Nose: Cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and caramel with a slight metallic tinge. A little alcohol pulls through as well resulting in some warming tingling of the nostrils.
Palate: The flavors are led by heat up front, more than would be expected for the proof and as compared to preceding releases. A wide range of complex flavors are hiding behind the heat but it takes a little concentration to sort through them. Barrel char, dark chocolate, rye spice, cinnamon stick, cigar box, caramel, and vanilla follow the heat. Burnt brown sugar and citrus round things out. All of this is capped with some more heat as you swallow, so if you drink it too fast you might just miss the complexity of flavors with this one finding heat at the front and backend of the sip. Bold and complex overall.
Finish: The heat lingers for a few seconds then immediately tapers off. Hints of the flavors on the palate linger, with barrel char and burnt brown sugar being the most prominent for me. Medium to long lasting.
Uniqueness: This edition is the most bold and complex of the limited release Birthday Bourbons I’ve sampled. This also happened to be the first year Brown-Forman stopped giving detail on the bottle, so we may naturally assume it shares a similar mash bill with previous releases. However, the flavor profile is so different this may not be the case, leaving us something to ponder. In fact, I related the flavor profile more closely to Elijah Craig 12 Year and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof more than anything else I could think of - the bold, dark sugars, and barrel char elements specifically.
Value: Even though Brown-Forman is no longer telling us the specifics about the release as of this year, $55 for a bold, complex, 12 year-old limited release is still a bargain.
Overall: My first few sittings with this bourbon left me wondering what others saw in it, as it made other reviewers’ top 10 lists consistently. It just seemed hot and unbalanced to me, and I often sip barrel proofers in case you were wondering. Despite this, I kept pouring more on different occasions. Over time, I’ve warmed up to this bourbon and recognize that its complexity of flavors are what allow it to shine, albeit hidden behind a fairly hot and somewhat unbalanced sip. For me, this is to bourbon what stout is to beer - rich, deep, and bold in that sense. To appreciate it I had to extend the reaches of my palate in order to dig deeper into the complexities it offers.
To sum it up: A barrel of complex flavors hiding amidst a fairly bold and hotter-than-anticipated sip.
-Nick - Reviewed: 9/2014
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