Quick, you slap-happy Whiskey geeks: What does the term “Bourbon” mean?
Many Whiskey fans will know all this but for those who may be a tad cloudy on it, here’s the list:
- Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
- Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
- Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
- Bourbon may not be introduced to the barrel at higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
- Bourbon which meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years, may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.
- Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
- If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
- Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon.
(Many thanks to bourbonbuzz.com for this concise list.)
And where in America is Bourbon made? Well, Kentucky, right? Right?
Nope. Answer: Everywhere. In the US, anyway.
There are still some hard-core Whiskey Snots who claim that real Bourbon is made nowhere but in The Bluegrass State. Most of these calcified hard cases live in KY, which should come as no surprise, having that vested interest, an’ all. But in reading this list of standards, you will notice that the word “Kentucky” appears in none of ’em. So, all these verging-on-excellent Washington state Bourbons that I see whenever I go to the supermarket or bottle shop actually ARE, by our lack of definition, just as much Bourbon as Jim Beam. As are the ones that say “Indiana” and “Oregon” and “California” and “Virginia”…
Well…yeah. Why the hell not?
Which brings us to Dexter Straight Bourbon Whiskey and BrainBrew, the company that makes Dexter.
Okay, first thing: “brew” strongly suggests beer, amirite? About, oh, 99% of the time when you read “brew”, it’s a brewery. But BrainBrewWhiskey is a distillery which, as far as I have been able to determine, makes no beer at all. And, yeah, distilling IS, technically, as much “brewing” as is conventional beer brewing. But the use of the term is a bit…well, squishy, to be honest. Were they planning a brewery and the plans fell through? Liked the name “BrainBrew” so flippin’ much they just used it anyway? Standing astraddle that technicality and saying, “Hey, you’re an intelligent person. Figure it out!”? Most likely that last one but I may be wrong.
For most of its professional life, the Cincinnati producer, BrainBrew, has been a custom distillery. In the same sense as a “custom crush” facility makes wines which are bottled for customers and carry their private brand name – or, in a vanity project, just their family name – BrainBrew will blend up a custom-made Whiskey just for you, print labels, bottle it, and sell it to you, to do with as you like. They’ll even collaborate with you to find a blend you like. Prefer some bold rye content? Like a nice wheat whiskey? Want a manly 100% barley quaffer? BrainBrew will hook ya up. And, in checking with some past customers, several of whom I already knew, they make damned good Bourbon and age it without shortcuts.
Dexter is named not for the television serial killer but for Edmund Dexter, an English immigrant who started his American sojourn in NYC and later moved to Cincinnati, where he established a liquor business of his own, after years of learning the trade from other local liquor wholesalers. Edmund was what used to be called a “rectifier“, what is called in the wine trade, a “negociant“. Dexter bought barrels of finished whiskey from established distilleries, blended them to taste, and sold them under his own label.
There is a LONG and involved Saga tracing this Ohio Whiskey trail from Edmund Dexter to the owners of BrainBrew, Joe Girgash and Doug Hall, and I won’t bore you with it. Instead, let me refer you to a comprehensive piece from the website, preprowhiskeymen.blogspot.com, a terrific blog that handles all that liquor history stuff that I read and then promptly forget. The link will take you to the story about Edmund Dexter, where you can Whiskey Geek-out to your heart’s content. Suffice it to say that Girgash and Hall are proud of their Ohio heritage and don’t have any ownership in the old Dexter brand but did this as an homage to their pioneer forebear.
Dexter does, however, seek to emulate that original whiskey and the lusty, slightly eccentric blend of grains and woods that made the original popular enough that Edmund Dexter’s occasional house guests (see painting above the masthead) included names such as Charles Dickens and King Edward VII. The whiskey itself is a 36% rye blend finished in 200 Year oak, maple, and cherry wood casks. It is vibrant on the palate, a remarkable array of flavors which present themselves unusually distinctly. The woods each shows up as it floods your tongue, the oak front ‘n’ center, overlaid with lively, spicy grain notes of cinnamon and pink peppercorns. The maple conjures up syrup and the cherry is uncannily like Bing cherries, which is something cherry wood usually does not do. There is a subtle but very flattering intimation of vanilla and a bit stronger caramel, with citrus overtones and a finish that suggests herb teas. The finish is quite long and pleasant, BTW, and the burn is definite, while not unreasonable for a 100 Proof Whiskey, but easily mitigated by even as little as three or four drops of a good, clean filtered water.
Dexter really does not taste much like any other Whiskey I’ve sampled in the past five or six years, or maybe ever. It is a small, emphatic explosion of flavors at first and then evolves into whole new ones as you savor and swallow. For the very geeky or the clenched-sphincter purist crowd, it may come across a bit excessively boisterous and that, as my grandpa used to say, is just tough beans. There absolutely IS a place in the modern Whiskey spectrum for the larger, less predictable character of a bottle like Dexter and its Top 100 finish in the prestigious Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2020, along with a 95 point score, bears out that modern day truism.
This bottle comes with another pedigree: Doug Hall, along with Edrington – distillers of The Macallan, Famous Grouse, Highland Park and several other noted Scotch Whiskeys – invented the brand Noble Oak Bourbon and the lessons learned from creating that spectacular Whiskey are all in evidence here. Dexter is a gorgeous bottle of rock-solid, all-American, all-Bourbon crafted Whiskey and, at just $49.99 a pop, a slam-dunk Bargain. 95 Points