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Tasting Notes: Chicken Cock 160th Anniversary Single Barrel Bourbon

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In recent years, the bourbon community has seen the resurgence of many long-forgotten brands that once fell victim to the plague of prohibition. In 2011, thanks to the efforts of the fine folks over at Grain & Barrel Spirits, bourbon enthusiasts were given the opportunity to witness the revival of a storied brand that played an integral part in the history of pre-prohibition American whiskey: Chicken Cock Bourbon. For this review, I am tasting the Chicken Cock 160th Anniversary 8 Year Single Barrel Bourbon.

According to the company’s website, the Chicken Cock brand was originally established in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky. The brand  experienced tremendous success and quickly became one of the largest names in bourbon up until prohibition, when the company was forced to move production to Canada.

Chicken Cock was smuggled across the border in tin cans, where it rose to fame as a popular serve at some of the era’s most famous speakeasies, including the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem. At the Cotton Club, when patrons ordered a “Chicken Cock,” waiters would present the tin can tableside and ceremoniously open it to reveal the bottle of Chicken Cock Whiskey inside. Duke Ellington writes about Chicken Cock in his memoirs, referring to the “brand that was served in a tin can.” At a rumored $15 per bottle Chicken Cock wasn’t for the light of pocket, but it was a small price to pay to secure a prime table near some of the greatest musicians of the era.

https://www.chickencockwhiskey.com/our-whiskey

The brand survived prohibition and began to return to its former glory, but the brand was ultimately lost following a fire at the distillery in the mid-1900s. Numerous attempts were made to revive the brand following its demise but all of these efforts were unsuccessful and Chicken Cock was lost for nearly 40 years. Fast forward to 2011, when South Carolina-based Grain & Barrel Spirits injected new life into the brand and started producing whiskey in honor of the “famous old brand.”

This 8 year-old, single barrel bourbon was originally released in July 2017 in honor of the 160th Anniversary of the Chicken Cock brand. It comes packaged in a stunning replica of a pre-prohibition Chicken Cock bottle affixed with a tin cap.

The mashbill for this bourbon consists of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley. This bourbon was distilled by MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and was aged for 8 years in Owensboro, Kentucky inside American oak barrels with #4 char on the staves and #2 char on the barrel heads. Only 30 barrels were produced for this limited expression (roughly 7200 bottles) and  this is bottle #104 from Barrel #22. This bourbon comes in at 90 proof (45% abv) and it originally retailed for $100.


Tasting:

Appearance – light copper.

Nose – the nose is fairly light and delivers a bouquet of the traditional notes of caramel, sweet vanilla, and heavy oak, along with some light citrus notes. With time I found more baking spice along with some rich, toasted grain that reminded me of buttered popcorn.

Palate – this bourbon is soft on the palate initially but the flavors really develop quickly. Rye spice initially dominates, along with some baking spice and oak char, but rich golden honey really takes over and ushers in some additional citrus and herbal notes.

Finish – the finish is medium-long leaving a buttery mouthfeel. The rye is definitely present, creating a nice peppery spice, along with more baking spice (mainly cinnamon), heavy oak, vanilla, and rich salted caramel.

89Overall – In terms of packaging, Chicken Cock clearly deserves recognition, as the pre-prohibition style bottle is absolutely beautiful. However, the juice in the bottle also deserves high praise. This single barrel bourbon is fairly light, but it is also flavorful and refreshing –  a perfect summertime bourbon. This is not the most complex bourbon you will ever encounter, but the flavors that are there are well-developed and very enjoyable. This is a great sipping whiskey that has a lot to offer, especially with its long, peppery finish. The price tag may seem a little high, but that is to be expected with a limited release of only 30 barrels and an 8-year age statement. This bottle makes a wonderful addition to any home bar and also makes a great discussion piece for those interested in bourbon history.

Cheers!

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