Homestead Bourbon: For the Mad Men in All Of Us

Homestead Bourbon: For the Mad Men in All Of Us

By Neal MacDonald, Editor

THE BOTTOM LINE RIGHT AT THE TOP

Homestead Bourbon is designed for the bourbon crowd—the kind that loiters on message boards and argues about mash bills in their basements with their (few) friends. Homestead describes itself as barrel proof and uncut and it tastes every inch of that promise. This is way too much bourbon for the novice. Luckily for us here at Proof66, we love whiskey so it was a pleasure to drink. In our extensive trials, we find it can compete freely with the highly decorated bourbons of the world at a very decent price point. To us, it finds its greatest glory in classic bourbon cocktails. We were blown away by how good it was in a Bardstown Sling. We highly recommend this as a kind of go-to bourbon for whiskey drinkers who like to mix on occasion (thereby hiding a bit of the Homestead’s youth) and preserve their prestige bottles for special events, where the greater aging can be solemnly appreciated. It’s hard to put truly expensive bourbons in a drink, so the Homestead fits perfectly as an excellent bourbon that begs to be put in a cocktail. Just needs a little more age and oak to get that highest rating.

Now for the details…

So what’s up with Homestead Bourbon?

There are a lot of bourbons coming on the market that are private labels promising quality at good price points… many of them successful (some not). Homestead is competing in this space, where the owners Reggie Amos and John Andrews (of Homestead, Iowa) are looking to offer a top-shelf bourbon specifically for bourbon drinkers. They’re using selected whiskey from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) with a base of corn and 20% rye, which promises a smoother, sweeter profile. (The bottling actually takes place at Strong Spirits in Kentucky.) So as you measure up this bourbon in the marketplace among its peers, you could lay it out like this:

 

Blanton’s

Booker’s

Jim Beam

Homestead

Price

$50

$55

$18

$42

Age

5 – 10 years

6 – 8 years

4 years

4

Pedigree

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery

Homestead Bourbon

 

What’s the deal with the higher proof? Does that matter?

Bourbon sits in the barrel at spectacularly high proofs. It comes off the still at something around 120 - 140 proof (70%) and then gets dumped in a barrel to sit for several years. Vodka, in comparison, comes off the still measuring at least 190 proof (95%). You may ask: what is that left over percentage if it isn’t alcohol? It’s other “stuff” and that stuff retains some flavor of the grain (hence, whiskey is more flavorful than vodka). Some of the alcohol evaporates away over time (the “angel’s share”) leaving the proof in the barrel at varying degrees when drained for bottling but often ranging between 115 – 130 proof. Usually it is blended back with water and bottled at something much less, often ranging between 80 – 90 proof. For the vast majority of the world, diluting with water is doing the purchaser a favor because the high proof stuff is hard to take. But for the true bourbon nerd, they bottle it as is coming off the barrel to give you the full, bracing experience. So yes, it matters and that’s what you have with Homestead (and Booker’s).

So what’s the deal with the lack of filtration? Does that matter?

There are fatty acids that develop in the bourbon and this gives it a cloudy look and somewhat of a viscous, syrupy mouth-feel. Again, filtering is considered a good thing for the majority of people—chilling the liquid tends to solidify the fatty acids so that they can be filtered out in a fine mesh sieve. The result is a clearer bourbon and a lighter tasting mouth-feel. But for those bourbon nerds, they scorn such pretensions that get between their geeked-out palate and the bourbon. When you get a single-barrel bourbon, they want it in the bottle just as if they stuck a straw in a barrel in the warehouse and started to suck. So again, it really does matter.

Where’s the Homestead actually coming from?

Homestead Bourbon does not come from an historic and picturesque distillery. If you’re buying bourbon partly for the romance of the distillery, you’ll need to look elsewhere. This bourbon is acquired from Indiana, selected from barrels aged at least 4 years, and then bottled by Strong Spirits in Kentucky. The brand is overseen and managed by the owners of the Homestead label. One nice thing: many people try and disguise where their whiskey is coming from—many, many brands are private-labeled in exactly this fashion—but Homestead is very upfront and even somewhat proud with LDI as the source for their bourbon.

Should I mix Homestead with Coke or some other cola?

Christ, no. We said this is designed for mixing in cocktails not drowning it in corn syrup. Go buy a cheap bottle of spiced rum or mainstream bourbon if you want to drink like this.

Well then, who is the market for Homestead Bourbon?

Homestead is an example of the upscale bourbon market but at a price point of what we would regard as the entry level price for the truly prestigious stuff. This consumer category is an interesting one: notorious for being patriotic and opinionated towards particular brands but also willing to explore. To entice exploration, Homestead needs to create buzz and taste very, very good. They have to give a small market a reason to reach out and look for Homestead. As we mentioned above, Homestead is most successful with classic bourbon cocktails and is well worth the stretch for people looking to make excellent drinks. 

What does Homestead taste like by itself in comparison to others?  

