Despite the fact that this bottle proudly displays “Old Elk Distillery Co.”, like many bourbons on the market today this was not made at the Old Elk Distillery. There is no distillation happening at Old Elk Distillery because it’s just a “production facility” (read: blending house) that is blending sourced bourbons. I sound bitter, but this is highly common in the market today, and some quite excellent spirits have emerged as a result of it. I just wish that Non-Distiller Producers would stop indirectly claiming to be distilleries, or obscuring the fact that they didn’t distill the liquid in their bottles.
Old Elk is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, and yes does plan to build a real distillery. Until that happens, they are blending together different batches of MGP bourbon and selling it under the Old Elk name. The website mentions “three partners”, so they may have two other components in the blend that I can’t find any information about. There is a twist: They recently hired Greg Metze, who found fame by creating excellent whiskey at MGP. Yes, that means that Old Elk is blending and bottling sourced whisky that was actually made by their current master distiller. Spicy.
Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon is a blend of sourced straight bourbons, with the youngest aged 5 years. As for the mash bill, Old Elk is once again an outlier: A whopping 34% malted barley, 51% corn, and 15% rye. I’ve never seen that much barley used in a bourbon before. They say it makes the whiskey extra smooth. The bourbon is bottled at an acceptable 44% ABV. It originally retailed for $50 which sounds a bit high to me – I got my bottle for $30 at Costco, which is much more in line with similar MGP-sourced bourbons, extra barley or not.
Nose: Pale caramel, a thick layer of nougat, and something very vegetal like medicinal herbs and crushed grass. Heavy nose tickle considering the ABV. Corn husks, corn syrup, and a sprinkling of stale spices (powdered cinnamon and clove).
Palate: Medium bodied. A dose of cherry (or cherry cough syrup?) precedes a fairly standard lineup of bourbon flavors: oaky resin, furniture polish, brown sugar, and gingerbread.
Finish: Short. Nutty, with a lingering youthful alcohol note (vodka), cola, and faint marshmallow. Fades quickly without evolving.
With Water: A few drops of water initially mute the aroma, requiring a rest in the glass. The palate might be a little thinner, the finish livelier. No need for water here.
Overall: Meh. I can’t think of a reason to prefer this high-malt approach to bourbon over more standard mash bills. A similarly-priced bottle of Buffalo Trace or Four Roses brings more flavor and fewer of those industrial “off notes” like vodka, corn syrup, and cough syrup. Perhaps longer aging (in my opinion, barley requires more time in oak to lose those grassy and vodka-esque notes) would have made this more of a contender.