Buffalo Trace. Just those two words will immediately draw words of passion (both positive and negative) from all corners of the bourbon community. The reasons for this are numerous and better served for discussion in a separate blog post. In short, Buffalo Trace are widely celebrated and recommended to anyone from budget drinkers to high-end enthusiasts, to the point that many continually struggle to obtain anything the distillery produces. Case in point: Rock Hill Farms.
Before digging into whiskey proper, I’d never even heard of this expression. Some, including Fred Minnick, have questioned whether the bourbon is still in production. Interesting thing to note: Rock Hill Farms doesn’t show up on the Buffalo Trace site, despite being among their products. It does show up a ways down the Sazerac site, however (Sazerac being Buffalo Trace’s parent company).
So what’s the deal with this bourbon? It’s a 100-proof single barrel offering made from Buffalo Trace’s undisclosed #2 “higher rye” mash bill, also used in Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, and Hancock Reserve. It’s named after a stretch of farmland along the Kentucky River, which contains the limestone water that many (if not all) Kentuckians credit to making bourbon work, thanks in large part to its pH levels, high magnesium and calcium, and low iron. It has no age statement and, like Blanton’s, is adorned by a horse.
Let’s dig in. The sample used for this review was provided by a fellow whiskey fan.
Nose: Light, floral (orange blossom) vanilla. Hints of rye spice and brown sugar. Reminiscent of a holiday spiced tea.
Palate: Quite fruity, a bit dry and rather funky. Pineapple, orange, coconut, and vanilla. Tastes like a bag of Haribo gelatin candy. Hints of brown sugar and caramel, maybe a brushing of oak too.
Finish: Moderate. More pineapple funk with light, mildly dry rye spice tingle. Begin to get traces of peach. Oaky warmth (not so much oaky flavor though).
Having tried Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee in the past, and considering my abhorrence for the secondary market, I had modest expectations for Rock Hill Farms. Put simply, what I got was a pleasant, slightly funky, and enjoyably fruity dram that I wouldn’t feel too bad about paying MSRP for ($60). Based on memory alone, I’d put it above the pour of Blanton’s I had earlier this year and about on par with Elmer T. Lee. So yes, Rock Hill Farms is good.
But it sure ain’t over $300 good.
In the past two years, I’ve literally noticed one bottle of Rock Hill Farms on display at a liquor store. The store in question was asking $350 for it. For context, they also had Eagle Rare 10-Year for $70 and Stagg Jr. (didn’t notice the batch) for $200. Why does Rock Hill Farms command such a high price and demand? My only guess is the fact it’s a single barrel Buffalo Trace product made from the same mash as Blanton’s, but then that begs the question why it commands double (or even triple) the cost of Blanton’s? This is where all I can do is raise my hands and shrug in confoundment.
It’s a shame too, because Buffalo Trace produce some truly quality whiskey. Rock Hill Farms is a testament to that. I wouldn’t say it impressed me, but I did finish my sample saying “that was nice.” What surprised me the most was how fruity and borderline tropical it was for a bourbon. I’d honestly want to see how it holds up in a cocktail were it readily available at MSRP, because I could see an Old Fashioned made with this being a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for me and most other drinkers, so we’re left seeking out alternatives to satisfy that itch for taste and curiosity. The good news is there’s plenty to choose from, and discovery can often be its own reward.