A couple of weeks back an American friend visiting from Detroit came into town with a bottle of Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for us to try. It's not available in the LCBO and has never been listed, so naturally I was curious. The label puzzled me further as it offered up a rather convoluted pedigree of the whisky which was "inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsch" and distilled in Indiana before being bottled in Silverton, Ohio for San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling Co.
"Huh? But it says Kentucky? Whose whisky am I drinking anyway?"
Turns out that Anchor Distilling (a non-distilling producer) acquired the Hirsch brand in 2011 as part of their pivot into the spirits market. Partnering with Berry Bros. & Rudd, England's oldest wine and spirits merchant, the new owners at Anchor Distilling expanded into the thriving global premium spirits market and Hirsch was to be part of their "super premium" line. In their own words, the new A.H. Hirsch whisky brand is, "an inspired reflection of the legendary A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16 Year Old that many consider to be the finest expression of American bourbon ever produced." If you've never tried this fabled release, you're likely not going to get the chance to do so. The last of this whisky was sold in 2009 and although you may find a few floating around online; expect to pay top dollar.
Bottled at 46% ABV, this version of Hirsch comes from an unknown distillery and is a blend of bourbons ranging from seven to nine years old. A little digging reveals some evidence that points to Midwest Grain Products (MGP), formerly known as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), a massive industrial distilling operation on the Indiana side of the Ohio River as the source of the distillate. While Anchor is keeping the producer a secret, they're remarkably upfront about the composition of the mash bills of their spirit. Using rye grain sourced from Northern Europe and corn from Indiana and Ohio, the producer makes two different spirits with differing levels of rye grain which are then married for an unspecified time to make a final product with a rye content around 26%.
Nose: Upfront with a strong aroma of maraschino cherries in grape soda underpinned by toasted oak with a drizzle of hazelnut oil.
Palate: Medium-bodied yet surprisingly dry given the amount of fruit on the nose. Rye-forward and zesty with the cherry fruitiness taking on more of a marzipan character. Toasted oak notes become more bitter and range from the nutty to almost aniseed-like. With some time in the glass, a welcomed salted caramel sweetness emerges.
Finish: Good length to the finish which evokes cherry lozenges with hint of orange oil that settle into a smear of dates and ginger spiced toffee.
Overall: A straight-forward, dry bourbon with a big cherry and spice component. There's a strong rye flavour here yet its restrained from veering off into perfumey or overly astringent territory. I've never had the storied bourbon upon which Anchor has launched this product line yet, I'm having a hard time getting overly excited about it based upon what I tasted. Our tasting panel found it to be a "one-trick pony" and middle-of-the-road. It also lost some marks because of the seemingly unnecessary branding story that only served to cast doubt on the quality and providence of the whisky. Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a decent, albeit rather simple bourbon with an incredibly long name and its flavour profile will likely appeal to beginners or those who are looking for a fruitier rye-driven style for mixing in classic cocktails.