By Richard Thomas
Even as it backed off of a heavy commitment to expanding its Scotch footprint, British drinks colossus Diageo began a major expansion into bourbon. Part of this was investing in giving Bulleit a distillery and other infrastructure to call its own, and the other part was in taking the aged stock it had piled up in the Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Shively (a neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky) and bottling it in various limited edition releases. One of those was Blade And Bow 22 Year Old.
Let’s say the average consumer, shopping for an old bourbon, is on the internet doing due diligence before buying a $150 bottle. Something critical for that person to understand is that, following the lead of a few key individuals, most bourbon bloggers have a strong bias against Diageo, and Blade And Bow 22 Year Old suffered for it.
Blade And Bow is made from two stocks of very aged whiskey, coming from the Heaven Hill-owned Bernheim Distillery and the Sazerac-owned Buffalo Trace Distillery. However, Diageo can’t just up and say it’s from Bernheim and Sazerac, presumably because of the confidentiality agreements that are standard in the bourbon industry. They give the street addresses instead, because the law requires them to say where the whiskey was made, even when they can’t say who made it.
When a trendy, popular independent bottler describes its products in a similar way (say, High West or Barrell Bourbon), the bourbon blogging clique praises them to the heavens for their transparency, and rightfully so. When Diageo does it, they mock and deride them for it.
Whisk(e)y blogging is packed thick with this kind of thing, because bloggers form cliques and hypocrisy is contagious. Take, as another example, how Michter’s was demonized by many of the exact same people for years, and almost all of those people turned a benign and blind eye to how Kentucky Bourbon Distillers/Willett did all of the same things, only moreso and for far longer.
I write all of this in my intro to Blade And Bow 22 Year Old because I don’t believe it’s possible for a circle of pundits to heap skewed, hypocritical venom on a company and its products generally and still produce fair reviews of their products when dealing with them individually. The same people who dissed the very idea of Blade And Bow 22 Year Old invariably disdained it in review, but otherwise I found whiskey writers and professionals who lead tastings and work behind upscale bar counters had a higher opinion of it. So did I.
Bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV), Blade and Bow 22 Year Old has a brown and orange style amber appearance in the glass. The nose is as rich and thick as a pound cake, dense laid with caramel and honey, and seasoned with apple and cake spices.
On the palate, the liquid isn’t quite as substantial on the tongue as the nose might suggest, but it still has plenty of body. The flavor is like a caramel and toffee candy, seasoned with dry mint, cinnamon and ginger, with a sub-current of toasty, dry old wood. The finish jumps off on a dry, woody, spicy note, but winds down quickly.
Blade and Bow 22 Year Old fills an interesting and worthy niche. Most bourbons this old are both much higher proof and much oakier, and those are two things that turn on most whiskey enthusiasts, but sure to turn off most casual drinkers. However, some of those casual drinkers will want an old, sophisticated, flavorful bourbon just like Blade and Bow 22 Year Old, and for them it’s perfect.
Another selling point for Blade and Bow 22 Year Old is its price tag and availability. Unlike virtually every other whiskey above 20 years of age, you can actually find bottles of Blade and Bow out there, and it is often priced close to its intended $170. Be warned, however, as I have seen some retailers who have marked it up to $600.