Truly, of all the qualities one must need to possess in order to open a microdistillery in the U.S., “patience” has to be chief among them.
Unlike in the world of beer, it’s literally impossible for certain kinds of world-class spirits to be produced in the first months a new distillery is in business. Or within its first year. Or within its first several years. Compare that to the beer world, wherein a just-opened brewery can theoretically be making IPA just as tasty and just as fresh as the Tree Houses or Trilliums of the world. No, it’s not likely that the just-opened brewpub down the street is outdoing some of the best breweries in the world at their own game, but it is at least possible. With a just-opened distillery, on the other hand, you can say with certainty that they won’t be immediately selling any well-aged whiskey … unless, of course, the business in question simply bought someone else’s aged product.
Atlanta’s Old Fourth Distillery is an odd, special case, when it comes to whiskey. Their newly released, single barrel Bottled in Bond (BiB) Bourbon has been an immediate critical hit, winning a double gold medal at the 2019 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. That this whiskey is sourced from MGP of Indiana isn’t terribly surprising—many young distilleries get their bourbon and rye from the massive factory that is MGP. What’s weird is that Old Fourth Ward first purchased this whiskey from MGP four years ago and then took it upon themselves to age the spirit in their own bonded rickhouse. It begs the question: Who deserves more of the plaudits for how well this bourbon turned out? The guys in Indiana who distilled it, or the guys in Atlanta who aged it for four years and guided it into the attractive bottle in which it now resides? It’s something that I’ve never really heard of a distillery doing: Contracting white whiskey (due to a lack of distilling capacity), and then taking over the aging process on their own.
Regardless, this bourbon is on store shelves now, and I have to commend Old Fourth Distillery for that all-important patience. There was absolutely nothing preventing these guys from taking their MGP white dog and releasing it as soon as it hit two (or even one) years old. At two years, they could have labeled it as “straight” bourbon. But instead, they plowed on ahead, waiting the full four years (and full 100 proof) necessary to label the product as Bottled in Bond. And the wait has produced something that is genuinely quite tasty indeed. I can’t help but wonder if the balmy Georgia climate played its own part in accelerating the process of the liquid’s aging, just a bit.
On the nose, O4W BiB is redolent of sweet spice, dark caramel, vanilla bean and barrel char. If that sounds to you like a lot of bourbon descriptions, that’s because it is—this offering is quintessentially bourbon-y. It’s a classic expression of 100-proof, bottled-in-bond bourbon, with a level of alcohol heat that is nicely suppressed on the nose. As it sits in the glass, it unfolds with a deep profile of sweet spice (ginger, cinnamon, clove), brown sugar and raspberry fruitiness. It’s a lovely nose, and an unmistakably bourbon one.
On the palate, this is a well-balanced bourbon that eventually tips in favor of richness and baking spices once again. Brown sugar/caramel sweetness, laced with vanilla, carries the front end, with corny impressions and a viscous, rather unctuous texture that is no doubt lent by its unfiltered nature. It’s mildly decadent—a good amount of residual sweetness, without going overboard, but enough to give it a “brown sugar cookie” allure. The back end is loaded with baking spices; lots of sweet cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, with hints of red fruitiness popping up from time to time. Alcohol heat is respectable throughout and well integrated for neat drinking.
All in all, this is rather delightful. It’s not the most subtle or complex bourbon in the world, and some bourbon fans would probably desire more oak, or find it too spicy and sweet, but in my eyes this is a very obvious crowd-pleaser. Even the $50 price tag seems pretty fair, given the fact that Old Fourth spent four years aging this in their own rickhouse before attempting their first-ever bourbon release. You don’t make that kind of sacrifice, only to put out a $25 bottle of bourbon.
I don’t always make a comment about cocktails in a bourbon review, but given this one’s particular profile, I’ll just say it: Rarely have I tasted anything that seems like such an obvious fit for an Old Fashioned. This will make for a pretty spectacular one, I expect.
The initial release of Old Fourth BiB Bourbon is a mere 75 barrels, to be followed by regular releases for the foreseeable future. Eventually, the distillery intends to distill the spirit themselves in a larger, second distilling facility in Atlanta, but for now it will continue to be distilled in Indiana and then aged four years in Georgia. As far as I’m concerned, that’s produced a lovely result.
Distillery: Old Fourth Distillery
City: Atlanta, GA
Style: Bottled in bond bourbon
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.