Somedays at K&L can get rather tedious and slow on the sales floor, but it always seems like some minor miracle of joy tends to occur in these situations - a birthday feast for the staff, a special celebrity customer, or in today's case a special tasting of the greatest bourbon ever produced. One of our former staff members came to me a few weeks back about finally pulling the trigger on a bottle of Hirsch 28 Year Bourbon, the very last remnants of the legendary Pennsylvanian distillery Michter's, which tragically closed in 1989 due to bankruptcy. Like Port Ellen and Stitzel Weller, once the stills were removed the possibility of a reopening was lost and the famous flavor of the whiskey could only be captured in the few aging reserves left. What currently remains is all in the hands of Hirsch, which used to be made at Michter's, and is currently being bottled in a 28 year old edition. We can still order it, but it isn't inexpensive, clocking in at $459.99 a bottle. However, many bourbon enthusiasts consider it to be the finest bourbon ever made.
When Don ordered the bottle I was excited for him to eventually open it and tell me what he tasted. Instead he did me one better and brought me a small sample for me to form my own opinion. For me, only in the case of Port Ellen whiskies has the prestige and hype behind a whiskey ever lived up to the actual tasting, so I was both nervous and overjoyed. What would it actually taste like? The result is sublime, although maybe not worth the pricetag. It is surely one of the most fantastic bourbons I have ever sampled, and perhaps the most deceptive one as well. The flavors are dark and powerful, but the structure is integrated almost like an old Bordeaux can be. There is never any true heat or strength to overwelm your senses, yet you feel as if you are tasting intensly. Despite 28 years in wood, the tannins and richness never approach the levels found in Van Winkle 15 or 20, or even 23. How this is possible is beyond me, but the accomplishment it is to their credit. 20+ year bourbon is always too woody for at least one person in the room, but the Hirsch 28 is balanced beyond a doubt. There is little vanilla or sweetness left, and most of the flavor comes from the wood, but somehow it is enough to unleash layer upon layer of spice and character. The once soft mouthfeel becomes a long, slow heat on the way down, and you realize that you're still drinking straight bourbon only after you've swallowed.
I suggest that our next tasting be extinct distilleries and we do two whiskies only: a distillery bottling of Hirsch 28 and a distillery bottling of Port Ellen cask strength. Any takers?