It’s a list that I come across often. While it takes on different names, and includes a varying number of bottles, the essence of this list is something in the nature of “15 best bourbons to try before you die.” One example can be found here (with no intended disrespect for the publisher or producer of this particular list).
Obvious (and less debatable) inclusion on this list are whiskeys carrying the “Pappy Van Winkle” name, Blanton’s, A. H. Hirsch, etc. But one common bourbon included on a surprisingly many of these lists is the Hudson Baby Bourbon.
This listing often causes a stir, and the Hudson Baby Bourbon’s inclusion seems to be at the heart of the debate. Many profess their hatred, others describe its uniqueness. Until recently, I had not ever tried Hudson’s Baby Bourbon and so I’ve never been able to wage in on the debate.
Hudson Baby Bourbon is a 100% corn product, aged for “less than 4 years” (probably considerably less) in 3 gallon barrels. It is produced by Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, New York. It is described by Tuthilltown as New York’s first pot-distilled whiskey since prohibition. It’s unmistakably craft whiskey, as is the entirety of Tuthilltown’s lineup. It’s beautifully packaged, and effectively marketed.
But is it in any good?
This week I popped open a bottle that I picked up on my recent travels to New York to find out. To assist in answering this question, I also poured Stephen Netherton a blind sample to solicit his take. Our notes and conclusions are below.
Hudson Baby Bourbon – Year 17, Batch 7, Bottle 6638 (92 proof) (Aged less than 4 years).
Nose: Up front I get strong barnyard hay and caramel corn that is heavy on the corn, along with acetone burn and vanilla. There is also some underlying raisins as well (like sticking your nose in that little box from when you were a kid). Additionally there are some herbal notes that almost reminds me of gin botanicals.
Palate: On the tongue there are strong corn flavors partnered with prevalent alcohol burn; char and herbal/ginger notes follow. Behind these there is a bit of raisin, cherry and some vanilla. Young, fresh oak rounds out the palate. I would not describe this as either thin or creamy, although it’s fair to say the mouthfeel isn’t bad.
Finish: On the finish there is vanilla extract and popcorn, accompanied by barrel char and the herbal/ginger flavors that linger. The finish transitions to caramel and some baking spice. There is a lingering alcohol that is the finishes primary downside.
Overall: This is the epitome of young craft whiskey: youth and corn are prominent. However, I will say that in this pour, this youth allows some of the unique features, such as the herbal and ginger notes, to shine. They are interesting flavors that I don’t get often, even with other craft whiskeys.
Is this great? No. Is it a quality example of how craft whiskey should be placed in a different (albeit not unequal) category than the major distillers? Yes. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I don’t think it justifies its price tag, let alone inclusion on any “top bourbons to try” list. If you want to experience above-average craft bourbons, then I say give this a try. But go into it with expectations that the profile is much different than that you would get from most longer-matured bourbons.
Stephen’s Blind Review:
Nose: Cedar and musty caramel. Light apricot and raisin. Musty oak after some time to breathe. Leather books. Vanilla
Palate: Has that craft young oak taste right away. Borderline thin mouthfeel. Some rye spice. Doesn’t lean towards the earthy notes that the nose suggested. But the sweet notes are also not prominent. Which makes this seem like it is searching for its identity somewhat. Again, suggests this is on the younger side.
Finish: Overachieving. Not too dry, but certainly on the drier side. The ethanol taste lingers a bit too heavily. The rye spice feels like it is fighting to re-emerge but doesn’t fully develop.
Take aways: This bourbon’s youth is at the forefront. Some of its rougher edges could conceivably be rounded out by additional time in the barrel. But, being as this is the 17th batch, it does not appear that Tuthilltown plans to change their process any time soon.
At any rate, while we agree this is certainly something worth trying, its inclusion on some listings of “best” bourbons or “15 bourbons to drink before you die” is definitely a stretch.
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.