What do home bars and smartphones or PCs have in common? They all love updates. With the technical devices it’s usually not much fun, and quite slow, with the house bar it can’t run smoothly enough. Like this new addition here, which I have just discovered. Whiskey comes in all forms of expression: smoky, very peaty, fine, creamy, with honey notes or rather toast, strong, accessible – and then there is the specialty where a lot has to come together: the elegance. And it’s been a long time since I’ve had such an elegant whiskey as the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels from Angel’s Envy. The fascination may also stem from the fact that my wine quirk was tickled. That’s because the bourbon had a nice date with former port wine barrels. These are known to give the contents a massage with aromas of dried fruit, and yes: the Angel’s Envy is “Suits” bottled in equally classy bottles. How that tastes exactly and what the idea behind the brand is, I’ve tried myself and you here times written together.
Angel’s Envy: the philosophy
Angel’s Envy is a small-batch producer of handcrafted, post-matured whiskeys based in Louisville, Kentucky (USA). The company was founded in 2010 by the now deceased Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes Henderson. Today, Wes Henderson and his sons continue the family legacy, producing the brand’s core range of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels, Rye Whiskey Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks, and an annually bottled Cask Strength Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels, as well as various innovative special editions. In 2016, Angel’s Envy opened its distillery to the public, becoming the first distillery with full production in downtown Louisville. The family-run distillery is known for being one of the first to use the double aging technique in bourbon to add depth and complexity to whiskey – a method traditionally used in Scotch production.
Clean, reduced and despite round lines full of tasty corners and edges: the Angel’s Envy from the port wine barrel.
Heart of the Bourbon: the Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
The interior is as modern as it is tasteful. Whisky simply moves with the times.
How much time do you think it takes to take a whisky like this from the initial idea to the final bottling? How long do you have to taste, mix, taste, taste until you have a balanced product that everyone is happy with? That, of course, remains a mystery for the most part. But what was revealed to me by Yukon Isik, the Whisky Guardian of Angel’s Envy, who answered more interview questions: Many different barrels were tried for the finish, port wine barrels were the perfect choice for their bourbon. And it took about 2 years – between 2009 and 2011, leaving the rest in the bottle. And the name? The percentage of five percent of the spirit that is lost to evaporation during barrel aging is traditionally called the “Angel’s Share.” After tasting his finished bourbon, Lincoln Henderson joked at the time that he had finally made a better deal than the angels with the distillate left in the barrel – Angel’s Envy was born. Resourceful guy, the Dude.
Angel’s Envy: insights and interview
Whisky is always a real conversation piece, so I was pleased that Yukon Isik, Whisky Guardian of Angel’s Envy, gave me some insights into the production of Angel’s Envy, but also beginner tips on how to best taste the Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels. That’s what I did – you can read my opinion below.
Nice swing: The bottle of Angel’s Envy Bourbon is something for the eye. The contents: just as tasty.
How important are design and style? The Angel’s Envy bottle reminds me of a fancy perfume.
They are very important. Our motto at Angel’s Envy is “Revere Tradition. Embrace Progress.” It’s even written on the outside of our distillery. Our founders decided to be very innovative while respecting the history of bourbon. Lincoln himself worked in the American whiskey industry for nearly 50 years before founding Angel ́s Envy. He is even honored in the Bourbon Hall of Fame for his achievements. So he himself is part of this story. The bottle, the logo and the unique font created for Angels & Envy help to convey this fusion of history – the Art Deco style font – and innovation, with this elegant bottle that is completely different from the traditionally used shape.
What is the fascination of bourbon for you?
I personally like the variety of the category. There are very well produced base products, super premium bourbons like Angel’s Envy, and much in between. Since bourbon can be made from a variety of grains including wheat, rye, barley, and of course corn, which must make up at least 51% of the mash, the flavor profile can vary greatly between brands. The most interesting part that contributes to the flavor of the final product is the aging process. And here, too, producers have endless options: How long they age the bourbon, the degree of charring of the barrel, toasting the barrel, and in our case, even a finish by secondary aging in used ruby port wine barrels.
Bourbon has a rich history and tradition in the USA, the home of Angel’s Envy. How does the mix of heritage and future succeed?
Bourbon is America’s national spirit. It can only be produced in the U.S., and what is and is not allowed in its production is even enshrined in U.S. law. For example, after distillation, a new container of charred oak must be used to age the distillate of at least 51% corn in order to call it bourbon. Prior to distillation, many brands take different approaches to milling the corn, boiling the mash, and fermenting. Some use open wooden tanks for these steps, which is the more traditional method, while we want to have more control over these processes, so we use closed stainless steel equipment during these stages. Our founders Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes thought why not take it a step further and apply a technique that was already well known in the scotch world to bourbon. In 2009, they were the first to start experimenting with it, and in 2011 they launched our flagship product, Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aged in port wine barrels. There was a lot of resistance at first, but now many other brands are following suit. At Angel’s Envy, we say “Always Finished. Never Done.”
