When I first started writing about this one, I spent a fair amount of time going down a rabbit hole or wolf hole or elk hole researching the history of the Northern Rocky Mountains wolf (Canis lupus irremotus) in Yellowstone Park. Suffice it to say, the post was getting a bit too unwieldy and un-whiskey-related. The thing is, it’s a fascinating, absorbing story. In the 1920’s the government short-sightedly decided that the wolves needed to be removed from the park. Once that population was reduced to pretty much zero, several Yellowstone ecosystems began to suffer. Over the years, the resulting damage did not go unnoticed, but thanks to the power of ignorant lobbyists and the unbearably slow speed of bureaucracy, it took nearly 70 years for the wolves to be reintroduced. And that’s where things get truly remarkable. Wolves are known as apex predators, and the release of 31 wolves into the park in 1995, helped precipitate a trophic cascade. Trophic cascades are an expanding ripple of change in an ecosystem caused by the removal or re-introduction of one of these apex predators. From elk herds, to rodent relocation, to insect populations, to plant pollination, to the course of rivers even, the changes the re-introduction of a mere 31 wolves put in motion in Yellowstone are an incredible example of the fragility and fluid nature of the environment. If, like me, you get perhaps a little too excited whilst learning about apex such and suches and trophic whatzits, I’d recommend looking into this story further, starting with the video at the end of this review.
So…less wolves, more whiskey from here on in. I’d like to refer you to my review of the 2016 Yellowstone Limited Edition for a slightly more in-depth look at the Yellowstone brand. Or, if you’d rather just get on with it and not go clicking around like a herd of predator-free elk, here’s a quick rundown. The Yellowstone brand was founded in 1872 and named after this park with the wolves, the elk, and the trophic cascading. It went through many ownership changes over the years, and went from being a high quality bourbon to being a sub par bottom-shelf dweller. In 2015, the company that owned Yellowstone, Luxco, purchased a 50% share in a new distillery named Limestone Branch. Limestone Branch was founded by two Beams, Stephen and Paul, who happen to be relatives of J.B. Dant, one of the founders of the Yellowstone brand. Like US wildlife officials returning wolves to their natural habitat, Luxco returned the Yellowstone brand to the family that helped create it in the first place. And they all got to work restoring the brand to its former glory. Starting in 2015, they’ve dropped excellent yearly limited editions, and in 2016, launched this core expression, the Yellowstone Select.
Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is at this point a sourced whiskey. Limestone Branch has added some of their own spirit to the last two Yellowstone limited editions, but do not have enough stock yet to supply a widely released expression such as this. Given Luxco’s involvement with Limestone Branch, and their long relationship with Heaven Hill, Heaven Hill seems the best guess as to where this bourbon comes from. The Yellowstone Select is reportedly made up of four to seven year old bourbons, and has a bottle adorned with another great label from David Cole Creative. Indeed, the bottle reviewed here and pictured above is last year’s model. The most recent iteration of the Select features a raised glass bottle and an even greater label from David Cole Creative, and by greater I mean more contrast, a bit easier to read, and better stand-out-on-the-shelf-ness. So, new bottle, but important to note that the whiskey in this new bottle will remain the same.
The Nose: Somewhat light, nutty, and almost dry-ish seeming. There’s a lot of tart, green-ish apple (but not in a flawed, acetaldehyde kind of way) dipped in thin caramel, some orange zest, and a bit of Montmorency cherry. Behind that, almost smoky, dry vanilla bean, and burnt sugars – think caramelized bananas or slightly overdone candied nuts. Subtler hints of toasted almonds and oiled leather lead to integrated, relatively low-key oak notes. Along with the wood, there’s cinnamon, nutmeg, and fainter hints of ginger and black pepper.
The Palate: Lightly oily mouthfeel and a bit more zippy and active than the nose. While the tart apple and lemon-y citrus are here, there’s a bit more dark sugar as well – dark honey, butterscotch, and Demerara sugar. More earthy vanilla bean and robust toasted, candied nut notes, with a bit of dark, bitter chocolate as well. The rye is more prevalent, both toasty and a little herbal, peppery and minty. Stronger, grippier oak notes, with a healthy dose of warming cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and a whisper of star anise.
The Finish: Lengthy and tannic, and a little numbing, with an initial swell of citrus and honey. That fades leaving oak, spice and burnt sugar to linger longest.
Thoughts: Good stuff. This one really grew on me. Initially, I thought the subdued nose and slight youthful heat might not bode well, but as things settled down, it became more expressive and matured. I enjoyed the tart apple and nutty notes quite a bit, they helped keep the flavor profile from drifting down a predictable path. While perhaps a little hot, this works as an everyday sipper, and is pretty delightful over ice. It’s certainly a very respectable return to form for a whiskey that was considered quite poor not too long ago. Limestone Branch and Luxco have done a great job with the brand in general. My only quibble with this one is the price. It’s a good 4-7 year old bourbon with an interesting profile, but the $35-$45 range seems maybe a little high for what’s in the bottle. With that caveat in mind, I think I’d still recommend it.
Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2018
- Farquhar, Brodie. “Yellowstone National Park Wolf Reintroduction Is Changing the Face of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Yellowstone Park, 21 June 2011, web.archive.org/web/20111021114541/http://www.yellowstonepark.com/2011/06/yellowstone-national-park-wolf-reintroduction-is-changing-the-face-of-the-greater-yellowstone-ecosystem/.
- “History of Wolves in Yellowstone.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_wolves_in_Yellowstone.
- “Wolf Restoration.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolf-restoration.htm.
- “Wolves.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolves.htm.
- “Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Reveals New Label.” Kentucky Distillers Association, 26 Feb. 2019, kybourbon.com/yellowstone-select-kentucky-straight-bourbon-reveals-new-label/.
- “Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Limestone Branch Distillery, limestonebranch.com/yellowstone-select/.