Several years ago I met the team who were putting together a distillery in Colorado and had picked Old Elk as the brand they wanted to produce. The brand had been abandoned and they picked up the trademark. They asked me to do some research on the brand’s heritage – which I did. I am happy to say that the brand is now back in the market.
The brand was created in 1880 when Richard P. Stoll, Henry C. Clay and James S. Stoll, all of Lexington, Ky., built the Stoll, Clay & Co. Distillery just north of Lexington. Five years later, Henry C. Clay left the Company and the new firm was renamed Stoll, Vanatta & Co. In 1888, Stoll, Vanatta & Co. registered the Old Elk trademark for Bourbon and Rye. The distillery eventually became the Edge Cliff Distillery. During Prohibition the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery acquired the brand and bottle Old Elk as a “medicinal spirit”. After Prohibition the brand was produced by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery up until the company was sold to Norton-Simon in 1972. Norton-Simon abandoned the brand and Old Elk laid dormant until the new owners revived it.
This whiskey is a “blend of straight Bourbons”. There is an explanation on the label as to what this means, but in my experience, it means they are blending straight Bourbons produced in two or more states. They also make the claim that they are using four times more malt than other distilleries, but they don’t give a percentage of rye in their mash bill. Since Heaven Hill and Brown-Forman use 10% or more malt in their mash bills, one would assume a 40% malt mash bill in Old Elk. That could be total malt and they are malting all of the grain other than corn. It would be helpful if the label explained this claim more thoroughly. Despite the murkiness of the label, I do like this whiskey.
Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon
Age: 4 Years Old
Nose: Sweet caramel, ripe apple and pear with a hint of oak.
Taste: Vanilla, ripe pears and a little oak. Not complex but pleasant. When tasted with a dried cranberry the pear flavor becomes more of a ripe apple. Tasted with a pecan and some tart flavors come forward – green apple and citrus.
Finish: Medium long with some sweet oak wood. The cranberry shortened the finish almost to non-existence. The pecan brought out the wood tannins and pepper in the finish.
I am pairing this whiskey with a Don Pepin Garcia “Cuban Classic” cigar. I find the smoke to have some earthy tobacco notes sweetened with a hint of honey and vanilla and a hint of cedar spice. The Old Elk enhances the honey notes and makes the vanilla creamier. The smoke brings out the tart green apple notes while keeping the sweet vanilla up front. A very nice pairing.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller