Isaac Wolfe Bernheim created this brand of Bourbon by combining his initials with the name “Harper”. He wanted a brand with his name on it but knew that “Bernheim” was too German-Jewish to appeal to the whole market. He saw a story in the newspaper about the race horse Tenbroeck and his trainer John Harper and decided that was a name that was “all American” created his brand. The Bourbon won 5 gold medals in competitions before prohibition and quickly became known as the “Gold Medal Bourbon”.

Schenley ended up with the brand in 1937 when they purchased the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. It was one of their flagship products and by the 1960s they advertised that it was available in over 80 countries around the world. It became extremely popular in Japan and by the late 1980s Schenley had pulled the brand from shelves in the United States to protect their Japanese market. In recent years Diageo, Schenley’s successor, has returned the brand to American markets. Today we will we tasting the 15 years old expression of the I.W. Harper.

I am joined again today by Sylvia Holden who works at Stitzel-Weller. She has an interest in Bourbon as part of her Kentucky heritage. Having spent three years overseas in South Korea she learned to appreciate her heritage. She also has a family tradition of drinking spirits rather than beer. She finds her generation has a huge interest in distilled spirits as all of her friends drink Bourbon on a regular basis.

I.W. Harper 15 Years Old

Proof: 86

Age: 15 years old

Nose: I find pears and apricots with a rich caramel/vanilla and baking spices. Oak wood and walnuts hide in the background. Sylvia finds honey, pecans with caramel and crème brule all rolled into one.

Taste: I find that old whiskey flavor of ripe fruit – apricots and dates, with nutmeg/allspice and rich caramel and a hint of leather. Sylvia finds baked apple with spice possibly nutmeg or cinnamon or gentle pepper. I find that dried cranberries really brings out the fruit and makes it brandy like with apricots and raisons. Sylvia finds the cranberry made the Bourbon stronger with fruits and floral notes. I find a pecan makes very oaky and one dimensional. Mostly tannins. Sylvia also found the pecan made it overly tannic.

Finish: I find the finish short and sweet with sweet spice and only a hint of oak. Sylvia finds the finish shockingly dry and short with some charred oak. The cranberries made the finish very sweet but longer lasting. Sylvia finds the cranberry made the finish more pleasant – less dry and softer. The pecan made the finish very astringent and tannic. Sylvia found the pecan made it too acidic and harsh.

Notes: I always liked the Harper Bourbons. This is no exception but I think I would like it better at a higher proof. Sylvia finds this to be an elegant and timeless Bourbon. She added a cube to her glass and finds it a very pleasant and silky drink. A Padron really brings out a nice milk chocolate flavor in the Bourbon.

Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach