Forty-Five is the New Twenty-Three
To kick off this weekend’s Bourbon Classic in Louisville, the Frazier History Museum – now the official start of the Bourbon Trail – will be selling bottles of a bourbon called James Thompson & Brother Final Reserve. This forty-five (!) year old bourbon will sell at 9am on March 1 for a cool $1,800. Generously, along with a 750ml bottle, the cost also covers a 100ml flask so you can sample the product without opening the big bottle. I guess if you’re willing to spend that much dough, you actually can have your cake and eat it too. All of the profits from the sale are being donated to charity benefiting veterans.
I admit to some morbid curiosity and would definitely be up to sample some for a reasonable price, but I don’t think I can justify spending that kind of cheddar and camping out overnight for the chance to grab one of the 160 bottles.
While everyone’s tastes are different, most agree that there is a stage where bourbon gets “too old”. At some point, the wood overwhelms the grain in the flavor profile and it can become a bit off-putting. To be clear, some juice ages better than others; warehouse location and many other variables come into play, as well. It has been said that wheated bourbons age more gracefully than traditional mash bills, which is why the older expressions of Pappy Van Winkle are so sought after. For me, I prefer the 15-year to its older brothers, but they are all delicious in their own right.
I’ve tried some 20-plus-year bourbons that taste like chewing on bark and others that are delightfully balanced. However, I have noticed that the older the product, the better the chances are of coming away feeling like maybe I tasted something special and rare, but not necessarily good. The 45-year Final Reserve in question very likely represents the longest “in the wood” of any bourbon whiskey ever released. This product is more than 20 years the senior of anything that regularly comes to market.
Based on the color (from photographs – haven’t been lucky enough to see a bottle in person), which I would describe as somewhere between black coffee and molasses, my total guess is that this one might fall firmly into the “over-aged” camp, but I really hope I'm wrong. For my tastes, the optimal age for (most) bourbon falls somewhere between 10 and 15 years. In that range, there is just enough wood influence, but not so much that it overwhelms the sweet and spicy notes that come from the grain.
However, if oaky goodness is more your thing, then I think there is still time to get in line on Main Street to score what is probably the oakiest oak that ever oaked at the Frazier Museum on March 1.