I.W. Harper Bourbon has been around for a long time. It was founded in the 1879 by Isaac Wolfe and Bernard Bernheim and has pretty much been around ever since. For some reason (I guess to have a less German-sounding name) they decided to go with Harper instead of Bernheim when naming it and I.W. Harper was born. Isaac retired in 1915 and the I.W. Harper brand was sold a series of times, being owned by Schenley for many decades before being acquired by United Distillers and Vintners which ultimately became Diageo. If you’re into bourbon you recognize the Bernheim name from both whiskies on the shelf and the distillery that is owned by Heaven Hill. Along the way during the series of sales of the I.W. Harper brand, a Bernheim distillery came to be and was also eventually owned by Diageo. When Diageo sold it to Heaven Hill in 1999 along with many of it’s brands, only the I.W. Harper and George Dickel brands were retained by Diageo. Diageo pulled I.W. Harper out of the American market in the early 1990’s as it was very much a bottom shelf product here, but Japan freaking loved it. Now it’s back and nobody is completely sure where the whiskey in the bottle came from, but there are some educated guesses (as well as more information about the brand) here. I’ve rambled enough and now I just want to drink some whiskey.
Side note: If you care about any of the history stuff I wrote above, do yourself a favor and go buy ‘Bourbon, Straight’ and ‘Bourbon, Strange’, both written by Chuck Cowdery. The guy does incredible work bringing history and industry knowledge to the stuff I love to drink. I use his books as references any time I’m wanting to learn anything about the American whiskey industry. You can buy them here.
Distillery: New Bernheim Distillery (and other undisclosed distilleries)
Location: Louisville, Kentucky (and other undisclosed locations)
Mashbill: 86% corn/6% rye/8% barely
Age: 15 years
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Released: Spring 2015
Color: Deep gold
Nose: It’s super obvious from the first whiff (also from reading that mash bill) that this is going to be a sweet bourbon. Orange zest, sweet corn, and cola (think flat Coke) dominates the aroma. I will say that early in the pour there was a decent amount of ethanol, especially given the low proof, but that faded after opening up for about 10 minutes. For fun I went from my NEAT glass to a Glencairn and some oak notes showed up, but still were fairly subtle. I wouldn’t have guessed any where close to a 15 year age on this based off the aroma.
I think a glass comparison post might be in order soon. Keep an eye our for that one.
Taste: The very low rye ratio is really on display here. This dude is super sweet on the palate, with red apple, caramel, big vanilla, and corn. Again, I can find the wood if I look for it (zing) but the 15 year old age statement is really surprising me here. I’m not saying it’s bad, just really sweet and tastes more like a 6 year old bourbon than a 15. There is a really nice creamy texture to it though which helps carry that sweetness a little.
Finish: Finally some oak coming through. The only problem, however, that with it comes a little bit of astringency that doesn’t sit very well when combined with all that sweetness. It doesn’t really act to balance it out as much as distracts from the rest of what’s going on.
Overall: I had read quite a few reviews of the normal NAS I.W. Harper release and pretty much knew to avoid it, but I have to say, I thought I would like this one more. I expected sweet, but I didn’t expect young-ness and lack of balance. Am I bummed I spent $65 on this bottle? Eh, maybe a little, but hey, it was Friday, it was payday, and shit, that bottle looks fancy! I’ll drink this stuff, and my wife liked it as she tends to like bourbons that are a little sweeter (although she did say it tastes kind of like pickles to her…she’s a weird little lady). Diageo, I’m still waiting for something to blow my socks off. Surely Diageo reads this blog, right?