(This is a continuation of a series of reviews. For all of the background, start with Very Old Barton 86 Proof.)
This one is a little confusing – there are actually TWO Very Old Barton straight bourbons that are 100 proof. One says “Bottled-in-Bond” on it, the other – this one – doesn’t. Internet scuttlebutt (there’s a word I don’t get to use often enough) claims that parent company Sazerac was forced to mix VOB from different distilling seasons when one of its warehouses collapsed in June (and then finished collapsing in July) of 2018. Mixing distilling seasons means no more Bottled-in-Bond designation, so the bottle says “Crafted” instead. This, after the company dropped the “6 year” age statement a few years ago. The rumor also suggests that Sazerac plans to bring back the BIB label when supplies return to previous levels, but who knows.
Since the claim to fame of VOB BIB as the “best value in bourbon” dates back to when the bottle was both Bottled-in-Bond and also 6 years of age, I can’t say with any certainty that this new non-bonded, NAS, “100 proof” variant bears any resemblance to that lauded whiskey. This one, at any rate, is bottled at 50% ABV from batches of 4-6 year-old bourbon. The mash bill is 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% malted barley and the whiskey is Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Nose: Potent, with a pronounced nose tickle. Sticky caramel apple, light fruity notes of fruit punch, green banana, and tart cherry. Nice.
Palate: Thin body. A heavy tongue burn is followed by red apple skins, tannic oak, tart but dry oaky sugars, toasty corn, and cherry syrup (no longer tart). Dry, but with good balance.
Finish: Medium length. Warming, slightly sweet but muddled, with unclear flavors from the palate. A little bitterness (bitter herbs) develops, and the finish becomes more dry before fading.
With Water: Several drops of water amp up the nose tickle briefly, before adding a tinge of sweetness in the form of plain simple syrup. The palate and finish seem unchanged, aside from extra bitterness. Water optional.
Overall: A decent all-around bourbon. On the dry side, but with good balance. The additional ABV over its siblings has brought additional robustness and concentrated flavor, as well-needed extra sweetness. I’m still missing some of the volatile fruit notes from the 86 proof, but the extra alcohol brings enough density to the glass that it’s worth the trade. It’s certainly a highly performant bourbon for a ridiculously low price, even if it’s no longer the 6 year-old VOB BIB of halcyon days of yore. For what it’s worth between this, the 86 proof, and the 90 proof, this one is my favorite.