Where were you at the turn of the century? Oh, I’m not talking about the year 2000 – okay, 2001 if you want to be that “technical date-name” person. I’m talking about 1900 – okay, 1901 – whatever! Sheesh – you weren’t even born! My point is this … if you were around at the turn of the 20th century, chances are you might’ve been sipping Bond & Lillard Whiskey.
I’m not going to dig too deep into brand history, other than to say that the Bond family had been distilling whiskey in Kentucky since about 1820. A partnership was formed in 1869 between W. F. Bond and C. C. Lillard (Bond’s brother-in-law), and the Bond & Lillard Distillery was born. The distillery had some notable success, but ultimately met its end with the Volstead Act of 1920. After Prohibition, the Bond & Lillard label continued to be marketed by American Medicinal Spirits until it was absorbed by National Distillers some years later.
The Bond & Lillard bourbon I’m reviewing today is not the Bond & Lillard of old. This whiskey is a limited release by Campari under its Whiskey Barons series. B&L is one of two Kentucky straight bourbons released as “Batch 1,” the second bourbon being Old Ripy which I reviewed earlier this year. While the Russell family was not directly involved with the creation of these two whiskeys, they were produced at Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, KY. Knowing that Wild Turkey only has one bourbon recipe (one that’s worked extremely well for decades), it’s hard to imagine B&L tasting much different than other modern WT expressions. We shall soon find out.
But before I move to the tasting, I’d like to make note of one striking detail – the elegant period bottle design. I don’t usually remark on glass shaping and label artwork, but thus far Campari has knocked it out of the park with the aesthetics of the Whiskey Barons series. Both Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard were inspired by pre-prohibition whiskey bottles (small, near pint-sized handcrafted bottles). The glassworks for these releases are of antique design but with sturdy modern construction. And the label artwork … wow. While Old Ripy is clearly a Victorian era inspiration, B&L nails the post-Victorian era vibe and tops it off with a twist of late 1950’s pop art. Quite impressive, really.
Okay, history and art classes are now adjourned. It’s time for recess! I mean … science! Yeah, science – that’s the ticket!
Bond & Lillard (2017) – Campari Whiskey Barons Collection Batch #1 – KSBW aged “a minimum of seven years” – charcoal filtered and bottled at 100 proof – distilled and bottled by The American Medicinal Spirits Co. (produced at the Wild Turkey Distillery), Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (sweet & light) English toffee, vanilla, frosted sugar cookies, cedar, dandelion, orange peel, hints of peppery spice
Taste: (very creamy) vanilla, caramel/toffee, creme brulee, baking spice, soft oak, light citrus & floral notes, hints of pepper, slight grain
Finish: (“buttery”) medium-long in duration with easy yet pleasant warmth – creamy vanilla, caramel, spicy oak, slowly diminishing pepper & spice
Overall: It’s funny how you sometimes expect one thing, and get it, but not at all in the way you were expecting. That’s Bond & Lillard. Please allow me to explain. B&L is, on paper at least, very similar to Wild Turkey 101. It’s the same recipe (reportedly 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley), only 0.5% different in ABV, and likely about the same age at 7 years (with possibly some older whiskey in the batch). They share the same distillery, barrels from the same cooperage, and were almost surely aged in similar rickhouses. So what makes them different? The answer is charcoal filtering.
Charcoal filtering is most commonly associated with Tennessee Whiskey, primarily Jack Daniel’s, but some Kentucky bourbon distilleries employ the process as well. What makes the most difference is when the filtration is employed, more than how the filtration is employed. With TN whiskey, charcoal filtering takes place at least once prior to aging. When used in KSBW production, charcoal filtration is typically a final step and thus occurs after aging. Either way, the charcoal acts as a “mellowing” agent, and thereby establishes yet one more topic of great debate in whiskey enthusiast circles.
So, I think you see where I’m going with this. Bond & Lillard is simply (debatably) charcoal filtered Wild Turkey 101. I very highly doubt that Wild Turkey experimented with charcoal filtration prior to aging, so I’m going to make a safe bet that the filtration for B&L occurred after aging. So what effect did it have on profile?
Well, remember when I said I expected one thing, got it, but not the way I was expecting? Bond & Lillard is unmistakably modern Wild Turkey in profile. But what makes it unique is that it has a very sweet, light citrus and floral presence. It reminds me heavily of WT 101 Rye – that’s right – 101 Rye. It’s as if it falls between modern WT 101 Bourbon and WT 101 Rye – but – does not taste like a bourbon/rye blend at all. I should probably stress – B&L has elements of both but not in a blend sense. And the mouthfeel … it’s something to be experienced. I’ve had plenty of charcoal filtered bourbons from other distilleries and their mouthfeel was not near this noteworthy. With B&L you get an intense creaminess more akin to Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel than WT 101. I can’t explain it – it just is. Creamy, confectionery sweet, and light floral in nature – that pretty much sums up B&L’s profile.
So how does it rank? Is it worth a purchase? Well, I like Bond & Lillard a little better than Old Ripy. To me, Old Ripy is like an alternative Rare Breed. And while a touch better than Rare Breed 112.8, it’s still very much in that profile category. B&L, on the other hand, has something unique to offer. The whiskey itself is very good – but not $50+ for a pint good. Yes, the bottle is beautiful. If you’re purchasing B&L as a collector’s item with no intention of opening, then sure. One could argue that $50 for any very limited collector’s item is certainly reasonable. And, it would be unfair for me to omit that a portion of the sales of B&L (and Old Ripy) go to the restoration and preservation of the T. P. Ripy home in Lawrenceburg, KY. No doubt a commendable deed by Campari. But the monetary value in the spirit itself – it’s just not there. It is, however, an enjoyable and unique Wild Turkey produced whiskey, and for that I’m giving it a B-.
Special thanks to Campari and their PR firm for the bottle and the chance to review this whiskey.