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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Blood Oath Pact No. 1

Blood Oath Pact No. 1 is one of the latest self-declared premium Bourbons to hit the market, complete with a marketing story, artful and attractive bottle, wooden box, and limited bottling run of 15,000.  At an MSRP of $89.99, the price is premium as well, making Blood Oath the first foray into this Bourbon market segment for St. Louis-based Luxco Inc., a non-distiller producer (“NDP”) which owns many existing spirits brands, including the moderately-priced Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks lines.  Luxco plans on following up with “Pact No. 2” in 2016 as well as future new “Pacts” with different blends.

Perhaps anticipating some level of pushback because it is an NDP, Luxco released a preemptive video (link here) called “Q&A with John Rempe,” who is Director of Corporate Research & Development at Luxco.  Mr. Rempe answers questions like “Why release a new bourbon now?” and “Should Luxco be releasing a super premium bourbon as an NDP?”  He also argues the case for why it’s better to be an NDP.

Although Mr. Rempe and Luxco have not identified any more than the ages and secondary grains of the Bourbons used in Blood Oath Pact No. 1, those reported ages and mash bills match up with brands mentioned above already owned by Luxco.  If we can assume that Luxco is using stock that would have been destined for its existing brands, then Blood Oath is likely a blend of Ezra Brook 12, Ezra Brooks 7, and Rebel Reserve. 

Heaven Hill produces those brands for Luxco, and in addition, Heaven Hill has its own popular labels that match the Luxco brands in age and mash bills:  Elijah Craig 12, Evan Williams Black Label, and Larceny. 

Because I was intrigued by Luxco’s idea for its blend, and I because owned all of the Heaven Hill brands that I needed for ingredients, I created a homemade blend with 12 oz. Elijah Craig 12 (94 proof), 4 oz. Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof (134.8 proof), 4 oz. Evan Williams Black Label (86 proof), and 5 oz. Larceny (92 proof).  I hated to use my Elijah Craig Barrel Proof on an experiment, but I needed to use it in order to approximate the proof of Blood Oath, and I came surprisingly close at an estimated 98.8 proof.  (As a disclaimer, I have no idea whether my percentages of these brands match up with the percentages of the three Bourbons used by Luxco in Blood Oath.)

After trying Blood Oath Pact No. 1 on its own a few times, I compared it side-by-side on more occasions with my “Blood Oath Approximation.”  As a check on my impressions, I also conducted double blind tests with fellow enthusiasts to compare Blood Oath; my “Blood Oath Approximation;” a 90 proof Bourbon with rye as the secondary grain, which I think is heavy on corn flavors; and a 9-year old 101 proof Bourbon using rye as the secondary grain, which emphasizes more of the rye flavors. 

That’s a long lead-in, but here are the results:

Blood Oath Review

Disclaimer: Luxco kindly sent me a sample bottle of its
Blood Oath Pact No. 1 for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Bourbon:
Blood Oath Pact No. 1 – Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery:
Undisclosed

Age:
A blend of 12-year Bourbon with rye as the secondary grain; 7-year Bourbon also with rye as the secondary grain; and 6-year Bourbon with wheat as the secondary grain

Bottled:

Luxco, Inc.

Proof:
98.6 proof

Cost:
$89.99

Tasting Notes

Color:
Medium amber.  Elijah Craig 12 is darker, and so is my “Approximation,” so this could indicate a higher usage rate of the younger components.

Nose:
Vanilla, tea, honey and light, summery floral notes.

Taste:
I sensed the taste of younger wheated Bourbon, which I know some people have loved, for example in Contradiction, but which isn’t my personal favorite.  (I reviewed Rebel Reserve last year and was not a fan.)  Still, there’s a lot more going on, like vanilla, honey, and some rye spice along with cinnamon.  I didn’t get some of the other flavors that I identify with well-aged wheated Bourbon, nor did I find much oak, which struck me as further indication of higher use of the younger components.  The heat of the alcohol is more evident than I expected, even at nearly 100 proof.  With a Bourbon at this price and proof, I’d usually caution against adding ice, but the chill of an ice cube added some creaminess and opened some caramel flavors that I didn’t find initially.

Finish:
Overall a short to medium finish that starts sweet but loses that flavor pretty quickly, ending with faint cinnamon spice and some bitterness.


Bottom Line

Kudos to Luxco for trying something new and innovative.  Many Bourbon enthusiasts have been blending different brands for years, oftentimes choosing to blend rye and wheated Bourbons together.  On the other hand, the only regularly-produced labels I’ve had that blend rye and wheated Bourbons are Noah’s Mill and Smooth Ambler Contradiction.  Maybe Luxco is onto the next big idea in Bourbon, and thankfully they presented this new brand with transparency.

While the innovation is there, the cost is too high.  The components of my “Blood Oath Approximation” cost about $35.00, so presumably Blood Oath could have entered the market in the ever-increasing $40.00 range.  I suppose that Luxco would have had to jettison the wooden box at that lower price-point, but it still could have kept the bottle and marketing strategy, and maybe built some momentum. 

As Mr. Rempe’s video shows, Luxco anticipated some criticism, but I think that they could have misjudged why enthusiasts might be critical.  There’s no problem being an NDP when it’s coupled with transparency and when the NDP avoids outlandish “historical” stories or claims.  There’s also no problem bringing a new Bourbon into the market, especially something that is unique when compared to most other options.  The source of any pushback might instead be on pricing when we don’t know why the component Bourbons are so special as to warrant a price commensurate with limited edition releases that have proven track records:  what is the provenance of the Bourbon?; is it unique?; is it rare?; was it selected by a name we know and trust?

In sum, great idea, good Bourbon, but overpriced.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 3.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

2 comments:

  1. I was in contact with the designer of the packaging and he was justifiably very proud of his work. It's kind of sad to see that his work is basically what anyone who buys this is paying for. I think I'll get some Larceny and try your approximation instead.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Eric. Yes, the designer really did a great job here; I'm sure that it will help drive sales. The approximation was fun to try, and I'll definitely be blending more in the future. Cheers.

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