Review: Bhakta Bourbon 2013
Since its launch in 2020, Bhakta — the namesake of multi-time spirits entrepreneur Raj Bhakta — has built its name on brandy releases with eye-popping age statements. Their Bhakta 50 releases utilized Armagnacs barreled between 1868 and 1970; more recent releases include both single barrel vintages and younger brandy blends.
Now, Raj Bhakta and team are returning to the whiskey world with a vintage-dated bourbon, a 9+ year product finished in freshly-dumped Bhakta Armagnac barrels for two months.
To their credit, the company is abundantly transparent on where they’re sourcing from. This is a 9 year, 5 month-old MGP bourbon with a 99% corn mash bill. (The whiskey was originally barreled in 2013, hence the 2013 vintage date.) After the 2-month Armagnac barrel finish, the bourbon is bottled at 100.6 proof.
Bhakta’s website says they “recommend enjoying this Vintage Bourbon neat in a Glencairn glass,” so that’s exactly how I’ll be trying it. Let’s dive in.
The barrel finish makes itself known on the nose with significant oak influence, but it’s not overpowering. This noses similarly to some toasted barrel-finished bourbons, a trend that has become seemingly commonplace among stalwart brands these days. That woody sweetness is coupled with nuts — specifically walnuts — plus sugar cookies and maple syrup. There’s also some fruit here, but it’s not fresh fruit, rather berries that have been cooked down into a dark compote.
Interestingly, I don’t sense a lot of what might be traditional brandy notes. Nor do I smell significant notes of spice, which isn’t surprising given the almost entirely-corn mash bill. It’s a rich, sweet, and fascinating nose that had me eager for more.
That multifaceted sweetness on the nose immediately gives way to something more balanced on the palate. Again, there’s an immediate reminder of toasted oak finishes, with a similar sweetness I sense comes from lots of wood influence. There’s that nuttiness again, though it’s tough to pin down exactly which this time: Walnut? Hazelnut?
The palate comes with slightly more spice than one would expect given the nose and mash bill. Return sips yield a pop of that berry compote, sweet and fruity without the sharpness of fresh berries.
At first, it’s difficult to discern which flavors are coming from the Armagnac finish. Then tobacco and very dark chocolate start to round out the profile, and being familiar with some of Bhakta’s Armagnacs, I draw a beeline line from these flavors to that finish. Whatever the ultimate influence on the spirit — it would be fascinating to taste samples of this from before the finishing period! — this bourbon tastes significantly older than its 9 years and 5 months, with a viscous mouthfeel that carries layered flavors across the tongue.
If looking for flaws, it’s easy to say this drinks a touch above its 100.6 proof. That’s just slightly to the sip’s detriment, as there are moments where the ethanol comes close to overtaking some more delicate flavor notes.
The finish is bread pudding with apple chunks, drizzled with caramel and fruit syrup all the way down. There’s also a touch more toasted tobacco. It’s a finish with significant length and flavor that, again, implies a whiskey older than its actual age. At this point, I stopped trying to pick apart where the whiskey influence ends and Armagnac finish begins (or vice versa). On the finish, they’re both working in impressive harmony. It’s clear Bhakta’s team was keeping close tabs on the length of time this spent in their barrels, and they dumped this at just about the right time. This is bourbon kissed by Armagnac, not swallowed by it.
This bourbon took some wrestling to untangle various notes, and there were moments where none really sang to their own benefit; the result is something that, while delicious, is ever so slightly, occasionally muddled. It’s an enjoyable challenge, to be sure. I kept revisiting and nearly drained my sample bottle by the end of note taking. After an impressive first showing, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for additional Bhakta Bourbon releases.
A- / $149 / bhaktaspirits.com
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