Ever the popular enterprise these days, Diageo has been releasing many whiskeys into the wild as part of their Orphan Barrel project. And while I.W. Harper isn’t included in that lineup, it is another whiskey that’s been resurrected from the past. In this case, I.W. Harper was founded in the late 1800s by the Bernheim brothers, but beginning around 1990, it was marked for overseas distribution only, proving especially popular in Japan. And then 2015 rolled around, and Diageo brought it back as two expressions–I.W. Harper Bourbon and I.W. Harper 15 Year Old Bourbon. This review focuses on the latter.
I.W. Harper 15 Year Old Bourbon sports a mashbill that’s 86% corn, 6% rye and 8% barley. It pours a dark, rich amber in the glass. On the nose, things kick off with an interesting range of aromas, from dusty oak, caramel and pepper to cinnamon candy and chocolate. The palate is medium-bodied and silky on the tongue with flavors of corn, baking spices–lots more of that cinnamon–dried citrus fruits and dark caramel. It’s got some heat, but overall the bourbon remains pretty friendly, and the whole thing finishes with more of those oak and spice notes.
Creating a well-balanced 15-year-old bourbon is no easy task, but this I.W. Harper 15 is a solid expression. The oak is very noticeable but not overbearing, and that interplay between caramel, chocolate and spicy cinnamon is a winning combination. That said, I can’t help but wonder how this bourbon might have fared if the proof was upped a notch. Possibly worse. But I’d have liked to see this one unleashed.
— 43% ABV
CE Rating: ★★★★