It’s a Friday evening after a long week at work and you’re ready to sit back and relax with a glass of your favorite bourbon. Whether you drink it neat or mix it with something else, it tastes great. But how much do you truly know about it?
Blade and Bow, for example, has a unique and distinct history. This bourbon is named after the two pieces of a skeleton key. The shaft of the key often called the “blade”, and the handle referred to as the “bow.” This bourbon is an inspiration of the Five Keys which guests will notice if they visit the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. These keys represent the five steps involved in making bourbon: grain, yeast, fermenting, distilling, and aging.
Over time, these keys have come to show the true hospitality and warmth associated with southern traditions. Let’s take a closer look at the history behind this intriguing bourbon.
History of Blade and Bow
The first thing each visitor to the Stitzel-Weller distillery will notice are the five shiny keys that hang on the front door. These keys are scattered throughout the property as a reminder of the hospitality and warmth associated with southern traditions.
The Stitzel-Weller distillery opened its doors in Louisville (pronounced Loo-Uh-Vulle), Kentucky in May of 1935. Coincidentally, the first days the door opened were the same as the running of the 61st Kentucky Derby.
Throughout the years, the distillery has created some of the more notable brands on the market, including Old Fitzgerald, W.L. Weller, and cult classic Pappy. The latter was a bourbon created by Julian Van Winkle, Sr., affectionately known as “Pappy.”
Unfortunately, the distillery closed in 1992, but it was purchased by the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience and reopened in 2014. Now, Blade and Bow is made from some of the oldest remaining whiskey stocks distilled at the Stitzel-Weller. The aging system comes from the Spanish method, called solera, where liquid from five different barrels is mixed and aged with other bourbons.
The result is a smooth, rich bourbon with hints of dried apricot, caramel, and wood. For a real treat, you could also try to rare Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s a limited release with smoky oak, vanilla, caramel, and spice flavors.
While these bourbons are distilled in other locations, the staff at Stitzel-Weller has an experimental still where they can try out future projects and create new ideas for Blade and Bow bourbon. They taste new mash bills and discuss innovations that can meet demand but stay true to the brand.
Though Stitzel-Weller had to close, when they reopened their doors, they reopened a path to the future where they could keep their rich past but make new stories that will modernize the bourbon industry.
What Makes a Bourbon?
There are several things that must be true for something to be considered a bourbon. In fact, all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Branches on the tree of whiskey include Canadian, Scotch single malt, Irish single pot still, rye, and quite a few others. Bourbon is one of these branches.
To be considered a bourbon, the liquid must be made in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, despite what many people think. It must be aged in a new, charred, oak barrel, the mash must be made from 51% corn, it cannot enter its barrel at more than 125 proof, and nothing except water can be added to lessen the proof.
Because the mash bill must be mostly corn, it makes up the grain of the whiskey. It can be made with up to 100% corn, but many use other grains like wheat or rye. Typically, at least 18% wheat or rye is used in wheated or high-rye bourbons. More traditional bourbon recipes includes 70-80% corn and the rest is wheat or rye, with some barley added.
Usually, bourbon is distilled in a column-still first and then moved to a pot still, but some bourbons only use a pot still.
While bourbon must be aged, there’s no rule for how long. The only exceptions to this are that straight bourbon must be aged for at least two years and bottled-in-bond bourbon must be aged for at least four years.
While it must be aged in a new, charred oak barrel, there’s no regulation stating it must be American oak. However, American oak is almost always used anyway. The size of the barrel is also not dictated, but they’re generally 53 gallons.
Bourbon cannot enter the barrel after distillation at more than 80% alcohol by volume. Some whiskeys are allowed to distill up to 95%, but not bourbon. The higher the proof, the less flavor it will have.
About Blade and Bow
Blade and Bow bourbon is a blended bourbon using the solera method, which is an ancient Spanish method of using five barrels to age the drink. It’s produced by Diageo and blended from multiple sources, one of which is the original Stitzel-Weller distillate.
It is distilled at 90 proof and aged for at least six years. Sometimes it’s aged for more than 20, but these are rare and harder to find. For instance, the Blade and Bow 22 Year is aged for 22 years and is blended from distillates of the Buffalo Trace distillery and the Bernheim distillery.
Using the solera method for aging, the bourbon is rotated from five different barrels and blended from youngest to oldest. No more than half of what remains in each barrel is dumped for bottling. The average age of the final product increases over the original six-year barrel.
By using stocks from the last distillate in the aging process of the new batch, these bourbons get blended over time, but the rare and limited supply of bourbon aged over twenty-five years dwindles. This process is not new when used in wines and other liquors, but it’s new to bourbon production, making Blade and Bow very distinct and unique.
The Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old bourbon is a one-time limited release. Given this bourbon’s extreme age, there’s no evidence that it uses the solera method. It costs nearly three times what the traditional Blade and Bow costs, but may be well worth it for bourbon lovers.
