Some spirits move in and out of fashion over the years with many consumers, reviewers and members of the media following the rise and fall of each trend. For those with deep ties to a spirit, the devotion is more strongly rooted and timeless. Whether by family ties in the industry or just a sheer love for the spirit (and, more often than not, both), some people remain devoted to their favourite drink, no matter where it is on the trend spectrum. Such is the case with Jason Brauner, co-founder of Buzzard’s Roost.
Born into a family whose relatives worked at National Distillers in Louisville for many decades, Jason grew up in the world of spirits and later branched out into food. What started out as making highballs at family parties for relatives who were thoroughly ensconced in card games transitioned into opening his first restaurant at 21 years of age. Throughout out his time owning Clifton’s Pizza during these years, Jason always loved getting together with friends after hours, drinking Bourbon and telling stories.
Although a deeply unpopular spirit back in the mid-2000’s, Jason had a burning ambition, seen by many as insane at the time, for opening a restaurant whose bar exclusively focused on Bourbon. (During a Bourbon Hunter’s podcast appearance, he referred to it as 4 star food in a 3 1/2 star restaurant). A few factors were driving this decision. First, as he was absorbing as much information as he could about Bourbon distilleries and the rich history of the spirit, he had a desire to educate the public about what he had learned and what made the spirit so special. Second, he was out to educate the rest of the country about his home state of Kentucky. A trip to the wine country in California prior to opening his restaurant sealed the deal. During that trip he got the notion, as subtle as a sledgehammer, that Kentucky and Bourbon were being disrespected by those in the northern and coastal fringes of the country. He was out to prove them wrong.
Opened in 2005, Bourbon’s Bistro was the country’s first Bourbon-focused restaurant and bar, carrying as many expressions of the spirit as Jason could get his hands on. Although it took a while to get off the ground, the restaurant gradually garnered notoriety, especially when consumers started taking a closer look at Bourbon several years later. To help attract attention, Jason used his connections with various distilleries to pick single barrels which would be bottled exclusively at the restaurant. What seems so commonplace now, barrel picks were almost unheard of back then.
Both in and out of the restaurant, Jason remained a fierce advocate of the spirit he loves so much. So much so, the he ended up co-founding Buzzard’s Roost in 2019, a brand which sources and re-barreles rye! The original intention was to distill bourbon, which fell through due to lack of funding. Next came the idea of sourcing old Bourbon’s, again using his connections, but the cost to consumers would have been too high.
Based on talks between Jason and barrel experts at the Independent Stave Company, a cooperage, he discovered that using young rye, sourced from MGP, followed by a short secondary maturation in proprietary barrels treated with a light char or heavy toast, produced a Bourbon drinker’s rye for a competitive price. This was not an easy route for Jason to take. He was not particularly fond of rye, but the barrels he was working with at Independent Stave won him over. Eventually, Jason also started incorporating Bourbon into the Buzzard’s Roost core range, which is what will be the focus of this review.
This Buzzard’s Roost Char #1 Bourbon started out as sourced barrels from MGP using a mashbill of 59% corn, 36% rye, and 5% malted barley with an age of at least four years. This was then re-barrelled into new American oak casks which were treated with proprietary toasting and a #1 char. After a few weeks in these barrels, the whiskey was blended together and bottled at 52.5% ABV.
Nose: I think that this light stone fruit character, regardless of spirit type, is going to persist across the entire Buzzard’s Roost range. The peach note that I get on this one may be even stronger than the Char #1 Rye I tried previously. The sweet nose continues with more than a hint of candied cherries and ginger, along with toasted marshmallows. There’s a lovely vanilla aroma to this one. It’s not vanilla essence, but more like the seeds of a vanilla pod that has been freshly sliced open. Over time, I’m getting a little bit of smoky embers from a dying campfire. Dried strawberries and the flesh of an orange are coming up now. Of course there is sponge toffee and cinnamon, common to most Bourbons out there, but they are taking a back seat to all of these other amazing aromas.
Palate: Quite a sweet entry, that’s for sure. It’s almost liquid toasted marshmallow for the first couple of seconds before other notes start to appear from underneath. Vanilla ascends first as the development begins to unfold. This is followed by grilled peaches and orange before the spices start to take hold. Given the ABV, casking, and high-rye mashbill, the baking spices are surprisingly light, making this dangerously easy to drink. Cinnamon gives way to nutmeg and even a slight hint of green cardamom pod. The latter spice is certainly coming from the re-barreling. Although too much cardamom might come off as being too bitter, it actually helps to cut through the sweetness nicely.
Finish: Drying, but nicely balanced. The cardamom remains, but there is enough lingering confectionery sweetness to balance it out. The tangy citrus comes in at the end, helping to offset the dryness.
With water added
The woody cardamom character is evident on the nose now. The marshmallow remains, but the fruitiness has faded a bit. Sponge toffee is more prominent now. After a while in the glass, the fruitiness comes back a little. Raspberries and maybe even a touch of blackberry. The palate is spicier and a little less sweet. The entry is sweet, but not as heavy on the confectionery as before. It’s more of a honey note now. Midway through the development, the bitterness of a pink grapefruit shines through. Very unexpected for a Bourbon. The spices remain the same, only turned up a little.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy drinking bourbon from the big producers, but when craft Bourbons like this come along, the regular stuff just seems to be a bit one-note. I really enjoyed this one with water as that helped to cut down the sweetness a bit. I can imagine that this would really excel in an old fashioned.
For the time being, this is much harder to find on Alberta shelves although I’m sure it will come back as new batches are released. When it does, it should be roughly equal in price to the Char #1 rye reviewed previously. This is definitely for those who love Bourbon, but are looking for something a little different.