The above advertisement for I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey dates back to 1940. While 76 years is a pretty long time for any brand to be around, I.W. Harper goes back even further than that.
Way back in 1872, Bernard and Isaac Wolfe (the I.W. of I.W. Harper) Bernheim opened a distillery in Paducah, Kentucky (they moved it to Louisville in the 1880s) and created the I.W. Harper brand. As is usually the case, there’s a lot more to the story, but history ain’t my bag, so rather than run the risk of pulling a Melania Trump and ripping off someone else’s words, I’ll simply point you in the direction of several well written articles that give you the I.W. Harper backstory. Here are the links:
- Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey’s Jewish History by Reid Mitenbuler
- The Jews Who Made American Whisky by Noah Rothbaum
- The Bernheim Brothers and the Origins of I. W. Harper Whiskey by Jack Sullivan
Like most brands, I.W. Harper has had its ups and downs over the years. It disappeared from the US market around 1990 due to the declining demand for brown spirits, but thanks to the current brown spirit bonanza, it was re-released by Diageo in mid-2015 in the form of two expressions, i.e. a 41% ABV no-age statement version that we’ve already reviewed, and a 43% ABV 15 year old version that is the subject of this post. Before we get to our review, here’s what Diageo has to say about it:
Sweeter up front with grain and corn immediately apparent, I.W. HARPER 15-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey then moves into notes of oak, raisin, caramel, spice, and vanilla. The finish leaves a long and lasting mouthfeel perfect for enjoying on the rocks, or neat to truly appreciate the full flavor profile.
And now for our impressions…
- Appearance: Burnished copper color
- ABV: 43%
- Limpd: Alcohol vapors, astringent and menthol with some syrupy sugars and a little toffee.
- G-LO: Good bit of alcohol coming off of this at first. Once you work past it, I get menthol, peppermint, cinnamon, allspice, and a bit of maple syrup. In case you couldn’t tell from my notes, I find this Bourbon to be much more herbally than sweet on the nose.
- Limpd: Not much alcohol upfront but pleasant and very sweet and then a big blast of alcohol heat at mid-palate. The finish is mildly hot and on the longish side.
- G-LO: All those herbally notes in the nose carry through to the palate. Starts off hot with a healthy dose of cinnamon and peppery spice. There’s a bit of sweetness in the middle, but it’s mostly the spiciness that dominates. By the time you get to the finish, some herbally, wintergreen type flavors come through. The spiciness lingers in the aftertaste which is also quite astringent.
- Limpd: I was a little surprised with this one. For me, the nose was decidedly different than the taste. I had expected a lot of heat and then the candied sugars, but I got almost the opposite. And at only 43% ABV (I can’t believe I’m saying ONLY 43%; I blame you, G-LO!), I didn’t expect the finish to be as hot or as long-lasting. I liked the higher ABV but I thought this was just okay; almost like it was still missing something.
- G-LO: This is definitely a step-up in terms of intensity when compared to the standard issue I.W. Harper. Higher ABV. More heat. Longer lasting finish. Overall, I liked this much more that the standard issue, but didn’t love it, mostly because I thought this was all heat and not enough sweetness. In other words, the balance of flavors was a bit one dimensional.