I.W. Harper Bourbon

The “other” Diageo Bourbon, I.W. Harper is another resurrected brand. The Bernheim brothers began selling I.W. Harper in 1879 and it has (like most Bourbon brands) changed hands several times since. It saw a 20-year hiatus in the US, although it has been sold continuously in Japan. Now, Diageo is bringing it back in two forms: This NAS entry-level bourbon, and a special-edition 15-year. The NAS has a mashbill of 73% corn, 18% rye, and 9% barley. The source of the distillate is a bit of a mystery, but is possibly a blend of bourbons from Four Roses, Brown-Foreman, Jim Beam, and/or Barton (read Chuck Cowdery’s overview of the brand here) and might also contain some of the distillate from the New Bernheim Distillery. The barrels were aged at the Stitzel-Weller warehouses. (No, that doesn’t make it Pappy).

The Kentucky Straight Bourbon is bottled in a very handsome bottle “by hand” (why?) in Tullahoma, Tennessee at the weird bottling strength of 41% ABV. (1% above the legal minimum. Why bother?)

Nose: First impression is of something weirdly vegetal – grassy… like trampled wet grass or freshly-turned compost. A rest in the glass reveals a heavy banana note, verging on rotting banana peel, which eventually resolves into banana sorbet. Not a great start.

Palate: Thin body. Pecans, black pepper, and more of that mushy banana. A little dull, and vaguely watery. A muddy blend of stale cornbread, plain white sugar (and not much of it), swampy oak, and spent coffee grounds.

Finish: Of medium length. Vague brown sugar, bitter barrel char, dry oaky tannins, and a fleeting grassy note, like spent sugarcane.

With Water: Several drops of water reveal a fresher sort of banana and perhaps a little dried coconut. The palate is brighter, but the finish is just as dull.

Overall: Eh. As mediocre a bourbon as I’ve had in a while. A confusing and off-putting aroma, bland and watery on the palate, and a forgettable finish. The cocktails I’ve made with it are uninteresting. This is a solid “Don’t Bother” in my book.

I.W. Harper Bourbon
41% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $35 - $40
Acquired: (750ml bottle) $40 Beverages & More, San Jose, CA

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  • Well heck, with a review like that …… I’ll take two! 🙂
    Tempted to try it just to see if my impression matches yours. I wonder if they sell minis….

  • For what’s it’s worth, this fell short of my hopes, as well. I would love to try this bottle’s age-stated brother, but this NAS bourbon just can’t hold its own against similarly or lower priced options like Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace. I found a number of familiar, comforting aromas and flavors ubiquitous in bourbons, but Nate’s spot on when he calls it mediocre. It’s as if this bourbon is as confused about its identity as I am about its exact distillery of origin.