I will admit that I had only heard of Belle Meade Bourbon by reputation prior to this tasting — its variants are the flagship small batch product of GreenBrier distillery in Tennessee. I’m not the biggest straight bourbon fan, finding most high corn mashbills too sweet for my liking. Belle Meade is known for being “historical” (based off of recipes from a distillery that closed over 100 years ago) and fairly high in rye content. Add to this the fact that they are usually at least 90 proof, and you might actually have a bourbon that I’d like. However, I only took the plunge due to the availability of a special bottling picked by the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington DC, and that being a staff pick for Whiskey Advocate magazine for winter of 2016.
This whisky is an intense experience for the senses. It has a very saturated color (which would almost be suspect, except for its age, and exposure to a first fill sherry cask), an amazingly appealing nose, and a surprisingly dry taste for the amount of sweetness that your nose is originally led by. Surprisingly, the nose was so deliciously sweet and complex that I was almost turned off by the first hit of rye content in the palate, but this whiskey has the depth to evolve with time and additional sips, making it a very worthwhile journey if you are a high-rye bourbon drinker (or, even dare I say, just a straight up rye drinker. I think this will actually appeal the LEAST to sweet bourbon drinkers, despite how sweet the nose is).
GreenBrier Distillery, Tennessee
Belle Meade 10 year Sherry Casked Bourbon, 53.2% ABV
Barrel #1193, Bottle #181
10 years in Oak, 3 months, 23 days in first fill Oloroso Sherry cask.
Color: very deep in hue, though not the deepest I’ve ever seen in a sherry cask — a light chestnut or medium stained oak — showing the intense fresh white oak cask interaction over 10 years furthered by a short but intense sherry casking.
Nose: An incredibly rich butterscotch with overtones of nutmeg. Marzipan, a hint of red licorice fruitiness. Hiding behind all of these is a dry, almost astringent rye nose — grainy and grassy hiding long after the initial sweetness, but lurking only in the background, or if you stick your nose all the way in the glass.
Palate: Much drier than on the palate than the nose would suggest, with slight pepper that can grow to be mouthwatering with volume. A big gulp will make your mouth water something fierce, but it’s quite enjoyable. There’s a strong hint of stone fruit underneath the spice that persists as it fades — dried cherry, or perhaps a hint of peach, lightly laced with vanilla.
Finish: The spice lingers on the lips — the mouthfeel of the finish is smooth and flat after the spice leaves the tongue, though the hint of fruitiness from the sherry lingers long after everything else is gone.
The mashbill for this Belle Meade was 64% corn, 30% rye, and 6% malted barley. As a follow-up, we also did some comparison testing with a Four Roses Single Barrel, that was as 20% rye mashbill (the rest corn). The Belle Meade had a fruitiness that was more on the nose and finish from the sherry casking, with spicy rye in the middle. The Four Roses was sweeter on the palate, and less complex. The Four Roses would more likely appeal to someone who is a straight up bourbon drinker, and doesn’t like that much rye and prefers a fairly straight corn sweetness, while the Belle Meade was more complex, and more likely to appeal to bourbon drinkers who like a little more variety and depth in their bourbon.
The Belle Meade rye content definitely mellows a bit with some air — both in the bottle and sitting out after a pour — and also as you drink it. If the rye content is a little too high for you, just give it a few minutes. Or have a few more sips. I hope you enjoy if you can find some. It’s been a great pleasure to share this bottle with numerous friends over the end of the holidays during the cold weather this past week or so.
Illustration by Nguyet Vuong. Created on an iPad Pro using Procreate.