Ancient Age 40% ABV Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the standard expression of the Age International line, and is produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Currently the only other Ancient Age true bourbon is the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star, 45% ABV. There is no age statement on the reviewed bottle. For Straight Bourbon, NAS legally assumes a minimum of 4 years old. There are also online reports that Ancient Age is only 3 years old. Ancient Age is made with Buffalo Trace Mash Bill # 2, at approximately 15% rye content. This is the higher of the two Buffalo Trace rye content mash bills, but is still only average in the industry, comparable to the standard Jim Beam bourbon mash bill. The reviewed bottle is newly opened
Nose: sweet and suprisingly perfumed and floral. This is mostly very high-pitched, with some medium pitches also. There is plenty of vanilla here, and spice on the second or third wave. This is more interesting and more beautiful than I was expecting. Score: 21.5/25 points
Taste: much lower pitched in the mouth than in the nose; there are subtantial overtones of bass note oak here, but the quality of the wood influence is marginal. Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Rye, vanilla, everything is subsumed here under some not so good oak. Really, this is not good in the mouth, and very inferior to every other Ancient or Ancient Ancient Age branded product I have had. Yes, as expected, this is a bit watery and thin at 40% ABV, but that is the least of its problems. The mouthfeel is actually pretty creamy and pleasant, but the taste is not pleasant. Water added smoothed out the palate, and improved it. Score: 17/25 points
Finish: medium long, but dominated by sour and bitter, neither of which tastes good. Water added smoothes and improves the finish. Score: 15.5/25 points
Balance: good in the nose; fair to poor thereafter. Score: 16/25 points
Total Sequential Score: 70/100 points (add 2 or 3 points for a water added score.)
Strength: very adequate strength of flavours, including adequate viscosity of mouthfeel. Score: 22/25 points
Quality: not so good, especially all the components of the wood. Score: 16/25 points
Variety: good variety in the nose; only fair variety on the palate and finish. Score: 17/25 points
Harmony: no, inferior wood flavours overshadow the contributions from the grain and the yeast. Score: 15/25 points
Total Non-Sequential Score: 70/100 points (also add 2 or 3 points with water added.)
Comment: Standard Ancient Age Bourbon is not a sipping-quality whiskey. Don't buy and dislike this and then think that you "...don't like bourbon." This is the low end from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. I'll bet that some batches of even this standard Ancient Age are much better than is this one I have before me today. But you cannot count on that, especially at international prices. This is cocktail-making fare, as are almost all 40 and 40.5% ABV American Whiskeys. The other Ancient Age and Ancient Ancient Age bourbons are very good sipping bourbons
"Aged at least 36 months" quoth the age statement in very fine print on a small piece of paper ringing the neck of the bottle. The age statement was almost in hiding, as though ashamed to be seen.
Additional reflections on this reviewed bottle: 1) the nose is amazingly good--I really couldn't argue with 23/25 points good, but, 2) the whisky is still pretty bad in the mouth. Don't take a chance on buying this is you want a sipping-quality whiskey. Should be OK for a mixer. Its better sibling, Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star 45% ABV, is a very pleasant ultra-light bourbon, and a much much better sipper than is this standard Ancient Age 40% ABV.
Scotch malt makers take their inferior casks, dilute them down to 40% ABV and mix them into Scottish blended whiskies; Americans take their inferior barrels, dilute them down to 40% or 40.5% ABV, and sell them for making cocktails. The inferior barrels still have useful life as cocktail-makings.
Revisiting standard Ancient Age 40% ABV bourbon 15 months after opening, to see if it has benefited from air exposure. Nope, this is pretty much the way it was to begin with. There is still too much bitter tannic oak influence to enjoy this as a sipper. This batch shows well just how intense the flavours contributed by new oak can be, even at just 3 years in the barrel. This bottle continues to have a surprisingly good nose.