No doubt about it, we are pretty big fans of what is coming out of the Joseph Magnus distillery as of late. Take for example one of our 2018 Flight Club barrel picks, a Joseph Magnus 10 year single barrel Tennessee bourbon (i.e., distilled at George Dickel). It’s a fantastic barrel sourced to Magnus and one of the most chocolate forward bourbon’s many of us have had to date. Or the standard Joseph Magnus or one of the Nasa store picks that we sampled late last year. We have scored these relatively high, and would also likely score high some of the other batches or blends (like Cigar Blend, for example) coming out of Magnus if we had a chance to review each of the ones we have sampled.
Setting aside our love, this past fall Flight Club member Jamie Baalmann picked up a special release from Magnus that had us all intrigued – and for me at least, skeptical. The special release was Batch 1 of Murray Hill Club Special Release Pineau des Charentes. The cause for the skepticism? A $160 retail price.
After sampling Jamie’s bottle upon his endorsement, quickly my skepticism would turn to “where can I find a bottle.”
First, a bit about Magnus, which we have written about prior. Jos. A. Magnus & Co. claims its start dating back to 1892. But its roots are a bit different than the shop currently located in Washington D.C. that produces products such as Joseph Magnus Bourbon, Murray Hill Club Bourbon, and Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend.
The original Joseph Magnus was a pre-Prohibition distillery located in Cincinnati, Ohio. It produced the likes of Murray Hill Club and many other brands. While the history here seems a bit uncertain, it is believed that Magnus himself was merely a rectifier not a distiller, meaning he was a blender and not necessarily a distiller. It would close its doors in the late nineteen-teens. It would not reopen after the repeal of Prohibition, during which Magnus would pass.
The story goes that Jimmy Turner, the great-grandson of Magnus himself, found a century-old bottle of Magnus in his mother’s closet. Turner took that bottle and had it analyzed by a panel of experts, who helped recreate it using sourced bourbons finished in sherry and cognac barrels.
Turner would use that product to open a distillery in D.C. The current iteration of Magnus opened its doors in 2015. That distillery produces gin and vodka, and has distilled whiskies that are barreled away for future release.
The company’s flagship product – Joseph Magnus Bourbon – is a blend of various straight bourbons and re-barreled in a mixture of Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez and Cognac casks.
The Murray Hill Club standard release, however, is not a finished product. Instead, it is a blend of 20-year bourbon, 13-year bourbon & 10-year light whiskey, and bottled at 103 proof.
This Special Release takes a portion of a standard release (as described by Magnus’s Master Blender Nancy Fraley as the mother blend) and rebarrels it in one of their sourced Pineau Des Charentes casks. Nancy Fraley had this to say over on the Straight Bourbon thread (if you are curious about Magnus, this entire thread is well worth a read):
So, the Magnus Murray Hill Club Special Release batch #1 is finished in Pineau des Charentes casks. For those not in the know, Pineau des Charentes is a type of fortified wine made in the Cognac region of France. It is made from grape juice, or partially fermented grape must, then it is fortified with Cognac eau de vie to about 16 to 21% ABV and then aged. Since I originally come from a brandy production background (Germain-Robin) and have a passion for all things brandy-related, I wanted the first Special Release to be finished in these casks.
Don’t know how much you know about the MHC Blended Bourbon, but for that bourbon, I take about 20% to 29% of a 9 year old light whiskey (these days more at 20%), and then the majority of the blend has 11 and 12 year old 21% MGP bourbon, with a bit of 19 year old bourbon to give it some depth. I use this same “recipe” for the Special Release.
This particular batch came from the 2nd coupe mere (“mother blend”) of Murray Hill Club, which would have been originally blended back in November 2016, if I recall. I held some of it back in stainless until mid-June 2017, and then put it in the Pineau casks. It was harvested and bottled the beginning of this past December.
I’m probably not the one to ask, since I’m admittedly quite biased about it, but I absolutely love the Special Release with the PdC finish. It is bottled at cask strength at 112 proof, which to be honest, I think that is a little high for it. It is still fairly smooth and round at that strength, but if I had done a very small reduction in the cask to say, 106 proof, or even 103 for a few months, I could have rounded it out even more and pulled out a few more water soluble wood sugars from the cask. I think that would have really made it that much better. Oh well, c’est la vie!
With both the Cigar Blend and the MHC Special Release, since they’re my pet projects, I like to make something that appeals to my own palate, which usually involves some sort of brandy influence such as Armagnac, etc. When the MHC-SF was first released last December, I was finding a lot more of the Cognac fruit type of aromas in it, with some “grape juice” such as apricot, orange citrus, some grilled nuts, and brown baking spices. Now, perhaps because it is spring and the weather is warming up, I’m still getting the nuttiness/”rancio,” but also some dark dried fruits like fig and date, as well as dried apricot, prune, candied tangerine peel, cacao, and a lot more of the brown baking spices such as cinnamon, allspice, mace, nutmeg, etc. Thus, it seems a little “deeper” and more integrated, but definitely a little spicier.
