Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash

Today I’m turning my sights to a release from last year – E.H. Taylor’s Old Fashioned Sour Mash. The Taylor name – you might remember it as Old Taylor – was bought from Beam a few years back. For a while it looked like this might be a less-experimental series of releases than the Experimental Collection. There have been a few releases to day:

  • Old Fashioned Sour Mash
  • Single Barrel
  • Tornado Surviving (aka Kentucky Phoenix)
  • Barrel Proof
  • COLA nerds know a Straight Rye label exists. (there’s also a label for Small Batch, so who knows what the Taylor line holds)

Today we’re talking about the first release: Old Fashioned Sour Mash. Now, I know 99.999% of the readers here understand the sour mash process. It’s not a unique thing in American whisky – it’s extremely common, if not the overall norm. Without getting too deep into distillation minutia: some of the spent grain used from a prior distillation batch is retained for the next batch. This has the effect of lowering the pH for the next batch, which allows the fermentation to be yeast-driven versus bacterial. (For the real nerds, Scotch whiskies allow for a second bacterial fermentation as they’ve frequently got open-top washbacks – honestly, the best explanation I’ve ever read of the whisky making process is in Charles MacLean’s Malt Whisky which is one of the most lucid explanations I’ve encountered)

So, the difference between the sour mash process as it exists today and the “Old Fashioned” process is one of time. Buffalo Trace allowed the mash to sit for a while before entering the fermenters and the pH slowly dropped into the range that would be expected to be seen in the modern version of the sour mash process. This natural process that resulted in a lower pH is what they’re calling Old Fashioned, versus the modern spent-grain method.

OK, enough nerdosity. Let’s talk about the whisky. This stuff was mocked almost immediately upon release because of its $75 price tag. The scotch guys will pay this without blinking an eye, but $75 puts you within a stone’s throw of Buffalo Trace’s Anniversary Collection or Parker’s Heritage, so the final result better be great.

Unfortunately, if you subtract out the economics of a small run, I’m not sure that it lives up to the $75 price tag, and that seems to be the general consensus on this release.

The nose is warm and spicy, with evidence of rye almost immediately. It’s got strong but not overbearing wood influence; vanilla, corn and general grainy notes. There’s a slight hint of brown sugar and maple syrup.

The palate is lightly sour on first entry – think of a more refined version of the sourness you get off of an Evan Williams sometimes. It warms gently; has a nice woody sweetness and is mildly astringent. There’s rye, toffee, and it’s lightly vegetal. It’s nowhere near as young and green as, say, a Beam.

The finish dries quickly and leaves behind vanilla, some slightly sour new-make notes, more wood and is lightly warming with a moderate length finish.

It’s not the most amazing whisky I’ve had and I think the $75 price tag would be out of line if this were a regular production item. It’s nice with its heat and has some nuance, and the slight presence of sourness isn’t overbearingly “green” nor does it make the whole thing a mess. It serves as a nice balance to the sweetness evident elsewhere.

Honestly, I think this is a good whisky. It’s not going to be common on the shelves at this point; if you find a bottle it’s worth picking up. It’s definitely worth trying in a bar. I’d love to see something like this become a regular offering.

At a glance:

Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash (50% ABV)
Nose:
  Warm and spicy, with rye evident immediately. Strong but not overbearing wood, vanilla. Corn and grainy notes, and a slight hint of brown sugar. Some maple syrup as well.
Palate:  Lightly sour on first entry, warming gently. Woody sweetness with mild astringency. Rye, light toffee, slightly vegetal notes.
Finish:  Drying quickly, leaving behind vanilla, slightly sour new-make notes like the Buffalo Trace White Dog, more wood, lightly warming. Moderate finish.
Comment:  This isn’t a world-beater, but it’s different than most people are making today and a nice change. It’s not overbearingly hot, has some good complexity and is overall enjoyable. This has a slight sourness throughout that works nicely to provide some balance to to the sweetness.
Rating: B

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