*A sincere thanks to AP & Sazerac for the sample.
Ah, bourbon lore! Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain whether bourbon’s history and its key players are actual, factual occurrences on a timeline, or just juicy, apocryphal stuff exploited by marketers to sell more booze. Did Elijah Craig really invent bourbon? (No.) Was there actually a “Whiskey Rebellion”? (Yes, but it was less exciting than it sounds.) Was bourbon named after Bourbon County, Kentucky? (Uh…most likely not, but…you know, maybe?). The list could go on and on. Bourbon’s historical landscape is littered with bottles bearing the names of its biggest personalities: Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Elmer T. Lee, Booker’s, Pappy Van Winkle, Basil Hayden’s, W.L. Weller, and fairly recently, Zackariah Harris. Ol Zak Harris was…let’s see…he was…uh…was he? Was he the first one to throw some fermented corn juice into a still? Nope. Did he, due to his smaller stature, actually live in an old bourbon barrel at the distillery? Nope. Did he single-handedly sail down the Mississippi, picking off miscreants with his alarmingly accurate aim, and avoiding sand bars like a pro in order to deliver a shipment of bourbon to slake New Orlean’s thirst during that one really hot, dry spell in August of 1830? Nope. No, you can look high and low for compelling stories about Zackariah Harris’ contribution to the world of Bourbon and you will come up empty. Why? Because Ol’ Zack Harris didn’t exist until around 2011 when this lower priced, Barton 1792 distillery produced bourbon was released into the wild. He’s a figment of marketers’ and focus groups’ imaginations. Zackariah sounds and looks appropriately old and bourbon-y somehow, and Harris is a fairly unassailable surname thanks to luminaries such as Richard, Phil, Emmylou, Neil Patrick, Bob, and Zonker. Put those two together and you’ve got a pretty good sound “old bourbon guy” name, right?
It’s tempting to be overly derisive about slapping a made-up “old bourbon guy” name on a bottle, but it’s long been common practice in the bourbon world. There never was an Ezra Brooks, an I.W. Harper, or an Old Fitzgerald, those personas were fabricated to grace a label and sell booze. It’s not all that much different then Heaven Hill (which was founded in 1935) naming their flagship bourbon Evan Williams even though Evan Williams had nothing to do with the product whatsoever because…he died more than 100 years prior to Heaven Hill opening up shop. Really, is it any worse to have made up a fictitious person to sell a brand when there are bourbons named Fighting Cock, Larceny, or Rebel Yell are out there? I think not. Besides, this is a sub-$20 bottle of booze, what were you expecting? If you want actual bourbon history, spend the money on a book.
The Nose: A little bolder and spicier than I was expecting. Quite sweet as well with thick, orange-infused caramel and cinnamon honey on buttered toast. Vanilla bean, toasted coconut, creamed corn and decent rye notes helps give even more unexpected complexity. Strong cinnamon, rough sawn oak, and faint hint of star anise. The faintest whiff of solvent gives away a bit of this one’s youth and price-point.
The Palate: The palate doesn’t quite live up to the nose, but still manages to surprise a bit. There’s an initial, slightly vague, caramel-y, juicy citrus sweetness that moves into some burnt popcorn and wood notes which almost cover up the rye that carries over from the nose. Somewhat spicy and woody with bitter clove, cinnamon, vanilla bean, cut wood, and barrel char.
The Finish: A little hot. Spicy and slightly bitter with rye, vanilla, cinnamon, coriander, a bit of clove and some rough-ish barrel char.
Thoughts: A pleasant surprise. Whereas Kentucky Tavern basically just lives up to its price and appearance by being a passable inexpensive bourbon, Zackariah Harris performs a little beyond its paygrade. The unexpectedly complex nose with its rye notes, and relatively easy “sippability” of this one makes it easy to see the lineage with its with its more mature and refined sibling, the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. While it does start strong, it fades a bit down the stretch and burns a bit too much, but for the price, I’m willing to cut ol’ Zack a little slack. Again, my baseline for good $12-$17 bourbon is Evan Williams, which Zackariah Harris’ bottle resembles somewhat. I still like the Evan Williams better, but for around $12 – $17 for a 750ml bottle…this is a pretty decent value.