Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Blue Run Spirits, LLC
Distillery: Sourced (from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery[ies])
Release Date: October 2020
Age: 13 Years
Color: Dark Copper
Price: $170 (2021)
According to the company’s press release, Blue Run Spirits was started in 2019 by a group of friends and bourbon lovers – a Nike designer, Facebook’s first director-level employee, a hospitality executive, a political advisor, and a philanthropist – that wanted to evolve the bourbon industry, creating fine products for the modern whiskey fan. The five founders teamed up with Jim Rutledge, a 50+ year whiskey veteran and former master distiller at Four Roses, who serves as what they refer to as the brand’s “liquid director.”
The company also states, “The bottle was designed by Devon McKinney, the creative mind behind some of the world’s most sought after sneakers. The weighty, hand-numbered bottle is perfectly proportioned, featuring the brand’s signature gold butterfly medallion which symbolizes the metamorphosis of the bourbon industry as it reaches a broader audience which appreciates fine bourbon through Blue Run.”
This inaugural small batch release consists of 2,600 bottles. It contains bourbon sourced from an undisclosed distillery(ies) in Kentucky, and the company notes future releases will also be selected or distilled by Rutledge.
Traditional scents of vanilla, caramel, and aged oak are met with a custard-like aroma that provides for a distinctive introduction. The intensity is ample, yet quite manageable considering the proof. It’s an enjoyable introduction to the sip.
Baking spices combine with brown sugar and caramel sweetness to form an elegant balance of spicy and sweet notes. Trace amounts of leather and aged oak add a layer of depth, giving way to a developing spice on the backend. The mouthfeel is satisfying, and the overall potency is on point - not too little, not too much. Overall this makes for a very traditional yet subtly refined experience that will reward those who take their time with it.
The developing spice on the palate crescendos in the finish with a surge of baking spices and ever-so-slight hint of cinnamon. Dark cherry sweetness develops alongside the tapering spice and developing dryness. Long and delicious, the finish succeeds at provoking another sip.
These past few years we have seen a surge of 13+ year old bourbons, many of them originating from Tennessee, but lately a growing number coming from Kentucky. Some take the form of privately selected single barrels, while others are introduced as limited releases for a slightly wider audience.
While many rightfully argue it’s what’s inside the bottle that really matters, I found Blue Run 13 Year’s bottle design quite striking the first time I laid eyes on it. The broad shoulders, elegant simple text, and gold butterfly made me take a second look. A deviation from the norm in bourbon bottle design, I always appreciate attention to the details of a well-thought-out design. To that end, I was interested to learn that this attention was not only deliberate, but a key element within the core of the brand. Some readers may scoff at this discussion point, but I would argue that using an element of design, such as this, that engages a new audience is a welcome attribute in any endeavor, including bourbon.
As for the flavor profile, if you are expecting a bombastic flavor bomb you’ve come to the wrong place. Blue Run 13 Year is not barrel proof, but maintains a reasonably high 113 proof point that suggests it might offer an explosion of flavors similar to more familiar barrel proof bourbons. Instead, Blue Run 13 Year revels in elegance, instead offering an experience more comparable to whiskeys such as Eagle Rare 17 Year and Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon. It offers a subtle and refined flavor profile that errs on the traditional side, doesn’t overdo the proof, and finds balance at every turn. It won’t blow you away with an explosion of flavors like barrel proof releases such as Stagg Jr. or Elijah Craig Barrel Proof can, but it will satisfy more developed palates who prefer a robust yet manageable, albeit traditional, flavor profile.
With so many high aged releases originating from Tennessee, any with Kentucky on the label are sure to turn heads. But like any release, it comes down to the specific barrels selected and batching that took place. Undoubtedly, Rutledge’s 50+ years of experience are showcased here, as it’s no surprise his palate is behind this. A $170 bottle will certainly not be for everyone, and to be perfectly frank no one really ever needs to spend more than $100 on a bottle. For example, consider the 100 proof Knob Creek 12 Year ($60) if you’re looking for a more robust, yet traditional flavor and are seeking a bigger bang for your buck. But for those who don’t mind the splurge, $170 for such a well-rounded high-aged Kentucky bourbon isn’t completely unreasonable in today’s landscape. At only 2,600 bottles, this higher aged Kentucky bourbon is more comparable to releases like Three Chord 15 Year ($190) and Chicken Cock 15 Year ($300), and I have no doubt today’s marketplace will bear it.
Blue Run 13 Year Bourbon might catch your eye with its elegant bottle - thankfully, it offers an elegant bourbon to back it up.
The word that kept running through my head as I sipped and reviewed this bourbon was elegant. It’s a word I don’t often associate with a bourbon, and one that really landed this time around. It started with the marketing, then the packaging, and finally the experience drinking it was exactly that. When it comes to bourbon, I feel there are very few times that a brand’s message actually lands the way they intend it to. Or there just isn’t a clear message, as many who are good at bourbon making are not as good at messaging. In this case, the bourbon is exactly what the bottle and marketing suggest it will be. And for those ready to sound off on “it’s what’s in the bottle that counts!” idealism, just to be clear, my point isn’t that the marketing made the bourbon better, it’s that the bourbon inside the bottle actually lives up to the company’s implied suggestion of what it would be.
The combination of Jim Rutledge’s talent, eye-catching bottle design, and marketing talent is a recipe for success in a marketplace where there seems to be no end in sight for what the market will bear when it comes to high end limited release bourbons. At the same time, I’m disappointed by the fact that the price point might be out of reach for so many. I can certainly appreciate the fact that the market will accept a $170 13 year old Kentucky bourbon, however I would love to see sub-$100 options from Blue Run Spirits that deliver a similar overall experience.