Named after the famous ‘Battle of Bower Hill’ that took place during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, Bower Hill is a mysterious brand of American whiskies which entered the UK market about a year ago. With nothing more than a basic website (which doesn’t feature all their offerings) and a very brief backstory, these whiskies entered at the ‘premium whiskey’ price range of between £62.63 and £167.52 ($80/€70 -$215/€187) . This combination of no provenance, little available information, and a hefty price tag all easily identify these whiskies as sourced products that have been bought by a group of investors, attached to a story of historical significance, bottled, and are being sold for top dollar. Apart from the proof, and a fancy decanter-style bottle, the only other piece of information on these bottles is that they are all straight expressions with only the barrel strength and reserve barrel bourbon stating their origin as Louisville, KY.
Today I’ll be delving into all four the Bower Hill expressions to see whether they’re something special for bourbon lovers to look out for, or whether they’re just cheaply sourced whiskey that’s labelled and sold with a hefty price, rather than quality, in mind.
Bower Hill Barrel Reserve
Nose: On the nose there’s light caramel, strong toasted oak, floral vanilla and citrus.
Palate: On the palate viscosity combines with tannic charred barrel notes, slight caramel, orange peel and slight oak white pepper spice.
Finish: On the finish there’s white pepper, oak, and citrus that is followed by a long aftertaste of bitter dark chocolate.
Overall: This strongly reminds me of a single barrel Heaven Hill bourbon I recently reviewed. The hints of citrus, sweet toffee, spicy rye, charred oak, and white pepper leading you into a finish of bitter dark chocolate almost screams that Heaven Hill profile we all know and love. However, as the bottle states Louisville as the source and not Bardstown this couldn’t be a Heaven hill whiskey.
This also drinks high above its low proof and has a good hefty spice on the palate from what I can only assume to be a high percentage of rye in the mashbill. I wouldn’t say that this bourbon is very old either but there’s a very pleasant viscosity on the palate despite not being a very complex pour overall. Unfortunately, when the price of this is put against all of this, for me, there are far superior bottles out there for far less money. This bourbon is nothing breath-taking yet is more expensive than Blanton’s single Barrel which is FAR superior, in my opinion.
I’m a massive fan of craft bourbons (in case nobody has noticed it yet) but this isn’t one of the very impressive ones I’m afraid. Here’s hoping that the next offering improves on this one.
Bower Hill Single Barrel
Nose: The nose opens with a mix of earthy rye grain and slight dark fruits followed by slight burnt caramel and a kick of alcohol.
Palate: The palate is thick with roasted nuts, burnt caramel and a wave of spice followed by dark fruits again.
Finish: The finish follows spicy with caramel and dark fruit again.
Overall: This bourbon is definitely a step up from the Barrel Reserve offering and again drinks quite hot for a bourbon that is only 94 proof. The flavours are more complex than in the Barrel Reserve but again not to the point where I feel the price is justified. In the UK a bottle of this would cost you £92.20/€102.93/$118.65, that is a lot of money for a bourbon that tastes like it should cost no more than half that at best. As a drink I think it’s quite nice and it has some good bourbon flavour but that price point is the killer for me again.
Bower Hill Reserve Rye
Nose: The nose opens with sharp dill notes that reminds me of pickle brine. Once it has been allowed to open up notes of toasted oak, white pepper and spicy oak also emerge.
Palate: The palate opens viscous but faint with caramel, barley grain, muted notes of floral dill, rye earthiness, roast nuts, charred oak, and a wave of white pepper spice.
Finish: The finish is long and spicy with notes of roast nuts again and earthy herbaceous rye spice that leaves a vegetal and charred oak aftertaste.
Overall: This was a very strange rye whiskey and the first time I smelled a rye whiskey that smelled of pickle brine. When given a chance to open the astringent pickle juice notes fade to give you a flavourful nose and palate where caramel and light rye mingle together to create a spicy and light whiskey. I feel like this whiskey would be a lot better at a higher proof and at the current proof it tastes a bit muted, as if a decent rye whiskey has had too much water added to it to bring it to the current proof. This rye tastes like it may have been sourced from MGPI, but even as a massive fan of rye whiskies from MGPI I couldn’t say this whiskey is one that I would buy a bottle of. I’m not even going to include the price because let’s face it – it’s too expensive.
Bower Hill Barrel Proof
Nose: On the nose notes of soft brown sugar, roasted nuts, white pepper and toasted oak initially, followed by baking spices and slight dark fruits as this pour is given time to open up.
Palate: The palate is semi-viscous with notes of burnt caramel covered nuts, bitter oak, a dash of peppery spice and a slight vegetal tasting ending.
Finish: The finish is hot and lingering with peppery caramel, dark fruits again, and charred oak all coming out in waves. The aftertaste is sweet and slightly bitter with a tannic edge.
Overall: Of the Bower Hill range this was the one I was looking forward to the most. A beautifully enticing nose pulled me in but a slightly bitter palate pushed me back again. Despite a promising opening on the palate the spice and bitter charred oak soon dominated, leading to a finish with a wave of spice followed by more flavourful notes as the heat dissipates. With a drop of water this pour gives less spice and more caramel peanuts on the palate but the bitter flavours are still there. This was disappointing as I was hoping a drop or two of water would make a difference in a positive direction but instead it just marginally improved a bitter spicy pour. I was going to again not mention the price but this one is so expensive I couldn’t help myself. A bottle of this will set you back a cool £171.71 ($215/€187).
Overall the Bower Hill range looks the part and features four whiskies that, although flavourful, don’t present drinkers with anything outside of a basic flavour profile. Instead the flavours are meager and somewhat unpleasant depending on the expression, and that’s before we factor in the pricing. Costing between £62.63 and £167.52 ($80/€70 -$215/€187) in the UK these whiskies certainly do not justify the price that drinkers are being charged for what seems like a fancy bottle with mediocre whisky inside, and to be honest I am heavily disappointed by this. I never take criticising whiskies lightly as a bad review can make a big difference these days, even more so when it’s a craft brand. However, nothing I’ve seen or tasted here has led me to conclude that this brand or the whiskies it produces are anything other than a case of that these whiskies were sourced, bottled, and sold by a group of investors who just wanted to make a quick, tidy profit. I hope this is not the case but from what I’ve tasted this is the only conclusion I can come to. At this stage in the game we’ve all heard or tasted brands that have sprung up on the back of the whiskey boom with the intention to attach themselves to a historical event, source mediocre whiskey, and then try to make a profit instead of producing quality whiskies and this brand really fits the type. I hope in the future this will change but as it stands I’m skeptical.
Try or Buy?
Do yourself a solid favour and try these first. I wasn’t convinced by their taste that they’re worth even a third of what they retail for but I’m open to being wrong and that is just my personal opinion on this range.