By Richard Thomas
As someone who has closely observed the development of the burgeoning American craft distillery and bottling scene for four years now, I have taken great interest in the spread of two-cask maturation, or “finishing,” in the U.S. This adds a bit of the wood variety available to Irish and Scottish distillers to the new oak aging that is the bedrock of the American whiskey style.
Keeping that in mind, for a few years now I had been wondering when someone was going to employ Olorsoro sherry casks in a big way. After all, across the pond whiskeys either aged or finished in first-fill sherry wood are a prized commodity, with a following rivaling that of Islay peat bomb single malts. Then came Nelson’s Greenbrier down in Tennessee, and their 9 year old Belle Meade Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon.
Nelson’s Greenbrier is one of the comeback stories in American whiskey-making, with an old name and distilling family getting back into the game. They are a working micro-distillery, but for the time being their aged products are sourced. So, this sherry cask bourbon is drawn from minimum nine year old, sourced stock and then finished, “Scotch-style,” in ex-sherry casks. From there it is blended, and bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% abv).
The liquid takes on that middle amber appearance in the glass that leans hard into the coppery red range. The scent is core bourbon territory, sweet and packed with vanilla, but a touch musty and earthy, and with a big pinch of raisins.
On the palate, the whiskey flows with a silky feel. The flavor is dry and woody, and a touch peppery, with these Scotchy aspects well-balanced against the bourbon characteristics of brown sugar sweetness, vanilla, and in this case some added nutmeg. The sherry presence doesn’t add the wine and dried fruit flavors so often found in Scotch sherry-bombs, but instead enhances the woodiness and pulls it away from bourbon barrel char or the ultra-oakiness of very old bourbons, and takes it more towards the style of wood notes found in Scotch.
The finish delivers a light, spicy afterglow, supported by long-lasting warmth.
The Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon is certainly an interesting dram, the sort of thing I would enjoy as much for the studying of it as for the simple pleasures of drinking it. It’s certainly a must-try for anyone who is both a bourbon and a Scotch fan.
A price check revealed that you can expect to pay between $70 and $80 for this special bourbon.