Welcome to the June2022 edition of the Healthy Spirits American Whiskey Club. For this month’s bottle, Nate looked skyward. June’s whiskey is a single barrel offering that any angel would covet: Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey –Finished in a Port Wine Barrel. This Healthy Spirits single barrel #2146 clocks in at solid 110 proof, 23.4degrees above the standard release’s 86.6proof. That’s as high as Angel’s Envy will go with these single barrels, reserving full cask strength for their own annual limited releases. Angel’s Envy was founded in 2011, just as the Bourbon Boom was really starting to rumble. No one else was finishing bourbon in wine casks then. At first, people debated whether or not wine cask finishes meant the whiskey was even bourbon anymore! By law, a bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak container—for how long is not specified. And note the word “container.” It doesn’t even need to be what we call a “barrel.” So, legally, one could pour fresh distillate into a new oak bucket, carry it across the room, pour it into bottles, and it would be bourbon—aged for about 30 seconds in a new oak container and likely not very good, but bourbon nonetheless.
Those early debates as to whether or not Angel’s Envy’s signature process of giving bourbons a second maturation in Port casks makes it no longer bourbon have since been let go. It’s bourbon, down to the letter of the law. It’s simply a bourbon that’s been given a variant of what scotch whisky has always had—outside influence. It is very common, and strategic, for scotch producers to blend whiskies aged in a variety ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Sometimes these are “first fill” casks, meaning the scotch is the first thing going into them since they were used for their original purpose. Sometimes they are “second fill,” having already been used once before to age scotch and now being put to use again, resulting in less influence from the cask’s original contents. Getting that blend right, creating a desired balance of fruit, caramel and vanilla flavors, is the task and talent of master scotch blenders. When the balance is off, a whisky can end up tasting too like a sherry. When it’s just right, a unique whole is achieved. This is what Angel’s Envy essentially wanted to bring to bourbon. To keep it bourbon, it starts its life in new oak casks rather than used casks, as with scotch. Then it becomes a matter of determining when those casks have aged to a point that a second, shorter finishing period in Port wine casks will bring something to the party that adds to it, rather than subtracting, or worse, overwhelming the bourbon entirely.
The standard release of Angel’s Envy is a true small batch product,
blending 8 to 12 barrels at a time. This allows for greater quality control.
Some of those barrels stand on their own to such a degree that they are set
aside for the single barrel program. This cask #2146 is one of those.
In 2022, wine cask finished bourbons are now long since a standard offering on
whiskey shelves. Many distilleries and producers are trying their hand at it. A few
of the more successful of these efforts have been featured in recent Healthy Spirits
Whiskey Club offerings—e.g. Thomas S. Moore from March of this year, followed
by April’s Specter bottling. In light of those, we thought we’d go back to the
original that started it all—Angel’s Envy.
COLOR – a deep reddish-orange with glints of shiny
NOSE – ripe plum, refined oak, thick dry caramel,
cherry pie, vanilla, marshmallow sauce, milk
PALATE – a fine peppery prickle from the proof
that bites without gnashing, rich caramel,
smoothly sanded unfinished oak, a dark plum
compote, baked nectarine
FINISH – lingering prickly heat, the fruit notes, the
caramel leaning toward chocolate
OVERALL – like a decadent old-fashioned bakery
and candy store in one
There is a lot going on here, yet all coherent and balanced. There is an edge from
the proof and oak that etches definition around the soft and gooey fruit and candy
flavors. It’s attention grabbing, for sure. This is not a background sipper.
Definitely a dessert bourbon. Served with a baked fruit cobbler, the combined
flavors might explode. Served with dark chocolate, the Angel’s Envy would
provide a syrupy sweetness to balance the chocolate’s drier sweetness. Served on
its own, it would offer in its darker way what a brighter, sweeter Port might—a
decadent epilogue to a fine meal.
Next time you visit the store, let us know what you think…!
Dark plum compote, baked nectarine.
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