Although the term is not used in quite such a derogatory fashion these days, sourced whiskey in the USA (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) still gets a bad rap. First of all, this bad rap is very much underserved, but it does not help when loose regulations allow for a few brands to taint the waters for everyone else.
For the most part, although it can be misleading, it is not technically illegal for a non-distiller producer (NDP) to say that a sourced whiskey that is bottled under their brand is “made by” or “produced by”, followed by the name of that brand. Without reading any further, you may be misled into thinking that the brand actually distilled the whiskey when nothing could be further from the truth.
For those who have been in the American whiskey world far longer than I have, the case of Templeton Rye’s shady marketing tactics surrounding just who was producing their whiskey left a bad taste in many mouths at the time. Unfortunately, this issue has not gone away. Early this year, Malt Review went down a pretty deep rabbit hole regarding the confusing labelling associated with Uncle Nearest’s new rye releases (in short, it’s actually Canadian).
In the US, the words “sourced whisky” and MGP, an industrial scale distillery in Indiana, go hand in hand. If an NDP or young distillery, sourcing whiskey while their own whiskey is still maturing, have expressions that say “Made in Indiana”, it comes from MGP. And that’s not a bad thing. MGP makes great whiskey, but people still tend to turn their noses up to it. Their loss, I guess.
Things are changing, however, and MGP is no longer the only game in town when it comes to sourcing whiskey. Some distilleries have dived in to contract distilling, in which they make whiskey for NDPs (or even other actual distilleries) in order to keep the lights on. Wilderness Trail, Green River Distilling and especially Bardstown Bourbon Company (with around 50 contract distilling clients and counting) are all getting in on the action. This boom in craft distilleries making whiskey for other brands means even more choice for consumers and allows new distilleries to make money which can be pumped back into their own products. A win-win for everybody.
Dodgy marketing and misleading labelling will always be a problem in the US whiskey scene, but many NDPs and distilleries are quite transparent about where their whiskey comes from. Take Buzzard’s Roost, the focus of today’s review. From the very start, they have been quite open about their sourcing from MGP as well as disclosing the mashbills used in each expression. Taking it a step further, their use of re-barreling techniques transforms MGP whiskey into something unique to their brand (see a previous review for more info).
The moral of the story here is that if you really care about where your whiskey comes from, make use of the Internet and research the brand first. If things smell off, the decision is yours to walk towards something more open and transparent.
This is the first of two Buzzard’s Roost toasted barrel whiskey reviews. Starting with their Bourbon expression, this is a combination of two MGP whiskies with mashbills of 74% corn, 21% rye, and 5% malted barley and 59% corn, 36% rye, and 5% malted barley. The Bourbons are between 4-5 years old. These are then re-barreled into new, toasted American oak barrels from Independent Stave Company for a short period of time before being blended and bottled at 52.5% ABV.
Nose: I have previously talked about an English sweet shop not far from where I live, that has a bunch of jars full of different candies. There are several fruity candies in those jars that I get in this whiskey. Toasted bourbons and ryes are typically graced with notes like these, so that isn’t surprising. Although there’s sponge toffee in here, I’m also getting a good dose of hard caramels. The good ‘ole Buzzard’s Roost signature peach is appearing once again. There’s a mandarin orange note that comes up after a while. The sweet notes continue to pour out in the form of light brown sugar and toasted marshmallows. For spices, I’m getting cinnamon and a very faint green cardamom note.
Palate: The entry takes me right back through the doors of that sweet shop. Creamy, dark caramels and toffee, but it’s not cloyingly sweet. Those notes slowly build until mid-development where the spices take over. Out of the four Buzzard’s Roost whiskies I have reviewed so far, this one brings the most heat. Not unexpected given the toasted oak re-barreling. Again, not overwhelming, and it helps cut through the sweetness from the entry. Cinnamon, allspice, white pepper, and clove are present in equal measure. As I take more sips, the heat settles down a little. There isn’t really a whole lot of fruit on the development. It’s more about that lovely sweet and spicy combination.
Finish: The beginning of the finish introduces the most amazing cocoa powder and dark fudge combo. It began during the end of the development, but really comes to the fore during the finish, but after the pepper starts to fade somewhat.
With water added
The nose is all about those dark, rich, sweet flavours. Dark fudge, semi-sweet bakers chocolate, caramel, toffee. Vanilla and cinnamon are thrown in for good measure. It’s not all that fruity, but with notes like these, I don’t really care. That trend continues on the palate. The heat from the spices is reduced although the white pepper remains. The cocoa powder is much stronger with water added and appears earlier.
Once every couple of years, a certain heavily allocated toasted oak bourbon comes to Alberta. Fans of this whiskey will walk over their own grandmother for a chance to get it, yet this Buzzard’s Roost Toasted Oak Bourbon readily sits on the shelves for a lower price ($120-130), just waiting to be discovered.
Personally, I was not a fan of either toasted oak bourbon or rye until I tried Woodford Reserve Double Oak. This Buzzard’s Roost helps to reinforce my new found love for the category. What I love about this one is the balance between the sweetness and spice from the re-barreling, even if the fruitiness has to be sacrificed a little. If anything, it helps to reinforce how each Buzzard’s Roost whiskey is unique in its own right.