The first many have heard of Old Crow was when the videos were captured of the massive fire in July 2019 that destroyed 2 million gallons of youthful bourbon at the Old Crow Distillery outside of Frankfort, KY. This inexpensive bourbon is a favorite of many for use in cocktails, but we decided to see how it fairs on its own.
Dr. James Crow and his Whiskey
James Crow was a Scottish immigrant who came to America in the1830’s. At one time, he worked at the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, home to the modern-day Woodford Reserve. It was Crow who brought science to the distilling process, including adding some of the spent mash (“setback” or “backset”) to subsequent mashes, developing the “sour mash process” to provide a more consistent product, and words that adorn many labels to this day. His bourbon was sold as “Crow”, or that which was aged longer as “Old Crow”. Crow died in 1856 and his bourbon label changed hands over the years.
A number of politicians were famous drinkers of the Old Crow product, including Henry Clay. It’s most famous consumer, though, was Ulysses S. Grant – a Union general and later the 18th President of the United States. It was Grant’s favor for the brand that brought it notoriety. When others were charging the successful Grant with being a drunk, Lincoln was said to have replied, “Can anyone tell me where General Grant procures his whiskey? Because, if I can find out, I will send every general in the field a barrel of it!”.
At one time, the Old Crow bourbon had been the top selling bourbon in America. But, by the 1950’s, its sales fell precipitously. A production error that parent National Distillers was unable or unwilling to correct sent many of the brand’s drinkers elsewhere. When National Distillers was absorbed by the Jim Beam brand in 1987, the original Old Crow recipe was abandoned, and the product became its current 3-year rendition of Jim Beam. Distilling operations ceased at its Frankfort location (DSP-KY-23), though warehouses continue to be used to this day for the current product.
Bottled at 80 proof, the label provides a statement indicating that the finished product has been “aged for a full 3 years in new, charred white oak barrels.” The mash bill is the classic Jim Beam recipe, consisting of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.
Color: Light straw / honey colored. Definitely close to that 3-year age.
Nose: Corn and vanilla dominate, with some candy corn notes and very light citrus in the background.
Palate: Vanilla with a little bit of corn and caramel. A light amount of spice and oak, but not much for a youthful spirit. Could have definitely spent a little more time in the warehouse.
Finish: Short. Buttery vanilla and a light rye spice that fades quickly.
Overall: This is true, bargain-shelf stuff, with 750ml bottles going for $12 and handles for around $20. It’s a shame that this bourbon, which at one time was highly regarded and influential to modern bourbon, is now just a 3-years-young Jim Beam. Which traditional Jim Beam white label (or other releases) or Evan Williams bottled-in-bond available for a few dollars more, this is a case where it might be worth emptying your change jar for an upsell. If you’re serving a crowd, fixing up flights of cocktails, or introducing a vodka drinker to America’s native spirit, this will ensure you won’t break the bank.