Monday, March 1, 2010

New Old Crow Reserve.

Old Crow Reserve is a new product from Beam Global. It is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it is a new line extension of an old brand. While this is common practice for most consumer packaged goods, it hasn't been done much with American whiskey, not lately. There also haven't been very many new products introduced at the lower price points. Most of the action has been at the mid-high to high end.

I guess it's also unusual in that it's not flavored, finished, or otherwise enhanced. It is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, period. Those are the four magic words you want to see when you prowl the bottom shelf. They won't guarantee you a good value, but they are a step in the right direction.

Old Crow Reserve differs from standard Old Crow by having a higher alcohol content (43% instead of 40%) and being a little older (4 years instead of 3). Depending on your market, it may also be slightly more expensive than the original but still in the $10 to $12 range for a 750 ml bottle. If it's worth drinking, that's a real good price.

So? Is it? Is it worth drinking? Yes, it is. And that's saying something, since the standard Old Crow is not. There is for me now a drinkable/undrinkable line that Old Crow conveniently straddles. Standard Old Crow is just barely on the wrong side and Old Crow Reserve is just barely on the right side.

As such, Old Crow Reserve is even more like its close cousin, Jim Beam white label. The Jim Beam profile is milder than Crow. The distinctive Beam yeast signature is there. So is a bit of the heat and bite that betray the whiskey's youth, but that is where it also shows major improvement. It is nicely rounded, without the harsh alcohol bitterness typical of one so young. Instead, just when you're expecting the burn, you get a nice caramel and molasses note, a hint of char, some dark berry fruit, and a bright, clean finish.

I'll resist the temptation to run through the whole Old Crow history. Suffice it to say it is a good one, going back about 150 years. Old Crow whiskey was one of the first nationally-known brand name products of any kind. It came into Beam's portfolio by way of the National Distillers acquisition in 1987. In the post World War II heyday of American whiskey, Old Crow was Jim Beam's toughest competition for best-selling bourbon. It had already lost most of its luster before Beam took over. They left it on the bottom shelf and didn't do anything to develop it until now.

I have criticized Beam for not bringing out anything new for the enthusiast community. We still want more, more, more; but this counts, you get points for this. Thanks for listening.


Sam Komlenic said...

Went to a dance with my girlfriend (now wife) when she was still in college (I wasn't) in 1981, and smuggled in a pint of Old Crow. I remember it as being a respectable bourbon back then, which it hasn't been for some time since.

Old Crow Reserve is an improvement, for sure.

Unknown said...

If a very good quality, value priced bourbon is what you want, don't settle for Old Crow Reserve just because it is barely on the side of being drinkable (a dubious compliment, if I ever heard one). Upgrade, instead, to McAfee's Benchmark from Buffalo Trace. Although a touch on the light side at 40%, this bourbon is rich and spicy, very enjoyable straight. In Lexington KY, it sells for $8.50/750 ml bottle (taxes included). At that price, I almost feel I should be arrested for shoplifting when I buy it.

Kristopher Mecholsky said...

My father-in-law introduced me to Old Crow. We both consider it the Yuengling of bourbon - a good, hard-working, affordable drink. I'm glad they introduced the Reserve, though. It's smoother, stronger - basically, it's every way a direct improvement of the old Old Crow. Excellent post, Chuck.