I.W. Harper (15 Year)

One of the perks of being a bourbon fanatic is you've been to enough liquor retailers to know which one's are good and which are not. Finding a place that sells good whiskey at a decent price with excellent customer service is rare in these parts. Seriously. And in many ways, finding a good liquor store is like finding a good bourbon. It's not just the location and selection, it's the customer experience and the relationship with the people that really is a difference maker. So, when I happened upon Vinnie and the fine folks at S&R Wine & Liquors, I quickly knew this was going to be my one-stop shop to get my whiskey fix. I've known Vinnie for about a year now, and we always "shoot the breeze" and he usually ends up inviting me to taste something I haven't had yet. He's let me taste a lot of whiskies over the past year, so I'm owning up to a shoutout and review!

Every time I walk into the shop (which recently relocated), there's always a new whiskey on the shelves that I've been looking for, and I know immediately that's what I'm walking home with! This time, it was the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof I've been in search of for a while now. But Vinnie offered to give me a taste of the new I.W. HARPER 15-year, and how could I refuse? I must preface my review by saying I didn't walk out the I.W. HARPER, but I was very happy to taste it and provide this review.

From the distiller:

"The I.W. HARPER bourbon was first produced in 1872 with intent to be the Bernheim Bros. flagship brand. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim knew he needed to make the brand sound American for marketing purposes. He saw an article in a newspaper about John Harper, owner of the racehorse Ten Broeck. Bernheim decided to bottle the bourbon as I.W. HARPER, using his initials and Harper’s last name. The bourbon soon began to win awards at spirit competitions at home and abroad. The first award came at the New Orleans Exposition of 1885, then at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, followed by wins at the Exposition Universal, Paris, France, 1900, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, 1904 and the Greater Louisville Exposition 1907. With five gold medals awarded to I.W. HARPER, it became known as the “Gold Medal” bourbon."

Now in this year of 2015, the proud history continues with the return of I.W. HARPER to the American market. It is a premium quality bourbon rich in heritage and tradition. The Bowing Man of I.W. HARPER Straight Kentucky Bourbon at 82 proof, and I.W. HARPER 15-Year Old at 86 proof, will once again remind consumers that 'It is always a pleasure.'"

I do enjoy learning about new (and revived) bourbons, obviously. Doing some homework on this whiskey, it looks like the folks at Diageo are bringing this bourbon back stateside, as it was previously unavailable since the 90's except for as an export in Japanese markets. Diageo is also the company responsible for the Orphan Barrel series releases, and is a conglomerate for a plethora of other brands, including Bulleit and Crown Royal.

Anyways, enough talk. Let's cut the chase:

Name: I.W. HARPER

Proof: 86

Age: 15 years

Year: 2015

Delivery: Neat.

Color: Dirty blonde, almond.

Nose: Minty citrus. Cinnamon and sugar, with a good oak pulp.

Impression: On the front, this medium bodied bourbon packs a good amount of oak on top of citrus undertones, with what reminds me of a warm coffee cake. The middle will give you the sweet sugar and bitter chocolate notes, and the finish is clean and faint. 

Overview: For an 86 proof bourbon, this is a nicely complex pour. Good flavorings throughout, with a nice amount of heat up front. It does not last long, however. The bourbon does leave me wanting a little more. This could be due to my tastes favoring 100+ proof whiskeys. However, the bourbon just doesn't keep me interested for long enough. The finish is smooth, but the profile gets lost fairly early.

Water would not help this bourbon much. At 86 proof, it's right up the "sippy bourbon" alley, and good for those bourbon drinkers who like a well-aged, lower proof whiskey. Finishing the tasting pour, I was able to pick out some subtleties, such as caramel and honey. I think it would open up a little better if I had let it sit in the glass a little longer.

Recommendation:  This is a nice update to a classic bourbon. I never had the circa 1990's or Japanese I.W. HARPER's, so I can't speak to the parallels to the other offerings. If you like a smooth, sipping whiskey that you can enjoy with a cigar and good conversation, this is a good bourbon for you! I usually don't play into the aesthetics of the merchandising, but I simply cannot help that the decanter-style bottle reminds me of my grandfather's old whiskey decanter. I'm not sure how I feel about the stodgy, diamond-dimpled bottle. Some will probably like it. I suppose it gives this bourbon a classic feel. Maybe if I have this bourbon without seeing it poured from its bottle, my perception will change? 

Grade: 3 - Very Good. This is a class bourbon, no doubt. However, its failure to keep my taste buds dancing to the end of the song just takes it down a peg on the rating scale. This is a mild, drinkable whiskey with an old-school feel. For me, I'm a fan of the richer, spicier whiskies. This bourbon would almost certainly be a hit as a gift to your average consumer. It looks expensive, and therefore it must taste good. Right? Yes. It tastes good.