Established in 1872, the same year as its namesake National Park, the Yellowstone Bourbon brand can trace its roots back to two of the most prestigious distilling families in the US – the Beams and the Dants. First produced by J. Bernard Dant at his ‘Cold Springs’ Distillery for Louisville whiskey broker Taylor and Williams, Dant eventually purchased the brokerage and merged it with his distillery, creating the Yellowstone Distillery. In 1910 Dant purchased the Minor Case Beam Distillery that was down the railroad line from his long-time friend and began making Yellowstone at both Gethsemane distilleries with Dant’s and Minor Case’s sons both working in each other’s distilleries. Like so many other distilleries, Prohibition meant both were shuttered and Beam’s son went on to produce bourbon in Canada whilst Dant’s son became President of Yellowstone and licensed the brand to Brown Forman to sell during Prohibition. After Prohibition, Mike Dant built a large plant in Louisville, which was eventually sold to Glenmore in 1944, but continued to produce Yellowstone which became the best-selling bourbon in Kentucky in the 1970’s. As demand for bourbon fell the distillery was then sold to United Distillers who became Diageo and closed the distillery and sold the brands in 1993. The brand was sold to the David Sherman Company (now Luxco) and became a mass-produced non-distiller producer brand.
The Limestone Branch Distillery was founded in 2010, by brothers Stephen and Paul Beam. Tracing their heritage directly through seven generations of Beam distillers beginning with the Jacob ‘Jim’ on their father’s side, and also through the Dants on their mother’s side, distilling was in their blood and so breaking ground just a stone’s throw away from where their ancestors had distilled generations ago was a historic moment. With their first spirits run in 2011, Limestone Branch started by selling moonshine whilst their bourbon stocks aged and in 2012 were one of the founding members of the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail. In 2015 they became partners with Luxco and under this deal the Yellowstone brand returned to the family after 70 years. At this time Limestone Branch also started using an heirloom white corn in their distillation and were even able to swab a yeast jug that was owned by Minor Case and Guy Beam to get the original yeast strain that they had used to produce Yellowstone bourbon. Today the distillery produces approximately 40 barrels a month from a mash bill of 75% corn 13% rye and 12% malt, doing 600 gallon open-top fermentations, and using a 600-gallon stripping pot still and 150-gallon alembic pot still. Currently the stocks used in their Yellowstone line of bourbons and Minor Case Rye expression are sourced through Luxco before being finished and blended at the distillery in Lebanon. Plans for their own whiskey to be released as a 6 year-old Bottled-in-Bond are set for mid- 2021, with a wheated bourbon made using old family notes set for release around 2025. The current Limestone Branch portfolio consists of Yellowstone Select bourbon, an annual release of Yellowstone Limited Edition, Minor Case rye whiskey, and Bowling & Burch gin.
Originally named after the world-famous National Park which sprawls across 3 state borders, Yellowstone select bourbon was once the number one selling bourbon in Kentucky before a decline in bourbon resulted in the brand being sold, shuttered, sold again, and produced as a mass-produced sourced brand. Returned in 2015 to brothers Stephen and Paul Beam, the modern Yellowstone Select bourbon currently features an award-winning small-batch blend of 4 and 7 year old Kentucky-made bourbons sourced through Luxco. Limestone Branch are currently producing stocks for Yellowstone select in-house using an old family recipe and an open-pollinated white heirloom corn which makes for a slightly lighter whiskey flavour and accounts for 75% of the grain bill, with 13% rye and 12% malted barley making up the remainder. Their yeast strain, interestingly, is also the original used to produce the brand in the 1870s and was reclaimed using DNA from a yeast jug that was on display in the Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum in Bardstown, KY, and originally belonged to their ancestors Guy Beam and Minor Case.
Today I’ll be tasting the modern iteration of Yellowstone Select from the Limestone Branch Distillery. This bourbon has picked up numerous prestigious awards to date and features a ‘small-batch’ blend of 4 to 7 year old Kentucky straight bourbons blended for consistency.
Name: Yellowstone Select Bourbon
Age: No age statement (features a blend of 4 to 7 year old bourbons)
Proof: 93 Proof (46.5% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Producer: Limestone Branch Distillery (Sourced stocks from Luxco)
Nose: The nose opens sweet and faintly earthy with notes of warm toasted oak, thick vanilla pod, and caramelized nuts fading to notes of baking spices, a touch of ground cloves and faint black cherries all rounded-out by a touch of charred oak.
Palate: The palate opens with viscous and sweet toffee, floral vanilla, and a touch of sweetened dark chocolate before a prickling white pepper spice develops on the mid-palate, eventually fading to earthy caramelized nuts, almost burnt caramel, and finally to charred oak and unsweetened cacao powder.
Finish: The finish opens with a kick of residual black pepper spice from the palate giving notes of unsweetened cacao powder, earthy nutty notes again, a touch of sweetness, and an aftertaste of charred toasted oak with faintly bitter spice lingering throughout.
As far as lower-end premium bourbon offerings go this one fits the category quite nicely taste-wise whilst also looking the part with a very nice retro label, embossed glass bottle, and touches of gold that are reminiscent of bottles from the 70s- 90s such as Wild Turkey 101. It ticks many of the boxes of what makes for a great daily-sipping bourbon and carries a complex balance between its peppery, sweet red fruit, and darker charred oak. It drinks a little warmer than its 93 proof would have you believe but this is no doubt thanks to a hefty helping of rye that I assume to be in the mashbill of the bourbon stocks going into the final blend. There’s also a nice roasted nutty edge that’s reminiscent of Dickell but with more of a hazelnut profile than a peanut profile and when considered alongside the other barrel-riven notes leads me to suspect that a decent percentage of the final blend consists of older more mature bourbon stocks.
This is a delicious work-horse bourbon with enough complexity, flavour, and balance that it’s clear that the guys at Yellowstone can blend a great every-day drinker. As their own stocks continue to mature it will be interesting to see if future releases follow the same flavour profile or if there will be a strong shift in flavour profile between the sourced stocks currently used and Yellowstone’s own craft-distilled stocks. The current release is delicious, however, I’m also excited for what the future holds for Limestone Branch’s own stocks and the promise that they hold.
Try or Buy?
Yellowstone Select’s recommended price is $49.00/£49.00/€54.00.. That being said, a quick search online via multiple price comparison websites sets the price of this whiskey from as low as $28 to as high as $62 in the US. At the lower end of this scale it’s a definite buy for me without a second’s hesitation, however as you pass the $45 mark and go over $50 I’d recommend you either take a punt or see if you can’t find it at a whiskey bar for a try before you buy.
In the UK and Europe where the selection and prices a more limited and a little steeper, the price sits closer to the RRP of around £/€ 50 which is worth it to me for a delicious every-day sipper. If this sits a bit too rich for your blood Drinks by the Dram do small 3cl samples at a great price, but really I think it’s worth picking up a bottle.
It’s also worth noting that with very Yellowstone bourbon purchased, Limestone branch donate a portion of the proceeds to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Therefore, if your significant other was to wonder as to why you’ve just bought yet another bottle of bourbon you can tell them with confidence that you’re doing your part to protect and conserve America’s National Park System for present and future generations – after all, think of the children!