On March 27, Old Carter announced that their distribution footprint would expand from Kentucky, California, and DC to include New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Louisiana. This weekend I was finally able to purchase two bottles of a whiskey brand that has been getting a lot of attention in the bourbon groups I am in. Old Carter is the brainchild of Mark and Sherri Carter, who originally were in the wine business in Napa valley. They then went into business with Dixon Dedman to restart the Kentucky Owl brand, which was sold to Stoli in 2017. Obviously, the Carters did not sign a non-compete with Stoli when they sold, because they turned right around and began building the Old Carter brand, following essentially the same blueprint they used with Kentucky Owl – source some really delicious bourbon and rye and bottle it at cask strength, charge premium prices for it, release it first in Kentucky and then open up for wider distribution. Except this time they are pulling barrels not just from Kentucky, but also Indiana and Tennessee. This possibly could allow for wider distribution; more barrels yielding more bottles. Their current Old Carter whiskies include bourbon, rye, American (Carondolet whiskey, named for the street Bourbon becomes on the other side of Canal in New Orleans, as I call it – bourbon mashbill aged in used bourbon barrels), and a Kentucky whiskey that is a mixture of bourbon and Kentucky whiskey aged in used barrels.
What you are paying for when you buy a bottle of Old Carter is not just the whiskey, but the palates of the Carters in picking and then often blending barrels. The two bottles I bought were $150 each, which is less than what previous releases have cost. It is still pretty pricey, but the earlier releases generally cost $200 based on my research. Hokus Pokus received bottles of the various new batches, which are not even listed or described on the company’s website. In April, batches 7, 8, 9, and 10 of their bourbon was released, and batches 5 and 6 of their American whiskey was also released. That is a lot of whiskey for Old Carter to release in one month compared to prior years. I think they are really beginning to ramp up production and I imagine their goal is to go nationwide in distribution.
Old Carter Bourbon Batch 9 is sourced from MGP in Indiana and is non-aged stated. It is bottled, unfiltered and uncut, at 116.8 proof, and with the haste at which they are bottling the handwritten label has a decimal point error on the alcohol by volume – 5.84%. The color is a deep amber with a good bit of mahogany in it. Beautiful. On the swirl, there is a thin film with some big thick long legs. On the nose are dark fruits, vanilla, and some lovely oak. It would not surprise me if this was double barrelled as the Carters did with Kentucky Owl, given the color and the oak on the nose. On the palate, rich vanilla and candied cherries mingle together with a wonderful oak. Lovely syrupy mouthfeel. On the finish, the vanilla drops to the background and the candied cherries and oak linger along with juicy fruit gum note that a lot of MGP bourbons have. This is a really delicious bourbon. I have tasted this bourbon before as a component of certain Barrell blended releases, and, frankly, it is much better on its own than being blended with Cascade Hollow bourbon. The Carters did a great job on this bourbon.
Old Carter American Batch 5 is bottled at a hefty 134.9 proof, and is aged stated at thirteen years old but is rumored to have older whiskies as part of the blend. This is also from MGP in Indiana, whose Corondolet whiskey can either be very bad, as was the case of Smooth Ambler’s release, or really good, as was the case with Barrell’s Batch 4 Whiskey. The color is a lovely medium amber for having been aged in used cooperage. On the swirl is a big, thick, oily film with thick long legs. The nose if very much dessert-creme brulee, peach cobbler with cinnamon, beignets with powdered sugar, and a slight note of vanilla bean. That’s just the nose. On the palate, the peach cobbler with cinnamon really comes to the fore, but it is piled high with whipped cream. On the finish, baking spices dominate on the long finish as the fruit fades out. I had erroneously thought that the rum casks did the heavy lifting flavor wise in Barrell’s Batch 4. I was completely wrong, and this Old Carter release shows that older bourbon mashbill whiskey aged in used bourbon barrels is really quite special all on its own. This would pair amazingly well with Baked Alaska after an amazing meal, and then you grab the bottle and head outside and light up a really good cigar.
I am glad I was able to get these bottles to see what the bourbon community has been raving about. At a $150 price point (or higher), these whiskies are not for everyone. But, for proof hounds like me, and for those that like a lot of oak on their bourbon, Old Carter is definitely a welcome player in the American whiskey marketplace. As to the value proposition of the bourbon, I will say that I have had a bottle of an MGP single barrel release from Sugarfield Spirits, that cost much less and was as almost as good as Old Carter, but it was a single barrel store pick, and once it was gone it was gone. So, I am fine with the $150 I paid for this bourbon. As to the value proposition of the American Whiskey, I wrote that Barrell Batch 5 could easily be a $200 bottle. Old Carter American is a simply stunning after dinner whiskey that is worth its price.
Ultimately, at a $150 a bottle, yes, the value proposition is there for Old Carter to be a special occasion whiskey in my bar. It is great that they are ramping up distribution, because the appetite for great, long aged, cask strength American whiskies is far outpacing supply. There will be critics of this review that will say this is overly marked up MGP whiskey. My response is “yes, but the Carters picked this. They know good whiskey.”