on the site, the Riverside House, was built by Commodore Richard Taylor. A proper distillery wasn’t built until 1812, but there is evidence that distilling on the site pre-dates not only the 1812 distillery, but even Taylor’s Riverside House.
Yet according to Buffalo Trace Distillery’s timeline, there is “evidence of distilling” as early as 1775 on land that would later house the Buffalo Trace Distillery. That land was surveyed by one Hancock Lee (of the famed Lees of Virginia), who later in 1775 year shared his whiskey with the English Diarist Nicholas Cresswell. Hancock Lee disappears from the timeline in 1786, but the Distillery has honored his trailblazing enterprise by naming an expression of its single barrel Bourbon whiskies for him: Hancock’s President’s Reserve.
Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is bottled at 88.9 Proof (44.45% alcohol), in a squat, classic decanter-style bottle. The traditional design amply reveals the Bourbon’s complexity with the proper restraint. The wider bottle imparts a reddened blush to the whiskey’s luxuriant amber, and the mouth breathes pleasantly when the plump, wooden-topped cork is unstopped. A pity, then, that it bears a pasted label of a style you might expect to find on C-Grade Vermont Maple Syrup – unless, of course, this is part of the plan to keep flattery low, and let the whiskey speak for itself.
In the bottle and in the glass, Hancock’s has the distinct golden honey brown of a higher-end bourbon, and the nose affords a pleasant blend of wild berries, caramel, and dried tobacco, with a hint of honeysuckle and oak. Its full body imparts similar flavors, as honey, tobacco, and sweet leather dance in a ribbon of caramel with a hint of Rye. The finish is, however, shockingly short: a quick rumba of aged wood, leather, and caramel closed-out with vanilla.
Overall, the whiskey does right by its namesake, the Lee who distilled whiskey on the site of the Buffalo Trace Distillery, but remains otherwise elusive. Hancock’s Single Barrel Bourbon has gravitas, but wants just a little more: a better-than-average bourbon, but a slightly under-average single barrel expression.
In the U.S., the cost of Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon seems to veer widely from $45-$65, with the higher prices occurring in Metro areas (such as Washington, D.C.).
Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon won second place in Washingonian Magazine’s 1995 tasting, and has since garnered bronze at the 1998 International Spirit Challenge and 1999 International Wine & Spirit Challenge, a Seal Of Approval at the 1999 International Spirit Challenge, and another bronze at the 2000 International Spirit Challenge.