The Whiskey Barons Collection set out to resurrect brands that long ago disappeared, including Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard. (Styling by Mark Graham.) (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak
Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak

Re-creating old whiskeys when you don’t quite know how they tasted

Robin Coupar, senior brand manager for the fine whiskies portfolio at Campari America, knows how the distilleries that produced pre-Prohibition bourbons like Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard described their whiskeys. But he isn’t sure how they actually tasted.

Neither is Norm Matella, Campari America’s North American technical center manager. Nor is anyone else involved in Campari’s Whiskey Barons Collection, a new limited edition series of whiskeys that seek to resurrect brands that long ago disappeared from store shelves.

Old Ripy was a “bold whiskey,” while Bond & Lillard was a “much lighter, more floral” style, Coupar says.

But even though Campari America, the parent company of Wild Turkey, owns those long-gone distillery’s recipes, in addition to the brand names, it doesn’t really know what those whiskeys tasted like.

That didn’t stop Campari executives a few years ago from deciding to resurrect those old brands in a way “that’s in line with what they were,” Coupar says. Which didn’t mean replicating their recipes, aging them in barrels and waiting years for them to mature. Instead, it meant taking inspiration from what they do know about those whiskeys and then manipulating whiskey — Wild Turkey whiskey, in fact — that Campari already had to create new versions of Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard.

Sounds like a shortcut, right? It is.

But here’s the thing: They’re good. And I’m not sure that a more authentic whiskey would make for a better spirit.

Old Ripy is a 104-proof blend of 8-year-old and 12-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, along with some younger whiskeys to add “complexity.” The whiskey is non-chill filtered, which means it still has compounds such as congeners, fusel oils, lipid fats and proteins that distilleries often filter out. That gives the whiskey a full, oily body that goes well with its bold, spicy flavor and fruit notes — red apples, plums, raisins — as well as hints of baking spice and toffee.

On the other hand, Bond & Lillard is a 100-proof whiskey that’s charcoal filtered, giving the whiskey a markedly lighter (in color and flavor), more delicate flavor. Bond & Lillard features brighter orange, lemon and butterscotch notes.

They may, or may not, be true to the original. But that’s OK.

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