A few years ago, we spent the New Year’s holiday in Nashville and toured the Belle Meade mansion. Built by John Harding and expanded by his son William Giles Harding, the plantation ultimately expanded in 1839 to over 5,400 acres. As early as 1816, Harding had been demonstrating his skills at breeding and racing thoroughbreds. By the 1880s and 1890s, their successful thoroughbred studs included Bonnie Scotland and Enquirer. Many of today’s racing stars can trace their lineage back to these successful stallions.
A True Small Batch
The label shares that Belle Meade bourbon was a pre-Prohibition brand originally produced by Charles Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery which shuttered when Tennessee began prohibition in 1909. Fast forward to 2009 when Charles Nelson’s great-great-great grandsons Andy and Charlie Nelson restarted Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee.
Distilling operations began in 2015 and I’ll be anxiously awaiting their finished product. For now, though, the bourbon is bottled by Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, but is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (aka “MGP”). Many labels tout the “small batch” moniker that can mean anything from a few barrels to a few hundred barrels. Nelson’s take pride that each batch of Belle Meade is made from just 4 barrels aged between 6-8 years.
Barrels include two different high-rye bourbons from MGP (MGP specializes in rye whiskeys and high-rye bourbons). The two mash bills are:
- 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley
- 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley
When blended, the resulting recipe is 64% corn, 30% rye, and 6% malted barley. The bourbon is bottled at 90.4 proof and is non-chill filtered. The label indicates this bourbon reaches a “sweet spot” that balances the rich and spicy character from a high rye spirit.
Eye: Medium caramel. Swirled in a glass, slender legs are exhibited.
Nose: Caramel and butterscotch notes are present along with some dark fruits, spice and oak.
Palate: Caramel with a good dose of spice. The non-chill filtration lends itself to a creamy mouthfeel. A couple drops of water reduce the heat and allow the gentle caramel and dark fruit notes to emerge along with some vanilla bean.
Finish: Medium with a vanilla, caramel and spice. Quite rich and lovely.
Overall: While I can be quick to turn a blind-eye towards an MGP-sourced product, Belle Meade demonstrates the best of a longer-aged, small batch product. This is a great tasting bourbon and a pleasant change of pace from sweeter bourbons. I suspect this would hold its own in an old fashioned or other cocktail. I paid about $40-$45 for this bottle. While high-rye spicy bourbons are not always my go-to, this would be very interesting to do a side-by-side with Wild Turkey.