*Sincere thanks to MH and Common Ground PR for the sample.
In his 2004 book, Bourbon Straight, Chuck Cowdery wrote about the Yellowstone brand, “There is no justification for a bourbon to be this bad…The venerable Yellowstone name deserves better. It should be put out of its misery.” Harsh words for an apparently harsh whiskey. In those days the Luxco-owned Yellowstone was a consummate bottom shelf dweller, and there it languished until 2015 when, instead of being put out of its misery, it was given a new lease on life. In the beginning of that year, Luxco partnered with the Limestone Branch Distillery, acquiring a 50% stake in the business. The ol’ “big company gobbling up a smaller one” doesn’t often make for a true feel good story, or even a very interesting one, but in this case, it actually does.
Limestone Branch was founded in 2011 by two Brothers, Stephen and Paul Beam. If that last name sounds just a wee bit familiar it’s only because it’s arguably the biggest name in all of Bourbon. The two are descended from Minor Case Beam on their father’s side. They are also apparently related on their mother’s side to the legendary distiller J.W. Dant. Hang on, now, this is where it starts getting good. At the end of the 1800’s, ol’ Minor Case owned a distillery called M.C. Beam Distillery in Gethsemane, KY. In 1910, he sold his namesake distillery to J.W. Dant’s son, J.B. Dant who was a very successful whiskeymaker in his own right. J.B. Dant needed another facility to increase production of his very popular brand named…Yellowstone Bourbon.
According to Mardee & Gaz Regan’s The Book of Bourbon, the Yellowstone brand was created in 1872. The story goes that a salesman returned from a trip out west, including a visit to a brand new National park, and convinced J.B. that naming his bourbon “Yellowstone” would give it wide appeal throughout the reconstructing and growing country. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Luxco owns the Yellowstone brand, which was apparently created with the widest possible market in mind, and they also own the Rebel Yell brand which was apparently created to appeal to a very specific disgruntled Confederate market. Early on, the production of Yellowstone was contracted out to a company named Taylor and Williams. Eventually, in 1903, the bourbon’s success led to Taylor & Williams’ incorporation with Dant as its president. After our failed experiment with prohibition, Dant & Co. built another distillery to handle their production. In 1944, this distillery and the Yellowstone brand was bought by Glenmore. In 1992, Glenmore was purchased, along with Schenley Industries, by Guinness and was morphed into United Distillers. The Yellowstone brand was soon after sold off to Heaven Hill and the Glenmore Distillery was closed. Heaven Hill turned around and sold Yellowstone to the David Sherman Co., which in 2006 was renamed Luxco. Whew, now that I’ve got all that off my chest…
This brings us back up to 2015 and Luxco’s 50% stake in Limestone Branch. Along with their investment, Luxco moved the Yellowstone brand moved from their stable to Limestone Branch with the brothers Beam being put in charge of reviving their family heirloom. Luxco’s investment has allowed the Beam’s distillery to expand, and in 2015, they began distilling and maturing Yellowstone bourbon according to an actual family recipe. Sadly, as we all know, bourbon takes a while, so to whet our appetites while we wait, Limestone Branch has dived into Luxco’s sourced stocks and released a pair of limited editions and the lower-priced, less limited Yellowstone Select. The 2015 Limited Edition was made up of 12 year old rye-d bourbon, 7 year old rye-d bourbon, and 7 year old wheated bourbon with the 7 year old whiskeys being “finished” in the emptied 12 year old barrels. The 2016 Yellowstone Limited Edition is comprised of both 12 year old and 7 year old rye bourbons which have been finished for a few months in new barrels that have been toasted rather than charred, a practice common to wine-making but rarely used in modern whiskey-dom. So there you have it, an adrift, bottom shelf brand put back in the hands of its heirs…pretty cool. Limestone Branch and Luxco have done a great job with the packaging and labeling of Yellowstone ,and I’m happy to say the whiskey in the bottle lives up to this great story.
The Nose: A bright, complex mix of sweetness, spice and oak. Juicy citrus, tangerines perhaps, fig paste, milky caramel, and a cherry-esque bit of Cheerwine. Behind that, vanilla icing and orgeat syrup, with a dusting of cocoa powder. The rye is prominent, cracked grain and toasted, with a hint of banana bread in the background. The wood is strong and upfront, but not aggressive, sawn boards and polished oak with dryish tannins and spice notes of Vietnamese cinnamon, ground nutmeg, vanilla bean, clove, and a faint whiff of mint.
The Palate: The sweetness steps aside here to let wood and spice show off more. Initially quite peppery – black peppercorns, slightly smoky – with robust, tannic oak. Carrying over from the nose, there are still juicy orange notes and a bit of cherry cough syrup. This is followed by vanilla syrup and dark, dark chocolate. Sturdy rye notes, again toasted and grainy, stand out and lead to another swell of wood and spice. The oak is rugged and grippy, hefty but again, not overpowering. Lots of tingly spice, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, clove, and mint.
The Finish: Quite long and filled with rye, oak and spice. A nice hint of dark fruit and vanilla sweetness tempers it all, but mostly its just a wonderfully lingering mingle of rye, oak, and spice.
Thoughts: Man, oh man, this is pretty great. It seems to just get better and better, as it moves along. The nose is quite nice, with its unexpected sweetness and balance. The palate turns things up a notch and gets weightier, but still manages to be balanced and composed. And then the almost endless, heady finish practically leaves one begging for more. This one is made for sipping, and the 50.5% ABV suits it well. Adding water actually did very little for it, bringing out more alcohol on the nose, and giving the palate and finish some unwanted sharp edges. Like I thought with Luxco’s Blood Oath II, as good as this is, the $100 price tag seems high. However, the stuff is apparently flying off the shelves, so Luxco and Limestone Branch have judged their market correctly. In any case, excellent bourbon, highly recommended.
- Cowdery, Charles K. Bourbon, straight: the uncut and unfiltered story of American whiskey. Chicago, IL: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004. Print.
- Cowdery, Chuck. “Luxco, Limestone Branch Partnership Will Return Yellowstone Bourbon to Its Roots.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog. N.p., 02 Dec. 2014. Web. Jan. & feb. 2017.
- “Luxco Acquires an Interest in Limestone Branch Distillery.” Luxco. N.p., 05 Jan. 2015. Web. Jan & Feb. 2017.
- “105 Years of Tradition in Yellowstone® Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon.” Luxco. N.p., 05 Oct. 2015. Web. Jan. & feb. 2017.
- “Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Luxco. N.p., 06 Oct. 2016. Web. Jan. & Feb. 2017.
- Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. Print.