Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Old Elk. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Based out of Fort Collins, Colorado, Old Elk distilling has been creating whiskey for nearly a decade. At its helm is Master Distiller Greg Metze, formerly of MGP in Indiana.
Old Elk is a non-distiller producer, or NDP, which means they source their whiskey in whole or in part from another distillery and blend that distillate to make their products. Many whiskey brands do this, some to try out different mash bills, different profiles, or different grain percentages. Whatever the reason, it is often cheaper to buy from a major supplier like Midwest Grain Products (MGP) rather than distilling an experiment on your own and risking it being a total disaster.
For others it’s just simple economics. Building a massive distillery with accompanying rickhouses, staff, mash tuns, etc. is a herculean cost for no guarantee of a payoff – at least not initially. For many in the whiskey game, it is better to build the brand through sourced products and transition to their own distillate after knowing what they offer is desirable to consumers.
For Old Elk and the new Master’s Blend Series, we are tasting a sourced whiskey which Metze blends to his specifications. For the unfamiliar, blending is the process of pairing multiple barrels of whiskey, often totally different from one another, and mixing them together to make a product greater than the sum of its parts. Some distilleries also add cheaper neutral grain spirits, color additives, or lesser barrels of whiskey to add bulk or body to the blend and therefore decrease the cost to the distillery. This Old Elk bottle should not contain any of those additives because they are selling as a “straight bourbon” which by law requires the bourbon have nothing except water added prior to bottling.
Here, we see a blend of four cereal grains: corn, barley, wheat, and rye, coming together into one bottle. What is unknown, and potentially irrelevant, is the make-up of the barrels used. Did Greg Metze combine multiple single barrels, that is to say barrels of corn whiskey, a barrel of rye, wheat, and barley, and combine them to the percentages desired, similar to how some Canadian whiskies are made? Or did Old Elk purchase distilled barrels of combinations of these grains and combine those, doing the math after the fact? Something to ponder.
Greg Metze is a masterful distiller, and the word around the industry is he knows what he’s doing. It also helps he might be working with some of his old distillate, or at least is intimately familiar with the barrels he’s picking. Old Elk may soon make the transition to distilling their own products, or they may also continue to source spirit to build their brand, as they are now available in all 50 states. This requires a lot of product to fill shelves across the country. What is for certain is they are taking big swings with their Master’s Blend and attempting to deliver an ultra-premium experimental whiskey.
There are a few brands who have tried four grain. Laws Whiskey House in Colorado uses a four-grain bourbon as its flagship bourbon, for example. These whiskeys are often complex as balancing four grains, yeast, oak, and age, is no small task. However, when the balance is right people, fall over themselves to get a bottle. With that, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Old Elk Four Grain
Vital Stats: A mash bill of 51% corn, 22.5% wheat, 19% barley, and 7.5% rye. Aged 6-7 years. 105.9 proof or 52.95% ABV. MSRP $100.00. Old Elk Distilling, Fort Collins Colorado, USA.
Appearance: Gold with thin slow legs.
Nose: This whiskey has aromas of oak and pine woods, bananas foster or golden marshmallows, and red cherries. Some alcohol esters burn the nose.
Palate: The palate shows milk chocolate, vanilla, and honey with a lovely buttery mouthfeel and a touch of mint or rye spice. There is a little something tannic in the aftertaste, maybe oak char or tanned leather. The whiskey is oily and coats the teeth evenly, with a small tingle to the inner lips. The finish has a definite dry minerality and an underwhelming length.