Wednesday, December 4, 2019

J Henry & Sons 10th Anniversary Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


It would be improper of me not to admit my bias with regard to J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon. I've been a fan since discovering Batch 1 at Ski's Saloon five years ago. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow and I were the first touring visitors in their completed tasting room. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first reviewer who covered their whiskey. I've experienced with Henrys various major milestones from Small Batch to Patton Road Reserve, then to Bellefontaine Reserve, and then to their 7 Year Bourbon and just this past weekend, their 10th Anniversary Limited Release


I just want to lay all my cards on the table. You, as my readers, deserve the same transparency that I look to from the distillers and producers of the whiskeys I review.


When the 10th Anniversary Edition was announced, I was excited.  I stood in line in the freezing cold (the wind was mostly the issue), hoping to get my hands on one of the 300 bottles available Sunday afternoon. 




I accomplished my goal. The tasting room was packed, the Henrys were giving out finger foods and pouring cocktails. They know how to put on a party, and this wouldn't have been my first. Again, disclosure is key.


If you don't know the story of J Henry & Sons, it starts with patriarch Joe Sr., his wife Liz, and their sons Joe Jr., and Jack. Joe Sr. is a third-generation seed corn farmer in Dane, Wisconsin. One day, after a trip to Kentucky, he and Liz determined they were going to have their own brand of Bourbon that would be created only from Wisconsin ingredients.


They wanted to do things slow and purposefully. They didn't want to source whiskey from someone else. They didn't want to have white spirits while they were waiting on their own whiskey to age. They contracted with 45th Parallel Distillery in New Richmond, Wisconsin to do the actual distillation, but the Henrys would provide the corn, rye, and wheat used in the mash. The malted barley would come from Wisconsin as well, just not from the family farm.


The Henrys also didn't want a "me too" Bourbon with using the same yellow dent corn that many others do. They wanted something unique. Working with the University of Wisconsin, they were able to resurrect a strain of heirloom red corn created by the UW back in the 1930s. Joe planted and grew it on a section of the farm.


They sat on the whiskey while it aged in their rickhouse that was once the family dairy barn. It has no climate control and everything inside is exposed to the hot Wisconsin summers and brutally cold winters. They waited five years before Batch 1 was ready.  From there, they released Patton Road Reserve, the cask strength version of their Small Batch Bourbon. After that, Bellefontaine Reserve, which is basically Patton Road Reserve that was then finished in ex-VSOP Cognac casks. Last year they released a 7-Year Bourbon. And, here we are closing up 2019 with the Henrys celebrating a decade in Bourbon.


I know I'm throwing a lot at you.  I'm almost done with the backstory, I promise. The 10th Anniversary Edition is strictly a collaboration of Joe Jr. and Nancy Fraley (a/k/a The Nose), owner of Nosing Services. Joe Jr. and Nancy selected five barrels of Patton Road Reserve, all aged between five and nine years, and blended them to create what they believed would be something very special. Joe Sr. and Liz stayed out of it to let Joe Jr. use his knowledge and skills to add a new direction for the J. Henry & Sons brand. 


Like all of their expressions, the 10th Anniversary is a four-grain Bourbon distilled from a mash of 60% red heirloom corn, 14% rye, 14% wheat, and 12% malted barley.  Barrel proof on this is 126.56° and is easily the highest-proofed J. Henry & Sons I've ever had. It does not carry an age statement despite our knowing the youngest barrel was five years old. Retail is right around $110.00, and with distribution to stores, there are 1200 bottles available. Mine was #333.


In my Glencairn glass, it appears as a dark, caramel amber.  It created a very thin rim on the wall which generated slow, thin legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.


While I was letting it breathe, aromas of dark chocolate and cherries filled the room. When I brought the glass to my face, the dark chocolate remained, but the cherries vanished. Caramel and oak took its place. Behind that, vanilla custard. And, just when I thought the nose was done, an essence of cherry returned. When I inhaled through my lips the vanilla custard remained, adding a hint of butterscotch for good measure.


With my initial sip, the mouthfeel was creamy and coating. On the front I tasted berries and caramel. Mid-palate provided an interesting combination of crème brulée and oak. On the back, my mouth was coated with clove and dark chocolate.


The 10th Anniversary had a very long finish, one of those where just when you think it is done, it loops back and gives you more. It started off with that clove from the back of the palate, then changed to dry oak.  As the oak tapered off, vanilla and cinnamon took over. Then, it faded out for about a minute. Just as I was ready to take another sip, dark chocolate works its way for a return trip before the finish finally gave up... Except it didn't. The cherry from the nosing showed up and gave a tiny adieu. And then, it was over.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  This is a pricey Bourbon, at least in my book. When you start approaching (or exceeding) $100, that becomes a big deal to me. Let's get something out of the way. I've become very familiar with J. Henry & Sons and what they've put out there and because of my familiarity, I didn't go into this purchase completely blind. I did go into my tasting assuming I'd find similar notes typical of Patton Road Reserve. While I found some of those on the palate, it was the nosing and finish that knocked it out of the park. Jotting down my notes was a bit crazy because just as I wanted to sip or sniff again, that finish would go, "Whoa there, mister, you ain't done here yet."

Personally, I think this is closer to a $90 Bourbon than a $110 Bourbon. Am I going to quibble over $20? When we're at this level of whiskey, no. I thoroughly enjoyed the 10th Anniversary and given another opportunity, I'd do it all over again, and as such, it earned a Bottle rating. Cheers!

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