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Mini alcohol bottles are often thought of when it comes to mini bars in hotel rooms or, more likely, airline travel. Those devilish little bottles bring joy at 30,000 feet to anyone willing to pony up for the privilege. Nowadays, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey rule the friendly skies. However, for private airlines and, more specifically corporations who maintain their own company plane(s), you can stock whatever little mini’s your heart desires.

For the Elano corporation in the 1970’s, that happened to be Maker’s Mark. The Elano Corporation has a rich history in the aerospace industry. It was founded in 1950 by Erv Nutter and Lee Otterson, whose names were combined to form Elano. Based in Dayton, Ohio, Elano was a critical supplier of jet engine parts to General Electric. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the company experienced rapid growth, and as it tends to happen in corporate America, Elano owned their own private planes. While not much has been written about Elano’s aviation fleet, it is known that Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter, wife of Ervin Nutter, became the president of Elano’s small aircraft division and was a company pilot.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with bourbon and how Maker’s Mark comes into the picture. Elano had bottles of Maker’s Mark branded for “Elano Airlines” in the 1970’s. Seeing as there was no passenger airline that went by the name of Elano Airlines, my working assumption is that this was for the company’s private corporate plane(s). As it tends to happen, sometimes bourbon goes decades before it is opened, passing through various hands along the way. This is what happened when we recently stumbled upon a case of mini Elano-branded Maker’s Mark bottles at Revival Vintage Bottle Shop in Covington, Kentucky. Never one to pass up trying older bourbon, I couldn’t wait to see if these little bottles held up to the test of time or should have been left to the jet set ways of the 1970s.

Below are my (unfortunate) tasting notes:

Nose: Cinnamon | Soapy | Grassy hay | Apricot | Slight mustiness

Palate: Caramel | Brown sugar butter | Bar soap | Light oak

Finish: Musty | Old dusty basement | Sharp spice | Extremely dry oak

The first thing I noticed when pulling the peel off the Maker’s Mark trademarked wax and twisting the metal cap, was the lovely caramel color of the bourbon. Lifting the glass up to my nose provided a mixture of scents, some good, some bad. Cinnamon and apricot provide an appealing aroma, however, a soapiness and slight mustiness provide a stark contrast that provides a sense of trepidation before moving to the palate. The midpoint delivers more standard flavors such as caramel and brown sugar butter, however, the soapiness from the nose is also present, providing a moment of “what did I get myself into?” feeling. Pushing through to the end, the bourbon’s crescendo sees all of my fears come true. The bourbon ends on a musty note which can best be described as the thick air found in an old dusty basement. A sharp spice and extremely dry oak notes drive home the unpleasantness and provide for a stereotypical flavor profile of what people in general used to associate bourbon with during the gloom years of the 1980s.

While it didn’t kill my taste buds, it certainly made them beg for mercy and not want to go back for more. But for the sake of science (or whatever you want to call this), I went back for more until the pour was gone, as it was my duty to pull out every last flavor note and make sure I had all of this correct. After all, it’s not too often that you get a chance to drink bourbon from a long-defunct company’s private airline collection. This was a fun opportunity to taste a small part of America’s rich aviation history. Not all dusty bourbons will taste great, but that’s the beauty of trying them, and whether good or bad, seeing what secrets they hold.

Written By: Jordan Moskal

December 20, 2023
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We drink bourbon from a 1970s defunct airline
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