All Blade and Bow bourbon comes in a cordial-like container. The sharp edges resemble a crystal decanter, making it shine in the light and give the amber color a deep, rich look. The blue and gold label on the front matches the blue foil on the neck.
The 22-year Blade and Bow has gold foil with a gold logo. Both varieties have a key around their neck. This key represents the five keys of great bourbon, just like the keys on the door of the distillery. The fun part about Blade and Bow packaging is that there are actually five keys you can collect, and Diageo urges you to collect all of them. However, this could prove difficult, because some are rumored to be rare.
The packaging is attractive, but for some buyers, the price may not be. It’s a few dollars more expensive than some of our other favorites, like Knob Creek, and more similar to Woodford Reserve pricing.
The Blade and Bow coloring is what they call medium russet. In the attractive bottle, it shines in the light and looks lovely. The 22-year is a deep mahogany color and exhibits masculine qualities that are appealing to many.
In the traditional Blade and Bow, you’ll notice notes of vanilla and ripe peach on the nose. The oak and age lend themselves well to a butterscotch scent, which is decadent and smooth. The 22-year has more noticeable aromas of charred oak, balanced with smooth vanilla and caramel undertones that make it exceptionally pleasing.
There’s quite a bit of dried fruit in the taste, including apples and pears with charred barrel tannins. The 22-year Blade and Bow is delightfully smooth with a buttery texture and sweet honey on the tip of your tongue. A long finish gives way to butterscotch, caramel, and vanilla.
The Blade and Bow has a medium finish with lingering caramel flavors and a punch of oak. The 22-year features a long, smooth finish that lingers over a clean oak flavor. It’s permeated with cinnamon, cloves, and peppery spices. It’s strong, but not overpowering.
If you’ve ever tried the I.W. Harper or the I.W. Harper 15, you’ll find a nice comparison here. The Blade and Bow and Blade and Bow 22 compare favorably in nearly all aspects except the price.
Other bourbons you might like to try if you are looking for something at a lower price point include:
- Maker’s Mark
- American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey
- Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
However, if it’s not the price point that bothers you, but you’d rather get more for your money, try some of these:
- Woodford Reserve
- Willett Pot Still Reserve
- Horse Soldier Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The two Blade and Bow varieties are very distinct and appear to have no relation to each other. Aside from the fact that they are both blended and distilled from various sources, the traditional Blade and Bow is plentiful and the 22-year is a rare, limited-release you likely won’t find for long.
Both are excellent sipping bourbons, but they’re dramatically different in flavor profiles made from different whiskeys, sourced from different distilleries, and aged using different techniques. The only thing they have in common is a name. If you’re a true bourbon lover interested in trying Blade and Bow, you may feel a bit polarized by what you find. The standard Blade and Bow doesn’t have the punch of age you might expect and isn’t as smooth as aged bourbons.
However, it doesn’t taste necessarily young, either. It’s falls in the middle of the youngest six-year component and the oldest twenty-year component. It’s enjoyable, but there’s nothing special about it and may not end up being your favorite.
The 22-year Blade and Bow is completely different. It’s a rare find and it’s very uncommon for bourbon to be this old. It’s been blended smooth, and it’s rather manageable to sip. It’s not over-oaked like many aged bottles and it’s a true testament to Diageo’s blending ability.
At the price, you’re paying a pretty penny to try it, but if you can spring for the 22-year, you won’t be disappointed. However, while it’s a really nice bourbon and a rare find because of its age, the value needs to be determined by you, and you alone.
The traditional Blade and Bow is a nice sip, but you have to consider the price point on this one as well. It’s a bit steep for a lot of buyers, but it’s not the only high-priced bourbon. Once again, you have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth it or not. Some people like something more tried and true, like Woodford Reserve, instead.
In either case, the color is deep and beautiful, and the aroma is sweet and inviting. Both are robust and flavorful and worth a try if you can get your hands on them.
FAQ’s About Blade and Bow
The Stitzel-Weller Distillery was founded in 1935 in Shively, Kentucky, which is a suburb of Louisville. Though it closed in 1992, it produced many well-known brands. It reopened in 2014 and is a popular tourist site on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, along with Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Evan Williams, and many more.
The solera system for aging is typically used in wine, brandy, and vinegar. It works by blending small portions of contents from barrels aged at different intervals. The finished product is a mixture of ages and the average age gradually increases over time and the process continues. Half of the contents of the barrels are poured out for bottling while the rest is left to age and blend with the next batch, increasing in age slowly over time, but making well-aged products very rare.
Yes! The historic Stitzel-Weller distillery may not be well known to many, and certainly not as well known as other big names on the trail, but it’s a landmark of the American whiskey industry and deserves a place on your bourbon tour. It combines a rich history with innovation for the future of the whiskey industry, and you can visit the active barrel house, walk with bourbon legends, and taste more than just Blade and Bow. You’ll also enjoy Bulleit and I.W. Harper bourbons.