With new generations come new trends, new taste interests – a challenge?
Traditionally, bourbon is rather sweet in taste and quite strong in alcohol. But people nowadays want something more elaborate, more complex and finer. Especially customers who are also up on the culinary side of things and like fine dining. Angel’s Envy Bourbon lends itself very well to cocktails, but was also developed with this new group of customers in mind and for pure enjoyment. Finishing in Ruby Port barrels adds very subtle layers of dried fruit, some very soft tannins and a particularly long finish to the bourbon, making it especially suitable for dinner pairings and people who want to discover a variety of flavor layers in the products they consume. We also release a single barrel bourbon every year that we sell at cask strength, and we have a very limited special bottling every year – this year it was a 10-year-old rye whiskey that was aged in Ice Cider Cask.
The Finishing Room, the event room at Angel’s Envy Distillery, whets the appetite for a tasting.
The architecture at Angel’s Envy Distillery is also elegantly classy, here the lounge.
Small tasting guide: How should beginners approach Angel’s Envy bourbon from the port wine barrel?
If you have an unopened bottle, I would open it a bit before tasting it. The cork locks out the air, and the bourbon needs to be able to breathe a little. This softens the first impression considerably. Make sure you have a nicely shaped glass with a round belly and a narrower opening where the flavors can diffuse into the air and concentrate at the top. It should be clean and free of any odors.
Then pour about 30-50 ml, because you want to take at least two sips.
Then start smelling the bourbon by holding your nose a little further away from the glass. If your receptors are still fresh, the alcohol might make you feel a burning sensation and you would taste less. Therefore, take it slow. The smell can change from fruity and fresh to nutty, with caramel and lots of vanilla.
The first sip is always just a mouthwash for me. Also, the first sip always hurts a bit for me. But that’s normal and a good sign.
The second sip is the one that counts: Take a big gulp and move it around in your mouth so that all the spots are covered. Feel free to make chewing motions as well. I recommend doing this for 10-20 seconds.
Before swallowing the bourbon, take a deep breath, swallow, and then exhale through your nose with your mouth slightly open. At first, you’ll taste the sweet aspects. But the longer you sip, the more complex flavors there are to discover. Maybe some toast, Madeira or other sweet wine and some spices.
What are the key flavors/notes of this bourbon and how are they achieved?
The main flavors are dried fruit, raisins, dark chocolate, vanilla and Madeira wine. The vanilla and other strong and sweet flavors come mainly from aging in oak barrels. We toast our barrels over wood fires for a few minutes to transform some of the aromatic components of American white oak into something more pleasing. For example, lingnin into vanillin. It also caramelizes the natural sugars in the wood. The charring opens up the wood for the whiskey to exchange flavors during aging, and also adds some smoke to the final product.
The more subtle and complex flavors are added during the finish in our port wine barrels. They bring the dried fruit and wine to the table. Generally speaking, with bourbon, 60-80% of the flavor comes from the aging process. The first 20-40% comes from the mash you choose, how you cook your grain, how you ferment your mash, and how you distill.
Elegant shell, elegant contents: a more than aesthetic new addition to the home bar.
Angel’s Envy in personal tasting
How does this charming temptation with the glassy curves taste now? First, the contents flirt very straight with the nose. The aroma: unusual for a whiskey. Red wine meets bourbon, images of a designer chalet in the mountains jump into my head, a gray, fine suit, the fabric glides gently but with structure through the hands, a light fire in the fireplace, a carpaccio on the plate as an appetizer … Good spirits take you directly into their own vibe, set a scene – and this glass charmer succeeds admirably.
Cuddly conversation starter: the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels.
The taste shows a clear line, is elegantly woven, and convinces with fine fruity-chocolate port twists.
On the palate, dried fruits from lemon to plum dance through the mental chalet, a bit of dark chocolate here, a bit of vanilla there, but above all the hints of wine shimmer through again and again. The Angel’s Envy from the port barrel has a very cultured spiciness, arrives smooth and with draw, picks up speed, takes its time in the right places. If I were to remake “Suits,” this bourbon would have a regular spot in the office home bar. And for those who are more in the mood for after work vibes: I tried the whiskey in combination with a fine shisha. There is more train than on some rails.
Angel’s Envy from the port wine barrel also unfolds as a base of drinks, but be sure to try this elegant genie neat first!
If you’re curious, have a taste for spirits, and would like to try the relaxed, elegant bourbon route alongside your smoky colleagues, Angel’s Envy is definitely worth a try. However, it is also clear: At around 70 euros, the extremely decorative bottle is not a quick fix for beginners who are just starting out. But because we want to avoid envy, I advise: the Angel’s Envy best buy together and share fairly.