A New American Whiskey Collection Is Commanding Attention — Here's Why You Should Know About It
If you're a fan of American whiskey you ought to know about Bardstown. The quaint city in the center of Kentucky bills itself as the "Bourbon Capital of the World." With hundreds of thousands of barrels worth of brown liquid resting throughout the surrounding hills, you can literally smell it in the air. Indeed, downtown itself sits within 16 miles of nearly a dozen different distillers of the native spirit. Now, for the first time, they're banding together to give Bardstown the name recognition it deserves.
Launched in mid-January, the Bardstown Collection encompasses five separate bottles, one each from some of the region's most sought-after producers. It sold out almost instantaneously and promises to be among the rarest whiskey releases of 2022. But this is just the beginning.
The series debut showcases liquid from Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Bardstown Bourbon Company, Log Still and Preservation. Each distillery was tasked with selecting two special barrels worth of house stock and blending it into something wholly unique — at $200 per bottle. All proceeds from the collaboration were donated back to the community of Bardstown to support local development.
Typically when bigger brands such as Heaven Hill and Jim Beam announce new releases, they command national attention. They comprise thousands of cases worth of product in countless bottleshops across the country. This was especially low-key by comparison: a precious few hundred bottles sold exclusively at their distillery of origin over an hours-long window.
In other words: small potatoes for an international conglomerate like Beam Suntory (parent company of the James B. Beam Distilling Co). Nevertheless, it was an occasion that 8th generation master distiller Freddie Noe wasn't going to pass up. The great-great-grandson of Jim Beam can trace his roots in the region all the way back to 1795.
"Ultimately it was an easy decision," Noe tells Food and Wine. "Bardstown has been home to my family for six generations now — and many [other] prominent distillers throughout history. This opportunity to recognize Bardstown and its contributions to bourbon seemed like a no brainer. To all come together and work through challenges to bring this collection to life in such a short time was amazing to be a part of."
For his bottling, Noe combined a 16- and 17-year-old barrel, sourced from separate — but equally exalted — barrelhouses. The resulting juice tickles the tongue with brown sugar and a distinctive nuttiness. You can tell it's Beam, yet it's not quite like any Beam you've tasted before.
Conor O'Driscoll of Heaven Hill coaxed comparable complexity out of stock nearly half that age by leveraging a particularly auspicious corner of rickhouse. "The two nine-year-old barrels I picked were from the sixth floor of rickhouse M at our main campus in Bardstown," says the master distiller. "Tasted separately, the two barrels had contrasting taste profiles: one sweet with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, the other with spice and oak. When mingled, they created a full-bodied and smooth Bourbon that offered an exceptional first expression for Heaven Hill in this collection."
This coming from a man responsible for such lauded liquids as Old Fitzgerald and Parker's Heritage. And yet, even some of most ardent whiskey enthusiasts (outside of Kentucky, at least) remain unaware of this particular release. Meanwhile, bourbon geeks within the state were busy criss-crossing their way up and down the Bluegrass Parkway in mid-January to secure the set of staggered releases before they vanished for good…Or until March 2023, that is, when volume two arrives with the addition of three yet-to-be-named distilleries.
The ongoing collaboration was spearheaded by Bardstown Bourbon Company. Although a relative newcomer to the Kentucky whiskey landscape their leading role here makes perfect sense: the 9-year-old distillery was formed around the idea of bringing a Napa Valley destination experience to Bourbon Country. The vision is viewed most dramatically in its sleek, state-of-the-art $25 million dollar visitors center. But community-building is also integral to that agenda.
"We want to highlight this unique area as the true home for bourbon," says Dan Callaway, vice president of hospitality and product development for Bardstown Bourbon. "The Bardstown Collection represents the camaraderie and community of the Bourbon Capital of the World."
The shared packaging and bottle design of the series stands as further testament to that alignment. Aside from a small tag affixed to the bottom of each glass, the five individual releases are virtually indistinguishable from one another. It's quite rare in any industry to see competing businesses unite under common branding. But the Bardstown Collection is more than just rare, it's exceptional. And now, exceptionally expensive: the full set of volume one is currently valued at $6,000 on the secondary market.
If that's a little beyond your budget, Bardstown Bourbon Company will be dropping another limited release, exclusive to its on-site gift shop, on March 25th. The special one-off commemorates legendary master distiller Steve Nally's 50th anniversary in the bourbon business. With only 650 total bottles hitting the shelf, the $300 offering will undoubtedly be a hot commodity amongst whiskey collectors.
So, for those who didn't know about Bardstown before, consider yourself clued-in. And for those who didn't already know about its namesake bourbon collection, consider yourself warned: volume two is a little over a year away. Plan accordingly.