Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review sample by Blue Run. 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 links 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.
Jim Rutledge, former master distiller at Four Roses, likely holds the record for shortest retirement ever at four hours. That’s how long it took for the folks at Castle & Key to reach out after he announced his retirement. Castle & Key is the restored Old Taylor Distillery, purchased by Will Arvin and Wes Murry and reopened in 2018 after lying dormant for several decades.
As of 2021, Rutledge contract distills whiskeys at the distillery, including these two new small-batch releases from Blue Run. Blue Run Whiskey Director, Shaylyn Gammon, blended the new releases. Gammon’s background is with Campari’s Wild Turkey label where she worked with several of their higher-end labels. Her nose has led to great things and many interesting stories, including crafting Fred Minnick’s pick for 2021 Whiskey of the Year, the Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old Bourbon. Gammon describes her work as a “mix of science and art. You have to have the science, which is my background. The art is the really fun creative part: It’s like painting with barrels.”
The bourbons on review here are the Blue Run High Rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon Batch 2, which was release in early March, and the Blue Run “Reflection 1” Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which was released in early May. There must have been some magic in that old aquifer at Castle & Key, as Batch 1 from Blue Run, much Castle & Key’s own first bourbon release, sold out within minutes. Batch 2 has a lot to live up to, per the press releases, as its older sibling was named a top 25 bourbon by Robb Report and made Fred Minnick’s Top 100 list.
The samples were a touch muted out of the bottle. A dash of water to each noticeably brought out the aromatics, so I suggest drinking with a large ice cube if you prefer them chilled or with a dash of filtered room temperature water if not.
Tasting Notes: Blue Run “Reflection 1” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Appearance: This is moderate golden amber in color.
Nose: The first sense on the nose is rather muted. Further sniffing reveals notes of green pineapple, wheat toast, cracked grains, and French vanilla. There’s a spicy note of cinnamon. With time, the vanilla note expands into white pound cake.
Palate: The palate is viscous and offers up notes of roast corn, dried dill, and green banana. The flavor is a bit like simple syrup in that there’s a bland sweetness to the whiskey. Air does wonders for the aromatics and the note on the finish is like a perfectly toasted homemade marshmallow. There’s prickly texture on finish. A splash of water brings out the fruit notes, showing ripe watermelon and fresh red berries. This is a subtle beauty.
Tasting Notes: Blue Run High Rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon Batch 2
Appearance: This is moderate golden amber in color and very similar in appearance to the whiskey reviewed above.
Nose: The nose pops with a decedent sweetness showing a faint note of acetone (nail polish remover), with a touch of cherry cola and cream.
Palate: On the palate, it is fairly neutral and reads as sweet and astringent. This is far fruitier than its brother, with notes of ripe cherries, rose hips, and old chewing gum. I get the impression of charcoal or burnt toast. The high alcohol content imparts a touch of astringency to the palate. The finish is lingering, but not my favorite as it is rather aggressive. There’s warmth from the alcohol and a spicy bitterness to the finish. Water brings out the aromatics, showing notes of caramel, red apples, cedar, and mild cigars.
I was initially skeptical since the sample-sized bottles came with a butterfly trinket wired to the neck like 90s-era jewelry. Upon tasting them blind in a line up of other whiskies in the same style, both stuck out as something quite exceptional. Sometimes it’s great fun to be wrong.