I swear, US companies have been putting out new bourbon brands using sourced whiskey faster than I can review them. Anchor Distillers (which is a distillery in California, but also does business importing and bottling sourced spirits) has loaded down the Hirsch label with every whisky marketing adjective in the book. This is – no, really – Small-Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is “Crafted” in the USA. It also says “artisanally produced” on the back. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone accusing MGP of being a “craft” distillery, but there’s the word on the bottle none-the-less. There’s also a sleight-of-tongue fib on the label: “Proudly bottled by Hirsch Distillers, Silverton, Ohio”, nevermind that this is a California company bottling an Indiana bourbon in Ohio.
In a more subtle act of market positioning, the name hearkens back to a sought-after bottle of bourbon with similar ethos to early Stitzel-Weller releases: The A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16 year-old. That brand was produced at the Schaefferstown Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, which is now known as the Michter’s Distillery, and fetches auction prices of more than $2000. Anchor acquired the rights to the brand, but thankfully isn’t trying to pass Hirsch Small Batch as the same liquid, and certainly isn’t charging a premium for the name or any associations it might have for those in-the-know about bourbon.
There is also – glory be! – an age statement on the back of the label. Hirsch Small Batch is “at least 7 years old” and is bottled at a reasonable 46% ABV for an even more reasonable price of $25 a bottle (here, at least… I’ve also seen it for as high as $40). The mashbill is a combination of two MGP recipes: (60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley and 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley) which I would describe a “high rye” mashbill.
Nose: A little plastic-y up front, which suggests a rest in the glass is in order. Dry and woody, with oak sawdust, charcoal, and faint rock candy. Even after a rest in the glass, the plastic character remains, although a hint of marzipan (almond paste) and cherry syrup creep in.
Palate: Medium bodied. Pretty hot, for a 46% ABV. Sawdust and charcoal dominate, with elements of woody molasses and tobacco.
Finish: Medium-short. A nice cinnamon-and-sugar note appears on the finish, along with mildly bitter barrel char and some mouth-drying oaky tannins.
With Water: A few drops of water perk up the apparent sweetness a little, although the whiskey also yields more fake “plastic” notes in addition. The palate is softer and burns less, but no interesting flavors are revealed. Water optional.
Overall: The whole impression is of dryness and austerity. The flavor and aroma components are sparse, there is very little in the way of sweetness, and no fruit or floral notes to balance the wood. Despite the claims on the bottle, this is a very squarely bottom-shelf bourbon which can disappear into any cocktail you choose without breaking the bank. For what it’s worth, at $25 this is a reasonable deal, just don’t expect anything interesting if drinking it neat.
Update 11/1/2021: This has been effectively replaced by Hirsch’s “The Horizon” bottling as part of the brand’s redesign. It’s more expensive, but it’s also better, so…