Calandro’s: Old Elk Bourbon
Old Elk Bourbon is something that I’ve been intrigued about for a long time. I would venture to guess that at least half of y’all have sampled something from their Master Distiller -Greg Metze. He is the former Master Distiller of MGP in Indiana. MGP distills primarily for sales to other NDPs (Non-Distillery Producers). They have their own line of spirits but their meat and potatoes is selling their distillate to other distilleries/bottlers. This is a VERY common practice that I can get into at a later date if you’re still confused. Some of your favorite distilleries buy from MGP, they include: High West, Smooth Ambler, Belle Meade, Whistlepig, Bulleit, James Magnus, Templeton, Willett, and honestly way too many more to count!
Right now, you’re wondering what does this mean? This means that the former Master Distiller of MGP, who is responsible for the Rye Renaissance we’ve experienced these last six years, is the Master Distiller of Old Elk. Greg Metze is a legend in the whiskey industry. He oversaw the distillation of some of the best bourbon and whiskey that I’ve ever had. His name provides instant credibility to anything that he is attached to!
Old Elk is an interesting distillery to say the least. They are technically a NDP as all their stuff is currently sourced, but they do have a distillery that should be completed sometime in 2019. The bottle I bought from Calandro’s is most definitely sourced as it is four years old, and they have not been in operations that long. The normal bourbon that you see on other shelves is different from this single barrel. The label normally states that it is Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey. At the end of 2017, OId Elk was said that the bourbons ranged from 2.8 to 8.2 years old. Their normal bourbon is a blend of those aged bourbons and bottled at 88 Proof.
This is a single barrel, however, so it is only one barrel of bourbon that is four years old. This is the only barrel pick of Old Elk in Louisiana and only one of a few in the country. The mashbill is also unique. It is 51% corn, 34% barley and 15% rye with a proprietary yeast. It's pretty rare to have that much barley in a bourbon mashbill. Metze actually developed this mashbill while he was still working at MGP and brought it with him to Old Elk. One last caveat before we jump into it is, I tasted the regular Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey and was far from impressed. It tasted incredibly young and had a lot of ethanol on the nose and on the tongue. It’s not something that I would recommend buying but I approached this barrel pick with an open mind nonetheless!
The nose on this bourbon is quite nice! I get the classic sweet bourbon notes of vanilla, caramel, and toffee with a hint of something floral. The nose is where this bourbon shines brightest. On the palate, I get some great cherry flavor, as well as some baking spices and mint. This taste is definitely on the unique side. I do think it’s a bit hot. It’s cask strength and on the young side so either reason could be why it’s hot. (Author’s side note: a bourbon being cask strength doesn’t automatically mean it’s hot. It definitely can attribute to that but look at Four Roses Barrel Picks or some Elijah Craig Barrel Proof’s and you’ll find the perfect balance of ABV and heat.) The finish on this bourbon is solid as well. It’s on the long side with a ton of cinnamon coming through. All things considered I was much more surprised with this bourbon than I thought it’d be.
I was surprised for sure but not blown away! I would put the regular Old Elk at 1.5 or 2 pours. I’d need to sample it again to be sure, but I don’t want to pay $50 for a bottle of it. This is leaps and bounds better than that but when you’re starting from behind it’s still not great. I think this is in the 3.5 range, based on taste. However, at $60 a bottle I think I would actually downgrade it to 3 pours. I hate to say this but with the amount of fantastic bourbon out there for less, I think this one doesn’t hold up. If you’re interested in Greg Metze and you have extra cash to spare than definitely go for it! If you’re on a bourbon budget like I am, then I’d suggest going for something else.