Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Bardstown Bourbon Company. 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.
Celebrity whiskeys are a distinct market segment, attempting to appeal both to regular drinkers and to fans who might not otherwise be walking down the liquor store’s whiskey aisle at all. Regular drinkers are almost certainly the tougher audience to attract, reflecting a skepticism that trading on a celebrity’s name suggests the whiskey itself might be lacking.
Sometimes, these labels double down with an added celebrity element that could be considered a gimmick. Metallica’s Blackened whiskey, for instance, goes through a “Black Noise sonic-enhancement process” during its finishing stages, with the band’s music blasting the barrels. The resulting vibrations are intended to increase interaction between the wood and whiskey.
Country singer Brad Paisley’s American Highway Reserve brand, a collaboration with Bardstown Bourbon Company, offers its own conceit: Some of the whiskey is aged in “rolling rickhouses” on the back of semi-trucks following the recording artist’s tour across the country. The theory is that the changing weather conditions and motion of the trucks will create a unique aging process.
I’ll admit to my bias up front: I have my doubts about these sorts of barrel-aging contrivances. But the whiskey that goes into the barrels in the first place matters a lot. In this case, that means a blend of an 8-year-old Georgia bourbon with a young (4-year) Kentucky bourbon and an old (12-year) Kentucky bourbon.
Tasting Notes: American Highway Reserve Route 2
Vital stats: Blend of three mash bills – 66% 8-year-old Georgia bourbon (80% corn, 10% rye, 5% wheat, 5% malted barley), 27% 4-year-old Kentucky bourbon (70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley), and 7% 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon (78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley); 98 proof/49% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $99.99 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber with watery legs.
Nose: Banana, fingernail polish remover, hard caramel candies, loose-leaf tobacco, Red Hots.
Palate: It’s spicier across the palate than I would have expected, given the percentage of rye in the blend mash bills. There’s a definite peppery sensibility to it. Underneath that, however, you get dark chocolate, leather, and baked apples.
Brad Paisley is apparently very hands-on in the process, working with Bardstown on multiple points in the distilling and aging process. And at $100 a bottle, he’s clearly not looking to just sell cheap booze to fans. All signs point to the fact that he wants to be involved in a quality whiskey and be in the business for the long term.
Route 2 is a pretty decent effort, and a whiskey I’m happy to have on my bar. Whether it’s worth $100 is more questionable. At that price point, you’re going up against some serious competition; there are a lot of very good bourbons for less than $100. Still, I’d be curious to try Route 3 when it comes around. I have a feeling Paisley and Bardstown are going to continue to innovate and build this brand.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.