Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. 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 in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Following the successes and failures of entrepreneurs is a hobby for Americans. With self-made billionaires airing their antics on a international stage, we have become used to headlines such as Elon Musk sending a Tesla into space. Why are we so fascinated by these people?
I choose to believe it is because we vicariously live through these risk takers, feeling the adrenaline rush of their triumphs or disappointments of their disasters. In the spirits world, you will find few names more exciting and synonymous with entrepreneurial success than Raj Bhakta. Bhakta founded WhistlePig whiskey in 2008 and enjoyed wild success, arguably set off the rye whiskey boom in the 2010s.
After selling WhistlePig in 2019, Bhakta went looking for the his next passion and stumbled upon an old French chateau for sale in the Armagnac, France. This chateau came with 38 barrels of rare and extremely old Armagnac, which he used to start his new business: Bhakta Brandy. If you’re interested, we did a full interview with Bhakta about his about it in 2020.
Armagnac, much like Cognac, is a brandy hailing from France. Distilled from wine in grapes and made in a column still, it has a more intense and fruitier spirit than Cognac, often with notes of prunes and apricot. Armagnac is typically aged in French oak barrels twice as large as American whiskey barrels and is aged in cool cellars. The larger barrels and denser oak create less contact between the spirit and wood, and when combined with the cool aging temperatures, there is little of the evaporation seen in American whiskies.
Bhakta 2013 Bourbon is a 99% corn bourbon made in 2013 and finished in Bhakta’s vintage Armagnac casks. Armagnac cask aging for whiskey is rare, but a few other whiskeys do use it in limited releases, including the illustrious Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend.
Bhakta 2013 bourbon lists no source of the distillate or duration of aging in the Armagnac barrels. However, Bhakta’s focus is on the quality of the finishing, not the specificity of age: “Isn’t it time we provided consumers with more information than afforded by mere ‘Age Statements’? … Single Vintage Spirits are the absolute pinnacle of drinks… There is no more precise indicator of quality and provenance than vintage.” It is with this sentiment that Bhakta has been busy, among others, aiming to own one of the oldest, largest, and rarest collections of vintage spirits on Earth.
Bhakta confirms his place as a visionary by backing up those words in the Bhakta 2013 Bourbon. Coming in a vintage looking 1920s bottle, the product certainly looks enticing but the price-point of $149 feels a bit spendy. Then I tried the whiskey, and all my suspicions were put to shame.
Absolutely bursting with flavor, nuance, and complexity, there is no doubting its quality the second the smell hits your nose, much less rolls around your palate. If his future releases are anything like this one, Bhakta is on his way to great success and perhaps a revitalization of the Armagnac industry. I’ll leave you with the suggestion that instead of endlessly hunting Pappy this fall, buy a bottle of this instead. You won’t regret it.
Tasting Notes: Bhakta 2013 Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged 9.5 years. 100.6 proof (50.3% ABV). Finished in Armagnac casks. ~$149.00
Appearance: Dark and rich amber.
Nose: The Armagnac fruit hits is in full force with oranges and apricot. Traditional bourbon notes of oak and caramel lurk behind them. A bit of banana peeks through on the edges.
Palate: Sweet figs and orange marmalade roll over wonderful notes of vanilla and toffee. Light cinnamon and licorice linger on the palate, with an epic finish of oak, maple syrup and burnt toffee.