Hirsch Selection, Special Reserve American Whiskey is unique, and was bottled one time, after aging for 20 years. It was bottled by Hirsch Distillers in Weston, Missouri, whose stock was later acquired by Preiss Imports of Ramona, California. Preiss imports brands such as Springbank, Benriach, Littlemill, Glendronach and Glen Scotia. This whiskey cannot be called bourbon, as it was matured in used barrels, and it was not produced in Kentucky.
Here is what is on the label: “This American [Illinois] whiskey was distilled from Bourbon Mash and left to age in used cooperage (oak barrels previously used for maturing spirits), a production totaling 120 casks … too few to support a standard bottling. No one could foresee, when the whiskey was stowed away on February 27, 1987, that these secreted casks in Illinois would turn out to be this classic American treasure some two decades later”.
The above description surely sounds like a “must have, but as with most purchases, it is always best to read reviews first, instead of the marketing hype. I have tasted this whiskey several times, and I have never found much to like.
Nose: Sharp and piney, with much alcohol … quite uninviting. If left to rest a while, the nose softens a little, revealing some vanilla, caramel and banana.
Palate: Some initial resinous sweetness, which is quickly replaced by a hot, piney bitterness. Water thins and softens a bit, but the character stays.
Finish: Medium to long, quite hot, and with a piney, resinous and a bit sour aftertaste.
In order to give it a fair chance, I spent some time with this whiskey, wondering if, due to my inexperience, I was missing something special. I did get to the point where I found the whiskey challenging and engaging, and even very slowly drinkable. But still, it was hot and piney, with little resemblance to bourbon … thoughts of turpentine kept coming up. Or, was I fortunate to have experienced a bottle of “fire water” from the “old (USA) wild west” ? I suppose “fire water” could be a classic American treasure.
My score is relative to other American whiskies, and unfortunately I have found nothing to like, including the high price. The only redeeming value to suggest, because it is assertive and sharp, is that it may hold its own well in a mixed drink. ( Score 40/100 )
There is some debate regarding what brand this whiskey appeared under in the past. If anyone knows more about this whiskey, or can point out what I might be missing … please comment.
Very informative review, @AboutChoice. There are several puzzling things about this whiskey. What, for instance, is "bourbon mash" supposed to be? Mash can't be bourbon any more than it can be Scotch, Irish, or Canadian; because "bourbon" is the result of an entire process (e.g., mashing, fermenting, distilling, and aging in NEW oak barrels), "mash" can only be the grains that entered the mashbill (X% corn, Y% rye, etc.). And why is a whiskey that has had 20 years to mellow and been bottled at only 45% so damn hot?
I'm guessing the folks at Hirsch tried something new and forgot about it for 20 years. They tasted it and, realizing their error, dumped it on consumers by associating it with bourbon in any way they could ("bourbon mash", "aged in used bourbon barrels"). It sounds over-oaked (given your woody tasting notes) and over-priced.
@dbk, thanks for all your kind words. After posting the review, I found several other interesting website threads, especially on BourbonEnthusiast, where this whiskey is hypothesized at length, including some the the issues you mentioned. Also of note, is that the respected A.A.Hirsch, is not the same as just Hirsch.
I would speculate that the "bourbon mash" was mash that was intended for use in distilling bourbon. And, the label actually states that the whiskey was aged in used spirit barrels, without mentioning what spririts :-) Also, there is a chance that the hotness I am experiencing, may rather be the effect of a tannic kick from a high rye content that some have suggested. At any rate, your own final hypothesis does seem plausible. Maybe I can sell this on eBay as an antique American treasure :-)