Since starting this blog a few years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some truly wonderful people in the bourbon community from all over the country. This includes fellow aficionados and bloggers like myself, as well as long-time master distillers, master blenders, craft distillers, and numerous other individuals who are involved in the whiskey making process. Recently, I also had the opportunity to interact with someone deeply rooted in the world of whiskey who also has a connection to my hometown; that little slice of paradise right here in Northwest Florida that we call Tallahassee.
The Bard Distillery was founded in Graham, Kentucky in 2016 by husband and wife, Thomas Bard and Kim Carter Bard. There are many interesting things about Thomas and Kim, but for the sake of keeping this article brief I will just highlight a few. First and foremost, in addition to being an accomplished mechanical engineer and NASCAR crew leader, Thomas Bard literally has whiskey in his blood. Indeed, the name Bard should sound familiar to any whiskey enthusiast. Perhaps it brings to mind the bourbon capital of the world, Bardstown, Kentucky? Well, that stands to reason because Thomas Bard is actually the 6th generation descendant of William Bard, the founder of Bardstown. You may also recognize the name of Tallahassee’s own Kim Carter Bard. Again, this is not surprising because in addition to being a long-time educator and distillery proprietor, Kim was also a professional NASCAR driver, team owner, and professional monster truck driver, among many other things.
Despite their many successful endeavors, Thomas and Kim ultimately decided to embrace their family’s history in the world of whiskey and open a distillery in Kentucky. They initially spent their time training in the art and science of making whiskey, generating start-up resources, and selecting a location for their operations, before settling on an historic school building in Graham, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. They have undertaken the monumental task of restoring this historic site to house their operations, and as you can see from the sketch below, it is going to be a beautiful distillery. Hopefully, their 500 gallon hybrid pot and column still will be up and running in the very near future!
For their first product, Thomas and Kim decided to produce a well-aged, quality whiskey that met their specific standards, rather than rushing to produce a young product. They tasted their fair share of whiskey, but ultimately chose a 10 year-old Tennessee whiskey with great potential. They sourced 20 barrels of this aged juice and then moved the barrels back to Kentucky for more than 3 additional years of aging in barrels with #4 char. As the Bards have said, this whiskey “may have been born in Tennessee, but it got its great flavor from the hot days and cool nights in Kentucky.”
Batch I of Cinder & Smoke was released in late 2019 and sold out in only 6 days! This bottle of Cinder & Smoke is part of Batch II, which was released earlier this year, and is bottled at barrel strength, 98.6 proof (49.3% abv). This bottle retails for around $100.
*Disclaimer – this sample was provided to me free of charge by the distiller; however, this did not impact my review of this product.
Appearance – orange amber. Slow, thick legs formed in the glass.
Nose – a slight dose of ethanol and some hay initially greet you on the nose. However, some sweet corn notes develop and usher in plenty of traditional caramel, vanilla, and baking spice, with soft oak undertones. The nose is really quite pleasant and continues to get better with time, with the rich sweet notes really taking over.
Palate – on the palate, oak and a touch of grain start things off. The oak is quite dominant but it is quickly balanced with plenty of rich caramel sweetness, a touch of baking spice, and some soft black pepper that begins to develop mid-palate. Overall, the palate is well-balanced and flavorful.
Finish – the finish is medium-long with a nice, thick viscosity. The spice really lingers mid-palate, along with some oak char, some toasted grain, baking spice, and just a touch of vanilla and dried citrus peel.
Overall – Cinder & Smoke is fine bourbon! There is no doubt that this is quality distillate that has really benefited from 13 years in oak. At times the oak is a little dominant, but overall there is a nice balance of flavors that really work well together from nose to finish. The mouthfeel was also very pleasant and leaves you longing for another sip!
This is the first expression we’ve seen from the Bard Distillery and rest assured, there are many more great products on the way. We can look forward to more batches of Cinder & Smoke, as well as new releases of the Bard’s own distillate, in the very near future. This is definitely a distillery to watch and if you happen to be in the Bluegrass State, make sure to pay them a visit. Cheers y’all!