The good news is that the 2015 edition of Angel's Envy Cask Strength is beginning to arrive on liquor-store shelves. The bad news is that only 7,500 bottles will reach the market in but 16 states. The mollifying news is that Port-barrel-finished Bourbon is exquisite.
This is the third annual edition (starting in 2013) of the single-batch, cask-strength Bourbon from the (thus far) non-distilling producer Louisville Distilling Co. The illustrious Lincoln Henderson, formerly master distiller for Brown-Forman, now deceased, helped form the brand when he was coaxed out of retirement to create the venture's process. The company acquires whiskey from distilling producers and further ages (finishes) them in barrels previously used to age other liquors. They are then melded in small batches. The rare cask-strength version is finished in Port-wine casks, vatted in a single batch and not reduced in strength before bottling. This year it goes in the glass at a scorching 127.9 proof.
Henderson's son Wes, the chief innovation officer, says, "This years release marks the first time we have selected barrels that vary in the amount of time finishing in the port casks, with most finished at least 18 months." He notes that the whiskey is a little less "port-forward than the previous selections." Henderson further reveals that the batch was made up of 30 barrels deemed "cask worthy," with some matured as long as seven years. That is not an official age statement, however, as such designations must legally reflect the youngest whiskey in the blend.
Angel's Envy has two other main expressions: the flagship Port-finished Bourbon at 86.6 proof and its rye, which is finished in former rum casks and bottled at 100 proof. In those cases, water has been added to lower the alcohol level from cask strength.
The Louisville Distilling Co. was formed in 2006, a few years after Lincoln Henderson ended his stint at Brown-Forman, where he developed Woodford Reserve and the Jack Daniel's expressions Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel. He died in September 2013. Bacardi acquired the company in March of this year, making it the first American whiskey in its fold.
Angel's Envy has been planning a distillery of its own and now expects it to open on the corner of Main Street and Jackson in Louisville in 2016.
Angel's Envy Cask Strength 2015 (127.9 proof, or 63.95 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $169.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Elegant amber color that seems to have a slight sparkle. Medium-speed, teardrop legs.
NOSE: The Port finish makes its biggest impression on the bouquet, but is quickly joined by caramel and toffee. Orange peel and blackberry round out the fruit aromas.
PALATE: This whiskey is at once penetrating and huge—it delivers the pierce of its high strength, but remains full and round. Toffee, caramel and chocolate zoom in, but less in evidence is that other typical Bourbon note—vanilla. The Port of the nose seems to have backed off as well—that is until you recognize an impression of black walnuts in amongst some fudge. The fruits are more meaty on the palate, joined by a bit of berries and orange peel. Some pepper conducts the transition into the finish.
FINISH: The curtain calls are many and bring a hearty and savory root flavor as well as strengthened nuts and a barrel flavor reminiscent of Angostura bitters. As the finish goes on and on it's interesting to note that throughout a wealth of competing notes, this whiskey never forsakes its Bourbon pedigree.
CIGAR PAIRING: Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco Reserva Especial Torpedo (6 inches by 52 ring gauge; $12.50, 90 Points; August 18, 2015 Cigar Insider) A slightly pressed torpedo with a very dark wrapper. The cigar is predominantly woody and cedary, with notes of orange peel and spice. The fact that the filler on this has some barrel age intrigued us given the barrel notes on the whiskey. Those aspects served to underscore the same effect on both: a rich earthy and oaky character. The winning effect here was in the seamless and subtle conjunction it created. Notes that arose independently were fewer. The Angel's Envy took some tang from the Joya and also showed the previously missing vanilla. Cedar and mint grew on the cigar. The flavor that had been detected on both elements separately—orange peel—didn't play much of a role. That was a small price to pay for a pairing that was otherwise spot on.