Based in San Francisco, Fat Labrador Distillers has gradually released various sourced and wood-finished expressions under the Whiskey Town banner, including a stave-finished, 3 year old bourbon from Indiana. The other of their early sourced releases is an altogether different beast and the first in their “lost barrel” series: a 26 year old American whiskey distilled all the way back in 1992.
With just 192 bottles in the run, there isn’t a ton of info available on this spirit. As far as how this exceptionally old whiskey made to Fat Labrador’s bottling line is a bit of a mystery, but the brand was able to release this much information:
We don’t know the entire story because the Lost Barrels came to us under a non-disclosure agreement, but this is what we do know: The whiskey was originally mashed, fermented, and distilled in Indiana. It was a special, very limited, experimental run that never reached the market.
It’s a 97% corn and 3% malted barley mash bill aged in used American oak barrels. It was ultimately bottled at 101 proof (which is cask strength, according to Fat Labrador, is cask strength). While the bottle says non-chill filtered, Fat Labrador’s website specifies it did in fact undergo a “light” chill filtering process.
Used cooperage implies the whiskey may have been laid down as light whiskey from MGP. (It’s relatively common for bottlers to release sourced light whiskey as American whiskey due to lack of consumer familiarity with the category.) But since we don’t know the still and barrel entry proofs for this liquid, it’s tough to be sure. And the fact that it was aged primarily in Kentucky adds another link to the mystery chain.
Fascinating provenance, indeed. Let’s dive in and see how it stacks up.
On first glance, the pale goldenrod color is a clue as to the used cooperage. The nose punches above its proof out of the gate. There’s grated nutmeg and a variety of baking spices: cinnamon, cloves, and just a touch of anise. Then hints of burnt caramel and dark nougat gradually make their presence known. There’s not much fruit to speak of beyond some spiced and dried citrus peel. It’s a fascinating nose, light in some aspects but not subdued. It’s clearly neither bourbon or rye, and certainly not American single malt, though I’m getting some hints of malted barley disproportionate to the 3% listed on the mash.
At first sip, there’s that nutmeg, thick and creamy with plenty of vanilla, almost like the very first sip of fresh eggnog. I get a tiny bit of a nutty note at the very center, and the combination of that sweet and creamy exterior combined with the nutty note reminds me of biting into an Abba-Zaba candy bar, or maybe an old-fashioned buttered caramel. It’s eggnog and buttery candy, all with a nutmeg and spice note that keeps things warm on the way down. Despite the pleasant development of flavors, the whiskey is a bit thin on mouthfeel, and I can’t help but wonder what chill filtering took from the overall experience.
The finish certainly isn’t short in the common sense, but after that creaminess on the palate, I was expecting the sweetness and spice to linger for just a bit longer. It’s warming all the way down, but that creates a bit of a separation between the taste and the alcohol; you feel the ethanol linger for noticeably longer than you taste the whiskey.
This is a whiskey that certainly packs a lot of mystery in with its flavors, highlighting some flavor notes I only rarely get from American spirits. If it is in fact light whiskey, it’s a reminder of a spirit that should probably get more consideration and weight as its own category. And if it isn’t, then it’s an even more fascinating sip I’m unlikely to come across again soon.
A- / $125 / fatlabradordistillers.com