When it comes to ubiquitous bourbon brands in the modern day, few spring to mind quicker than Barton 1792. This is especially so when it comes to sourcing. Calumet Farm, Sam Houston, Goodwood, and more source from this Sazerac-owned distillery. Considering how frequently these brands can command triple digits for a bottle, it’s safe to say people really enjoy Barton bourbon. Yet most drinkers aren’t in the market for purchasing those bottles, much less on a regular basis. This is where some might say the real test is: How good a brand’s budget-minded bottlings are.
Enter Very Old Barton. This in-house, non-age-stated bottom-shelfer is bottled at multiple proof points (80, 86, 90, and 100 to be exact). Despite these statistics, I’ve only ever seen the brand (80 proof) at one store here in Florida: ABC Fine Wine & Spirits. Considering ABC also has exclusive rights to Weller (another Sazerac brand) throughout most of the state, it wouldn’t surprise me if Very Old Barton is part of some package deal. But I digress. Today’s review will be on the 100-proof bottling, which I acquired while driving to Kentucky earlier this month. I’m generally a fan of costlier Barton products, so let’s see how a sub-$20 bottling holds up.
Nose: Light and candy-like with vanilla, banana, and caramel. Slight essence of dust and nuts with further nosing. Has a medicinal, acetone backbone with a bit of confectionary sugar. Underbaked banana bread, brown sugar glaze, and occasional medicinal cherry. Eventually get some peanut butter candy as well.
Palate: Sweet and a bit musty. Banana, brown sugar, and traces of caramel. Bread-like hints, but otherwise on the thin and grainy side. Traces of banana bread come back out, but the notes never hit an actual stride. Ultimately underdeveloped.
Finish: Fairly short. Banana chips, light brown sugar, cereal grain, and whispers of granola.
Returning to the budget spectrum after exploring more premium spirits is often an intriguing experience. Sometimes you realize just why some premium bottlings are worth the extra cost; other times budget bottles can remind us how cheap an enjoyable pour can actually be. In the case of Very Old Barton 100, there’s a bit of both going on. The profile is tried-and-true Barton, particularly on the nose, which makes it a solid contender for fans who haven’t already tried it. At the same time, the youth and thinness of the whiskey is consistently a factor. That youth is less of a craft-like cornmeal and more of a stale caramel candy bar. It’s not enough to destroy the experience, but every sip makes it easy to yearn for something more rounded out and developed.
Of course, this all comes back to Very Old Barton’s position on the shelf (as a brand). No one’s purchasing anything from this line expecting a fine pour. Nor should they. For $10-$15, Very Old Barton is likely poised to be a mixer and, in the case of the 100-proof bottling, a boozier mixer. As for me, I’ve decided that the rest of my bottle will suffice for homemade bourbon cream. Very Old Barton is a fine example of getting what you pay for.