First off, basically none of these upper-end, single-barrel bourbons is meant to be drunk by itself so this is a stupid way to test whiskey to begin with. But of the spectrum, we baselined with the Jim Beam white label (easily drunk neat at 80 proof); Blanton’s (an interim 93 proof that the stalwart can drink neat); and then the single-barrel entries of Booker’s and Homestead (stupid to drink neat). Nevertheless, we find it a good way to get to know a bourbon.

Jim Beam White Label: Your garden variety Jim Beam isn’t really in the running. It’s competent (nice bourbon flavor, light, short finish) but not meant to run with these horses. Any of them are better—far and away better—and worth the extra dollars from your wallet (unless you’re mixing with coke). This being said, we’re going to exclude Jim Beam White Label from the rest of the tasting… it’s just not fair or appropriate.

Blanton’s is chill-filtered and it shows. It has a light, crisp and clean sweetness. It’s a demonstration of what awesome bourbon is.

Booker’s on the other hand, is what bourbon is when is when it’s just sitting in the barrel—125+ proof, viscous and velvety in the mouth, and you’ve got to brace yourself before drinking. It’s an awesome experience that you feel all through your torso and curls your toes. All wood flavors concentrated and beating you about the tongue, throat, and belly… one sip and you’re tasting it for full minutes afterwards.

Homestead can legitimately run in this Blanton’s/Booker’s crowd. That’s an achievement (and, frankly, surprised us). There’s a honey sweetness to it and it comes in exactly between the light Blanton’s and the heavier Booker’s. It’s also hotter than it should be even given the proof and it perhaps lacks a bit of the richness from the full oak we’re getting off the other two. We attribute this to the shorter aging. But trying to strictly rank the quality of the three, it’s very close. Just tasting neat, we think the prices are exactly correlated with the taste—so for 2/3 the cost of Booker’s, one could easily go with Homestead and have enough money left over to buy a couple of nice steaks.  

What does it taste like with a little ice and water?

We tried to be scientifically precise to really understand the bourbons… we added exactly the amount of water necessary to bring each sample in our glass to exactly 75 proof. We wanted each bourbon to sing based on the merits of its flavors rather than the concentration of those flavors.

Blanton’s is nicely flavored, a touch of sweetness, but the finish drops off greatly even with the small amount of water we added. That was a bit disappointing.

Booker’s is much heavier with a deeper char than the Blanton’s. Even watered back, one can still appreciate how robust the charred oak is and the finish stands up to the dilution.

Homestead was an interesting contrast. It has none of the char that Booker’s so proudly displays. Instead, it is a lighter, sweeter flavor. At identical proofs, the Homestead is very, very similar to Blanton’s with the same lightness and character, this despite the fact the Blanton’s is filtered and the Homestead is not so we&am

How does it taste in a classic Old Fashioned? 

We watered back each bourbon to 75 proof and made an old fashioned with muddled fresh orange, maraschino cherry, and 2 dashes each of angostura and orange bitters with a bit of agave syrup to sweeten: classic all the way. We used no ice because we wanted the dilution to be identical… though know in practice that the varying proofs will vary the taste significantly in identical preparations.

Blanton’s was pretty weak in an Old Fashioned. We hate to say this about one of our favorite personal bourbons… but this is one that shouldn’t be adulterated with anything lest it lead to its ruin.

Booker’s makes a fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s probably hard to put a $60 whisky in mashed fruit and sugar but it’s highly rewarding. The char cuts through even an over-enthusiastic bartender’s preparation.

Homestead, surprisingly, held right with the Booker’s. Makes a great Old Fashioned but without the char. Its signature is the oak rather than the char (meaning vanilla/caramel and other flavors). Again, a split: you like the char, you go with Booker’s; you don’t, you go with Homestead. If you care about the money, then you go with Homestead. It’s way easier to put a $40 bourbon in a cocktail than a $60 one.

How about in something else? Like a Bardstown Sling?

What’s a Bardstown Sling? It’s a cocktail made to work with a little fruit but designed to work with the bourbon instead of mask it. It calls 2 parts bourbon and 1 part each of Cointreau, cranberry juice, and juice of half a lime. So what happened?

Blanton’s… well, again we say it: mix with air and good intentions only. This doesn’t work in mixed setting. It doesn’t like company. It was okay in the cocktail but it could’ve been any bourbon and didn’t at all add to the taste.

Booker’s is much better… very good but the lingering char aftertaste fought bitterly with the citrus and the overall flavor profile. So it was good in the sense of drinking it but swallowing and considering later… well, that’s what she said. Heavy char is apparently contraindicated to citrus.

Homestead achieved its destiny in this cocktail. It was hot where it needed to be; it was flavorful and added to the drink. It was perfect. This is a bourbon that is aimed directly at the bourbon crowd normally suspicious of cocktails. Don’t be afraid… Homestead is priced and crafted for the designer cocktail. Maybe drink the others neat… but mix this one.

 Disclosure

Proof66 received a bottle of Homestead free of charge to sample. All other whiskey and ingredients were purchased on our own. 


2013-06-10
Published by Proof66.com