Updated on May 22, 2016
By Elizabeth Emmons
Diageo has rolled out the red carpet for the bourbon offerings under its newest brand, Blade and Bow, released on the date of this year’s Kentucky Derby. Blade and Bow encompasses two offerings: the no age statement (NAS), Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and the 22-Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
I was fortunate to attend a dinner marking the release of these bourbons and got a sense of what Diageo is promoting in the brand. Words frequently heard to describe the two Blade and Bows were “innovation”, “artistry”, “history”, “craftsmanship”, “homage”, “hospitality” and “past, present and future”.
It is true that these releases certainly have an important history, and one that is especially closely tied to Kentucky’s drinking heritage. Blade and Bow’s carefully crafted image rests on its production at the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively, Kentucky, which opened on the aforementioned Derby Day in 1935, and was once the production home of Old Rip van Winkle, Cabin Still, Rebel Yell, W.L. Weller, and Old Fitzgerald. Most recently, it has been the pseudo (i.e. marketing) home of Bulleit Bourbon, also owned by Diageo. Stitzel-Weller shut down production in 1992. The facility was reopened for tourism and bottling in 2014, including bottling of Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The importance of this bourbon lies in the fact that it contains some liquid from the pre-1992 shut down of Stitzel-Weller. It is a NAS bourbon, but Diageo uses a fractional solera system which allows each bottle to contain some of the actual whiskey from over 23 years ago. Solera means “on the ground” in Spanish and is a reference to the oldest and lowest barrels “on the ground” which are used for bottling, and a similar method is used in Glenfiddich 15 Year Old and some others. Their system is five levels, the top level being the youngest. Each level is drained into the next with the oldest level used for immediate bottling. Diageo refills the top level with other bourbons as the levels slowly drains in a continual process.
From the solera, Blade and Bow is bottled at 96 proof (45.5% abv).
The whiskey is beautifully packaged in a slightly tapered solid square bottle with a round dark blue label. The label’s emblem is a pattern of keys which symbolize the 5 steps for production: grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation and aging. Each bottle comes with a key hanging around its neck and there are 5 different keys that a drinker can collect. The name of the bourbon is derived from the “blade” or shaft of the key and the “bow” or handle of the key. If one collects all 5 keys, they may receive something special if they present them on a tour the Stitzel-Weller facility.
Blade and Bow is a burnt orange color in the glass. The nose is distinctly sweet with a slight fruity spiciness. There are notes of lightly oaked vanilla as well as pear. When tasted, a gentle candy sweetness envelopes the mouth. The finish is candied fruit and has mild but lasting astringency.
I would not classify this as a stereotypical warm and heavy bourbon but rather one that is clearly fruity which makes for easy warm weather drinking. It is not particularly complex, but that isn’t always a bad thing. For someone who prefers a distinctly fruity, straightforward and easy-to-drink bourbon, this is a good option.
Addendum by Richard Thomas
I find myself agreeing with Ms. Emmons to a very great extent. This is an easy drinking, pleasant bourbon with a fruity, lightly spiced character. This is so much the case that I found it positively refreshing on the rocks. While I usually recommend big and bold whiskeys for summer drinking on the rocks, this is a lighter bourbon that will do the trick just as well.
Ranging from $50 to $67 for a 750 ml bottle.