First of all, let’s just all agree right away that at four to six years old, this Very Old Barton is not very old at all. Granted, “very old” is a pretty damn relative term. A six year old banana, for example, would widely be considered “very old”, whereas a six year old Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) would widely be considered a young toddler. As a completely unrelated aside, I just learned that the name Galápagos is derived from the old Spanish, galápago, meaning (possibly)…”tortoise”. Therefore, a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is basically a Tortoise’s Tortoise, with, I’m assuming, the implication being that among Tortoises, the Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the loftiest breed of tortoise you could ever want to meet. Given that a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) can weigh up to 550 lbs.(!) and live to be 170 years old, I think we can also all agree the name is apt.
As I was saying, Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey…is not very old. Even by whisk(e)y standards, it’s not very old. Very old bourbon is, what the hell, let’s say 20 years old or more. Six year old bourbon is still in the horribly awkward stage where you date all the wrong people, commit completely to a philosophy, or author, or band which, 10 years down the road, you’ll wince at the memory of. This isn’t to say six year old bourbon isn’t good, it can be very, very good…it’s just not “very old”. Plus, these days, we don’t even know how old Very Old Barton is. Sure, by law, it’s gotta be at least two years old, but past that, it’s not an exact science. It used to say “6 years old” on the bottle, but, in late 2013 (I think), in a stroke of marketing genius, Buffalo Trace, removed the “years” and the “old” part of “6 years old” and just left a rather ambiguous “6” up there on the neck of the bottle. If you need more background on the subject, I’ll refer you to the always excellent Sku’s Recent Eats who looked into the move a bit more completely
Why the fuck would you do away with the age statement on a bottle of whisk(e)y, yet decide to keep the number of that former age statement on the label of the bottle? I understand opting for a non-age statement version, it eases supply demands, and makes things more flexible for a company. I don’t really care for the idea, but I understand it. But to change a brand’s age yet decide to keep the most prominent indicator of that age on the label is sneaky at best, definitely shameful, nefarious at worst, and just a little asshole-ish in general. So, just in case you’re fondling a bottle of Very Old Barton, just know that the “6” on the bottle’s neck is only an indicator of Sazerac’s/Buffalo Trace’s great desire to more or less fool you into thinking you’re buying something you’re really not.
Ok, with all that hot-headed wind-baggery out of the way, we can finally take a look the actual bourbon inside a bottle of Very Old Barton. Distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery (formerly known as Old Tom), and aged for approximately four to six years, Very Old Barton comes in a variety of alcohol-by-volume guises: an 80 proof, the 86 proof we’re looking at here, a 90 proof and a bottled-in-bond 100 proof.
The Nose: A nice, straightforward, “bourbon” nose. Carmel corn and baked apple are responsible for much of the sweetness, with a little orange juice thrown in for good measure. Balanced nicely by some vanilla bean, cinnamon & sugar toast, and damp, sawn oak. Subtler notes of coconut creme, Christmas spice, and burnt toffee in the background.
The Palate: A bit punchier than the nose with early brown sugar and orange sweetness, and quite a bit more vanilla. A bit of boiled sweet corn makes an appearance as well. While the rye is still very subtle, it’s more present on the palate than the nose. Slightly edgy oak leads to spicier notes of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper.
The Finish: The finish grows a little minty hot and quickly tannic and drying with oaky cinnamon and clove and briefly lingering hints of that boiled sweet corn.
Thoughts: Very Old Barton has a reputation of being a unheralded yet excellent value bourbon, and I’d say I have to agree with that. There’s nothing earth-shattering happening here, it’s a fairly straightforward, high-corn-mashbill bourbon, but it progresses nicely and is fairly well-balanced. There are some sharp edges to it, but I found it much smoother than expected. The quite dry, somewhat spirit-y finish comes out of nowhere a bit, but overall, this is a terrific bourbon for the money. Usually found for around $12-$16, I think I’d even have to say this just edges out my usual go-to cheap bourbon, Evan Williams.
Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, bourbon, OB ~2014
*As a completely unrelated aside, I usually like to include my own pics of bottles when I can, but in this case, the label was quite askew in one direction and the actual bottle was misshapen and leaned a bit in the other direction. I tried taking pictures of it, but to be honest, the pics looked so off, they made me a little sick-to-my-stomach to even look at ’em…so that’s why there’s the standard promo shot instead. Though why I’m worried about bottle shots making anyone nauseous and also including pictures of wanton tortoise sex with abandon admittedly seems a little inconsistent.