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Angel's Envy—A Bourbon Finished in Port Casks

Jack Bettridge
Posted: December 7, 2012

Big things are in the works for the little whiskey company that makes the Port-barrel-finished Angel's Envy Bourbon.

According to its creator, Lincoln Henderson, the former master distiller of Brown-Forman and originator of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, not only is a cask-strength Angel's Envy debuting over the holidays, but a number of other special finishes are waiting in the wings and a distillery of its very own is in the company's future.

After a career of nearly 40 years at Brown-Forman, maker of Jack Daniel's and Old Forester, Henderson retired in 2004, but soon took a job as the spokesman for the Japanese whiskey-maker Suntory in the United States. Meanwhile his son Wesley started Louisville Distilling Co. in an effort to lure his father back into the production end of the business. Eventually it worked, "when Wes got the money from the big guns," Lincoln recalls. And two years ago this coming April, Angel's Envy was released.

Henderson says the seeds were sown for that whiskey when he still worked for Brown-Forman and was experimenting with different types of wood finishes. (In whiskey parlance a finish is an added aging process at the end of normal maturation in which the whiskey is placed in a different type of wood previously used to age another spirit.) "I had about 10 different ex-barrels. I had Port barrels, Spanish Sherry, American Sherry, Brandy, rum, Tequila. I had these barrels coming out of my ears."

Although he deemed his experiments a success, Brown-Forman didn't think they were worth producing on a large scale. "I'm glad they didn't go with it," he says in retrospect, "because now we have Angel's Envy. My friends at Brown-Forman aren't happy, but that's how it goes."

Other finished Bourbons are destined to see the light of day. "We have some really neat things ready to go," when distribution of Angel's Envy widens, Henderson promises. (Currently, the whiskey is available in 23 states.) "I don't know if they'll be called Angel's Envy, but they're coming."

The original Angel's Envy was produced with the philosophy that it should not taste overtly like Port. The point of the finishing, Henderson says, is that the Port would modify the Bourbon, eliciting maple, vanilla, Madiera and toasted-nut components. He started out thinking the finishing process would last three months. But in practice, he found he was wrong and extended the time in Port casks to six months. Henderson says the length of finishing depends greatly on the location of the barrels in the warehouse. Including the time in ex-Port casks and new Bourbon barrels, the whiskey ages between five and six years overall.

Henderson says he set the alcohol level at 86.6 with the thinking that he didn't want it to be overwhelmingly strong so it would appeal to female drinkers as well. "Women don't like astringency," he posits. The lowest proof allowed by law is 80, but he also felt that that was too low as at that level whiskey requires too much chill filtration, a process that keeps whiskey from clouding when it gets cold, which some say robs it of tasting notes and hue. "At 80 proof it dances on the fence of having enough flavor and color." The 86.6 level, he says, allows for the whiskey to undergo a minimum of chill filtration without the risk of clouding.

The new cask-strength version is totally different, Henderson says. At the level of 123.7 proof, the Port influence is irrepressible on the palate and the deep color is an obvious clue to its origins as well. He adds that the large alcohol quotient means it can be lightly filtered. "We put it through a loose filter without chilling it. You can put it in your freezer and it won't cloud up." (The new whiskey is premiering in Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, in a batch of 600 bottles that cost $149 each.)

(Tasting notes and cigar pairings on next page)

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Comments   1 comment(s)

George C — Commack, NY, USA,  —  January 24, 2013 10:01pm ET

Thanks Jack. Love reading your reviews on Bourbon.

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