“Old Crow Reserve” probably sounds a little ridiculous to those who have had some experience with the standard Old Crow. When I originally tasted that bourbon I was disappointed by its bland, unremarkable character, so it’s hard to imagine that whatever Beam has managed to “reserve” from their Old Crow line is going to be all that special. In fact, I’m curious about their motivation in releasing this label. Beam already has a full range of easy-to-find bourbons from Old Crow to Booker’s and everything in between, taking the Old Crow brand up a notch seems gratuitous.
I don’t mean to knock bottom-shelf bourbons here. I’m a big believer that in the American whiskey world in particular price isn’t always a reliable indicator of quality. The modestly priced Old Fitzgerald 1849 remains one of my favorites, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks who love their Old Crow. Was there really someone thinking to himself “Gosh, if only this Old Crow were just a little bit better, but not as good as Jim Beam white label….”? At least the financial risk of finding out whether it’s worth it is low.
– Unless straightbourbon.com misleads me, this is a Jim Beam product
– 86 proof (Old Crow original is 80)
I’m a sucker for black labels I think. The dark background makes all the other elements pop that much more. On top of that, the empty white of the regular Old Crow label just looks unfinished. On the Reserve here, we see a black and gold pinstripe pattern overlaid by the standard bourbon descriptors: “Kentucky straight,” “original,” “sour mash,” and the like. (It’s important to note here that Old Crow is named for the originator of the sour mash method.) I do appreciate the red-lettered “86 PROOF” on the left side and the way it contrasts with the rest of the presentation; on the other hand, I think they could do a lot more with their crow logo than they are now. Crows are such loaded signifiers: they’re harbingers of bad news, they gather in ‘murders’, they accompany witches and demons in pop culture. They should leverage this.
There’s a lot more to the nose on this one that its unreserved sibling. Beyond the clear char, there’s an element that I find difficult to describe, but the closest I can get is the smell of a dry pine plank after you’ve sanded it down for a few minutes: strong wood, but not resinous and not exactly oak. So far so good.
On the tongue, I get a strong sweetness up front with touches of orange and honey. This moves into a vanilla then quickly switches to charred oak and leaves a medium-dry and prominently woody finish.
This is a significant improvement over the regular Old Crow. It’s just one extra year in the barrel, but that does make a good amount of difference – in fact this verges on being overly woody in the end. There aren’t any unpleasant flavors to it but it is lacking in some depth. For the price, I’d say this is a decent choice. I think I have to retract my earlier doubts about the purpose of this bourbon – in my book, as long as it tastes good and has a good quality-to-price ratio it’s worth having around. Now if only they’ll replace regular Old Crow with this…