Back in January, I got another coupe mere together for MHC-SR in order to do one more release of the Pineau des Charentes cask finish. This will be the last time I do this particular cask finish. I’ve made a few subtle changes in it. For one, I only use about 20% of the 9 y.o. light whiskey in the initial MHC blend, so this will give a little more of a pure “bourbon” note to both the regular MHC and the Special Release. Also, assuming that the sales & marketing department doesn’t force my hand before I deem it ready, I’d like to let this stay in the finishing cask until December 1st before release. That is of course assuming the cask don’t give too many unwanted tannins or other undesirable new extractives that have to oxidize out.
At any rate, if you manage to get ahold of batch #1 of MHC-SR in Pineau des Charentes, please post your tasting notes! I’d sure love to have some feedback. Hope you enjoy it, and whatever other type of bourbons you enjoy!
With Jamie’s Batch 1 secured, I set out to find Batch 2, which I picked up this past December in Kansas City, Missouri for $160 (without hesitation). With the two batches in hand – and with Jamie and I each having a bottle of Batch 4 of the standard Murray Hill Club) – Jamie and I sat down or a review.
Nose: Toffee; rich brown sugar and brown sugar simple syrup; honey; dates, figs and dried dark fruit; raisin box; chocolate; light wood; musty, earthy oak. Overall light. (3.5/5)
Palate: Soft and creamy. Honey; brown sugar; light or white pepper; almond in the raw; light funk; spice and baking spice; toffee; crisp oak; leather. (4/5)
Finish: Medium. Black pepper; toffee; more lingering aged funk; cocoa. (3.5/5)
Overall: Delicious on its own, and something that I don’t think of as “needing finished.” (3.5/5)
Value: This retails for around $90-$100 locally, although we have seen it for less out-of-state. The price feels right given the quality of blend, and the clear influence of the older aged whiskeys in the blend. This is a bottle that will be replaced when finished. (3/5)
“Delicious on its own, and something that I don’t think of as ‘needing finished.'”
Nose: A fruit medley of dried dark fruit, fig, dried blackberry and apple; caramel and brown sugar simple syrup; demerara syrup; honey; a floral/earthy funk; some background oak including leather, crisp oak and sawdust. (4/5)
Palate: Rich fruit; raspberry, blackberry and ; an armagnac-like funk of rancio and earth; leather; rich brown sugar that transforms to caramel; buttered toffee; baking spice; white pepper. (4.5/5)
Finish: Medium to long. A true continuation of the palate, with a continuation of each of the palate notes; black grape skins; grape juice; tannic wine. A continuing oak note that slowly disputes. (4.5/5)
Overall: This doesn’t have many bourbon-like notes, and instead is something of its own. This has so many layers that each time back to the glass brings in something new. Exceptional. (4.5/5)
Value: We are more than satisfied. It feels premium in every sense. It can compete with any special release in the bourbon world, and probably any of those in the world whiskey scene as well. Murray Hill Club itself is a premium. This feels very appropriate in light of the regular offering price and its special release competition. We would buy another. (4/5)
“This has so many layers that each time back to the glass brings in something new. Exceptional.”
Nose: Creamy; cherry fruit; white pepper; caramel; sweet corn and corn silk; floral notes. This nose doesn’t have the crispness and potency of the nose as Batch 1. Very good, but a step below Batch 1, however. (4/5)
Palate: Creamy, almost in a Four Roses quality; strong caramel; vanilla; floral notes; cherry; cinnamon spice/sweet red-hot candy; toffee; apple, grape skin. Much less finishing cask influence, which almost leaves us question whether this palate has a finish. Very different from Batch 1. Much more of a bourbon experience than Batch 1. (4/5)
Finish: Toffee; baking spice; white pepper; burnt sugar/caramel; apple; cherry; orange. (3.5/5)
Overall: A different experience from Batch 1. The influence of the Pineau des Charentes is much less here than its predecessor, but it still complements the “mother blend” very well. If you like a Four Roses profile, this might be a bottle for you. Very solid, but a lesser whiskey than Batch 1. (4/5).
Value: We don’t think anyone will be disappointed, but we don’t think the value is quite where Batch 1 comes in. For about half, we think you could find a Four Roses pick that could compete well. Maybe not quite on par, because there is some influence of the finish cask, but the home-run value is just not there. (3/5)
“The influence of the Pineau des Charentes is much less here than its predecessor, but it still complements the ‘mother blend’ very well.”
Check out the full video review at YouTube:
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.