The bonding period for whiskey – the amount of time the distillery could age their whiskey before paying the Federal Excise Tax – was 8 years until 1958 when it was increased to 20 years. That is why you see many 8 year old whiskey brands being called “Very Old” at 8 years old. The distillers did not age past 8 years because once they paid the taxes on the whiskey, they wanted to bottle and sell it. This not only gave them money to pay the taxes, but also kept taxed whiskey from evaporating in the aging process. 

Very Old Barton was considered the premium whiskey made at the Barton Distillery in Bardstown. It always had a good reputation in Kentucky as a very good whiskey that was very competitive on price. It was always an 8 year old product until the 21st century. The growth of Bourbon sales and the change of ownership of the distillery caused the age statement to first drop to 6 years old and then disappear completely from the label. The brand’s reputation had slipped to that of a well whiskey at bars so the older whiskey available began to be put into their newest premium brand, Ridgemont Reserve 1792.

This bottle is one of the decanter bottles that were usually released around Christmas. There is a “73” on the bottom of the bottle and the fact that it is a 4/5 quart bottle dates the whiskey to before the metric system was introduced in the late 1970s. The bottle I sampled was sealed but there has been evaporation. About a third of the bottle had evaporated and I suspect the proof has dropped in the bottle. The whiskey is still fairly clear but some oxidation has likely taken place, although not as pronounced as I thought it would be. 

Very Old Barton Bourbon

Proof: 90

Vintage: circa 1973

Age: 8 years old

Nose: Lots of fine leather, vanilla, citrus –lemon and tangerine, with sweet oak.

Taste: Caramel, leather and tobacco, a hint of chocolate with baking spices. Tasted with a dried cranberry and the whiskey had a thin mouth-feel with lots of vanilla and baking spices. Tasted with a pecan and the oak tannins dominated the flavor.

Finish: Short but dry with oak and a hint of baking spices. The cranberry shortened the finish even more with only a hint of spice. The pecan brought out a peppery note to the finish and lengthened it quite a bit.

I am pairing this Bourbon with a Nub Habano cigar. I am expecting the earthy notes of the smoke will enhance the leather in the Bourbon. To my surprise, the Bourbon gave the smoke a sweet note of honey and vanilla. The smoke brought out the chocolate notes of the Bourbon and enhanced the pepper notes on the finish. I think I will save this Bourbon for cigars as I think that was the best pairing of the day.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller