Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – I.W. Harper Returns.

There I was, 20 minutes south of Louisville on a Thursday night in the middle of a forest, tasting the return of I.W. Harper to the United States.  This is the way I get to Jim Beam (which is right across Clermont Rd.) and Four Roses at Cox’s Creek (just five miles east down Clermont Rd.), so why was I trying I.W. Harper, a brand that hasn’t been here for the last 20 years?
Bourbon enthusiasts may know that “Harper” was the brand name used by Isaac W. Bernheim, instead of using his own German-Jewish immigrant name, to sell his popular brand of whiskey in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Bernheim’s real name is memorialized in both the “old” and the “new” Bernheim Distilleries, along with Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey from Heaven Hill.  Isaac Bernheim was also a philanthropist, and as noted in the Bernheim Forest website (link here), he donated land for the forest preserve:
Isaac W. Bernheim established Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in 1929. I. W. Bernheim (1848-1945) was a German immigrant who settled in Kentucky. From a humble beginning as a peddler, he became successful in the whiskey distilling business where he established the I.W. Harper brand. Grateful for his good fortune, he gave Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to the people of Kentucky as a gift.
I have expressed my intention that said property … be held in trust … and said fourteen thousand (14,000) acres be used for a park, for an arboretum, and, under certain conditions, for a museum, all of which are to be developed and forever maintained … for the people of Kentucky, and their friends, as a place to further their love of the beautiful in nature and in art, and in kindred cultural subjects, and for educational purposes, and as a means of strengthening their love and devotion to their state and country.
– I.W. Bernheim
Isaac Bernheim seems to have largely avoided the type of distillery litigation that I write about, but his Foundation was involved in litigation in the 1970’s which challenged its tax-exempt status.  That case, Commonwealth ex rel. Luckett v. Isaac W. Bernheim Foundation, Inc., 505 S.W.2d 762, 763 (Ky. 1974), also noted the lofty purpose of Bernheim’s gift:
The Isaac W. Bernheim Foundation was incorporated for the following purposes:
1.      To afford means for further development in the people of Kentucky, regardless of race or creed, of love for the beautiful in art, music, and in natural life, and for kindred educational subjects, and to strengthen their love and devotion to the State of Kentucky and the United States, and the institutions which have made possible the development thereof.
2.      To establish and permanently maintain, an arboretum and herbarium for the raising of trees and shrubs, and to distribute, free of charge, through the State of Kentucky, such trees and shrubs grown on the lands of the Corporation in order that the work of the Corporation may add to the beautification of the highways, public parks and places in the State of Kentucky, and also that the Corporation may be an aid to the maintenance of forestration and reforestration of the lands of the State of Kentucky.
3.      To provide a sacred sanctuary for the nondestructive wild birds and wild animal life, in order that their extinction may be prevented.
4.      To establish and permanently maintain an art gallery and to acquire and add thereto from time to time, objects of art, including paintings, statuary, bronzes, procelain, and all other kindred subjects, both modern and antique, which may come under the nomenclature of artistic endeavor.
5.      To establish and permanently maintain, a museum of natural history patterned after and following the general lines of the museum of natural history of New York City.
Anyhow, that’s how Bernheim Forest is connected to I.W. Harper, and how I came to be drinking Bourbon in the middle of a forest as part of Diageo’s launch event.  After being sold only in international markets for 20 years, Diageo is bringing it back to the U.S. within a month in a 15-year version and a no-age statement (NAS) version.
Doug Kragel, a brand ambassador for Diageo, explained that the New Bernheim Distillery is the source of the new I.W. Harper 15-year (presumably just before it was sold to Heaven Hill).  The source of the NAS version is not being disclosed.
J. M. Hirsch of the Associated Press reported that Doug told him that this new I.W. Harper “isn’t quite the same … [as] back in the day … but it’s awfully close.”  It’s also bound to be slightly different than the 12-year international variety, so let’s see how the new versions do.
Tasting Notes
Disclaimer: Diageo kindly invited me to the launch 
event at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest 
to sample both new I.W. Harper brands
for this review, without any strings attached.
Thank you.
I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill:
73 corn; 18% rye; 9% malted barley
No Age Statement, but the youngest Bourbon in the bottle must be at least 4 years old under applicable regulations
82 proof
$34.99 / 750 mL bottle
Light amber.
Very subtle, corn sweetness and vanilla.
Very sweet with corn, vanilla and caramel, along with a nice orange citrus note.  Not as youngish as I expected, but still lacking spiciness, and not much oak to speak of.  However, it was creamier than I expected, and overall it clearly has older stock blended in.
Really short.
Limited Edition I.W. Harper 15-Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
New Bernheim, Louisville, Kentucky
Mash Bill:
86% corn; 6% rye; 8% malted barley
15 years
86 proof
$74.99 / 750 mL bottle
Darker in comparison, as expected.
Again, very subtle, but predominantly sweet.
A ton of corn sweetness along with caramel and vanilla, but well balanced with oak, a little pepper spice, and plum.  Creamy.  I missed the pop of rye spice or fruitiness, but I still really enjoyed it.
A much better finish in comparison, but a little one dimensional.
Bottom Line
I’ll have to revisit these since it’s risky to review based on a single tasting, and I’ll hold my normal scoring until I can try these again.  In the meantime, from the samples provided, I.W. Harper Straight Bourbon Whiskey strikes me good, but under-proofed with better options for the price.  However, due to blending in older stocks, it’s light years better than standard issue four-year Bourbon.  Others at the event liked the younger version over the 15-year version, but I will say that the younger version made some fantastic cocktails.  Between the two, I preferred the I.W. Harper 15-year, although again I think that it was under-proofed.  I’ll definitely buy a bottle of both of these when they’re released, and I’m hoping to score at least a sample of the international 12-year version to review all three blind.

2 Comments on “Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – I.W. Harper Returns.

  1. Yes indeed. I wondered about that too, but had heard that the corn % was 72 (not 73), but regardless, that is a great guess for source.


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