Having recently delved into some of the stipulations of the Irish Whiskey Technical File, it’s worth mentioning that such legal protections are hardly unique. The laws governing bourbon production in the US strictly set out legally required mash bills, ABV for maturation and bottling, and, critically, the restrictions on casks that can be used: charred new oak containers.
Today, we’ll take a look at a spirit that seems to defy this law. Although Angel’s Envy, produced by the Louisville Distilling Company, did not introduce cask finishing to the bourbon industry, it can undoubtedly be seen as the brand that took the process mainstream, offering the first permanent expression featuring the practice. When Angel’s Envy premiered in 2010, it seems to have produced a fair amount of controversy: how could a liquid that had touched anything other than a charred new oak container possibly be a bourbon? In the intervening years, and with cask finishing becoming more commonplace in the bourbon industry, the fires of this controversy have burned out somewhat. However, the laws have not been changed to match current innovation. The matter-of-fact description featured on the bottle indicates the approach of sidestepping this legal snare: Angel’s Envy bills itself not exactly as a bourbon, but as Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished In Port Wine Barrels. Although a bit of a mouthful, this seems to have been technically accurate enough to keep the lawyers away.
Speaking of the bottle, Angel’s Envy is clearly packaged to appeal to the premium sector of the market. Its stylish bottle features minimal labelling, so the wings emblazoned on the rear are clearly visible through its liquid from the front. This is clearly designed to sit on the top shelf. However, the minimalist nature of the labelling does mean that there’s not much information on display, and only slight hints are made to the spirit’s small-batch credentials. While the packaging is light on details, the Angel’s Envy website reveals that each batch of their Port Cask Finish is made in small batches, consisting of between 8 and 12 barrels. These have been aged for typically between 4 and 6 years, with the final 3 to 6 months spent in port casks. The brand has a few more offerings as well: the Port Finish is the flagship of the range, but there is also a rum-finished rye, a cask strength, and one-off batches finished in sherry and tawny port casks, respectively.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley.
43.3% ABV, aged in charred white oak barrels, finished in port wine casks for six months.
Nose: Vanilla, maple syrup, caramel, a little strawberry, raisin, and peanut oil.
Palate: Raisin, vanilla, sultana, and caramel give way to a warming cinnamon and pepper spice, Angostura bitters, and a little sour cherry.
Finish: A medium and sweet finish, with lingering oak and spice.
Opinion: The Angel’s Envy is a very pleasant sipping dram. There is a little extra complexity from its time in port casks, although I admit that I was expecting a slightly more significant impact. As it is, the nose and palate of this whiskey are unmistakably bourbon in style and character but feature a slight hint of enhancement from the finishing process.
At £57, Angel’s Envy competes well: this is about what I would expect to be paying for small batch and premium bourbons. It is, however, no longer quite so unique: while Angel’s Envy blazed a trail by offering the first cask-finished release as a permanent fixture in their line-up, the process has become more common in the bourbon industry. That Angel’s Envy features a fairly subtle influence from its finish puts it at risk of being eclipsed by more bold successors.
If I’m being critical, I would say that Angel’s Envy lacks a little balance, as it leans very heavily towards sweet notes, which will not be for everyone. I suspect that the time spent in port casks has added additional sweetness to an already sweet whiskey. I would also have preferred a slightly longer finish. I suspect this is offered by the annual Cask Strength releases, although I have yet to encounter one in the UK.
The Angel’s Envy Port Cask Finish is a pleasant and quite interesting dram and serves to pique my curiosity about the distillery’s other, and especially annual, releases.