Black Maple Hill (47.5 ABV, 95 Proof/$40) Of all of the non-distiller producers (NDP) out there, Black Maple Hill is easily the most sought after. It is one of the older NDPs still putting out bottles, and the early stuff was legendary. Now, the orange labeled, no age statement Black Maple Hill is all that remains, the details are fuzzy. While demand may be high, clarity is very, very low.
A K&L article by Dave Driscoll gives the most detailed background on BMH on the web, citing who owns BMH and even names Willett as the organization charged with blending the juice, but the provenance of the actual bourbon is still unknown. We know it comes from Kentucky, and there are rumors that it is Heaven Hill stock, but no one really knows. All I can say for Black Maple Hill and the rest of the NDPs is if they can prove to produce a consistent product that people enjoy at a reasonable price, the NDP background won’t be such a problem.
Most of the hype for Black Maple Hill started in the early 2000’s. The Lawrenceburg Black Maple Hills were bottled by a Mr. Van Winkle, King Midas himself. Right now, a used napkin of Julian Van Winkle’s second nephew would sell on eBay, so any bottle with a Van Winkle link is instantly vaulted to the highest regard for collectors and flippers. The previous 14 through 20 year age stated Black Maple Hill bourbons, as well as the legendary high age ryes have created lightening in a bottle for the standard 8-ish year, orange labeled (black wax), standard Black Maple Hill. Even the recent $150 Black Maple Hill 16 year has quite a bit of fanfare, but it is important to know what you are looking at next time you see BMH on a shelf.
Since BMH is equally as absent as the BTAC, Parker’s Heritage, and Four Roses LE from your liquor store shelf, the assumption can be made that BMH is equally as good as said brands. The problem is, rare availability does not always equal rare quality.
NDPs are usually pretty low on the food chain when it comes to barrel availability. Undesignated barrels of bourbon are becoming harder and harder for NDPs to obtain as the boom goes on. Releases like Eagle Rare 17 and the Parker’s Heritage are limited because only a few barrels reach the quality needed to obtain the brand’s desired profile. That is rare quality. Black Maple Hill is at the will of whomever distills the barrels they use. Since BMH is just another face in a long line of NDPs, their brand is rare because they don’t have access to tons of barrels, and they do not control production. That is rare availability.
With that said, Black Maple Hill’s sourced bourbon can still be worth the hype, but until you can decide that for yourself, know that BMH is not worth some of the extreme, demand driven mark-up that is out there. Aside from the limited availability, there is nothing special about the orange labeled, “Limited Edition” Black Maple Hill. As you read in the K&L article, the Van Winkle provenance is long gone. The age is average at best, and you have no idea what it will taste like from batch to batch because there is no way to know whose barrels CVI Brands will have access to when the next batch come around.
For $39.99, you are getting a good value for the price, but don’t let a lone bottle of BMH placed on the top shelf of your liquor store pressure you in to paying anywhere north of $60.
But, if it is a rye or an age stated L’burg bourbon, bye that sucker no matter the price!
Nose: There is a lot of corn upfront, and as the bottle opens up, that corny, young nose fades quite a bit. Lots of honey and oak start to show up in the nose, with some sharp spice. Cinnamon pie and snickerdoodle cookies come to mind.
Sip: Good texture, with a quick sweetness showing up in the front. Caramelized sugar, thick warm honey, candied pecans and lots more of that sweet corn. There is some nice rye spice, like a spicy baking cinnamon, some cloves and a nutty back end. Some oaky vanilla notes finish the sip in the back palate.
Finish: The finish is decent. Not too long, not short but not very complex either. Classic bourbon tastes are there, but the most prominent tastes to me are the sweetness and the corn, with the spice and oak a distant second.
In the glass, BMH gets a little more complex with a couple minutes. That upfront sweetness hides and you get more of the oak and rye spice that really complements the remaining corn and sweet tones of the bourbon.
Overall Grade: B
Black Maple Hill Small Batch is a solid pour of bourbon. The nose is awake, and there is plenty to pick apart in the profile for the price, but it is shy of what I would call a “refined” bourbon. The nutty, oak spice, as well as the baking spices from the rye are pretty sharp, which makes the sweet notes and the young corn flavor a bit unbalanced. For the price, BMH is a good value, but I certainly wouldn’t pay beyond $40 for the bottle.
Drink this, not that: Black Maple Hill Small Batch does just fine in its category. It is in the upper echelon of the $40 and under category (I got mine with some “points” so BMH might be low $40’s where you are). I like it better than Maker’s 46, Eagle Rare, Woodford Reserve and Jefferson’s Small Batch and Reserve Bourbon, but Elmer T. Lee ($10 cheaper than BMH), Old Rip Van Winkle 107 Proof ($37), most Four Roses Single Barrels ($32-$50) and Elijah Craig 12 Year (low $30’s) are better buys in my opinion.
If you run across a bottle marked up to $50, $70, or even $100, I would skip it Up in that price range, you can get a bottle of EH Taylor Single Barrel, which is a far superior bourbon with a much more consistent source. EH Taylor is what I would call a refined single barrel, which comes with a lot of the balance and depth that I find missing in the small batch BMH.