Age: No Age Statement
Although I adore bourbon, I cheerfully admit that its flavor spectrum is fairly limited when compared with that of single malt scotch. The flavor profiles of modern bourbons are dominated by the twin pillars of sweetness and spice. A few outliers, in particular some Four Roses Single Barrels, also offer intriguing herbal or red berry flavors, while W.L. Weller 12 year-old provides a bright counterpoint of cherry, and some Beam bottlings like Old Grand-Dad 114 and Booker’s offer a bit of orange-y pop. Contemporary bourbons, though, overwhelmingly work in a palette of sweet flavors like vanilla, fudge, caramel, and maple syrup, and spices, a category in which I’d include leather, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and black tea.
By gently deviating from this fairly predictable flavor spectrum, the K&L Faultline bourbon offers up a refreshing surprise. It’s fairly nondescript on the nose—just a bit of Four Roses-style tobacco aroma—but the taste is absolutely bursting with fruit flavors. Not a specific fruit, but a mish-mash. A delicious, juvenile jumble of supercharged, totally artificial tropical fruits, all at once. Sipping this bourbon reminds me of my childhood, and stuffing my cheeks with Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe Gum. There’s a flash of bright, mouth-watering juiciness that promptly disappears—just like the flavor of Fruit Stripe gum, which lasts just seconds, in a manner seemingly designed to enrage its 10 year-old customer base. It’s followed by a wave of spice and pleasant alcohol bite, both of which fade into a very dry, but tasty finish.
These three components—huge fruit, rye spice, and a dry finish—don’t seem complementary, or even compatible, but they mesh very smoothly, indeed. And the process is so quick that I found myself taking sip after sip, savoring the lighting-quick transition between kiddie artificial fruit flavors and grown-up spices. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed at how quickly the contents of this bottle disappeared down my craw. It is perilously easy drinking, and a lot of fun.
That I would find so much to enjoy in this whiskey is surprising, because it is comprised of two separate bourbons, both produced at the MGPI distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. As discussed in an earlier review, I am not a fan of the rye whiskies churned out at MGPI, finding them brine-y and totally lacking in mouthfeel. The Faultline bourbon, though, suffers from neither of these issues. It is actually a vatting (whiskey-speak for “combination”) of two bourbons, one a 10 year-old low-rye whiskey and the other a 7 year-old high-rye whiskey. The two bourbons were in the possession of Smooth Ambler, a West Virginia-based independent bottler, and vatted at the behest of K&L’s spirit buyers. The resulting combination of bourbons, reduced to 50% alcohol, is then sold at K&L Wines.
The Faultline bourbon is worthy of sampling for another reason, too. In addition to resembling a lighter, fruitier version of OBSV yeast Four Roses Single Barrel, it also reminds me of some hard-to-find, dusty bourbons. Yes, it lacks the butterscotch richness and 5W-30 mouthfeel characteristic of some of my favorite dusties, but the fruit-forward flavor and the near-total absence of the most typical modern bourbon flavor, vanilla, is characteristic of old bourbons I’ve been privileged to sip. In that sense, it really does strike me as a callback to dusty bourbons that seem plummy and almost rum-like. To be clear, though, the Faultline bourbon doesn’t taste of dark fruits, and doesn’t remind me of rum—it’s the combination of fruit-forward flavor combined with spice, all at the expense of more familiar vanilla sweetness that reminds me of dusty bourbons.
Bottom line—this is entertaining and unique bourbon that offers a fruity flavor profile, remarkable drinkability, and an undeniable sense of fun. Yes, it costs about $40 a bottle, and in that range bulletproof options abound: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, Ardbeg 10 year-old scotch, or a bottle of Elijah Craig 12 year-old bourbon plus $12 in walking-around money, just for a warm-up. These, though, are workhorses, with reliable (or predictable, depending upon one’s perspective) flavor profiles. The Faultline bourbon offers an intriguing alternative: for your $40 you get a chance to experience a throwback flavor profile that you might otherwise be spending hundreds of dollars to sample, supreme smoothness, and the foundations of a dandy Manhattan. Me, I’ll be buying more.