Over the last several months I have acquired two new bourbon labels. My brother gifted me a 375 ml bottle of Reservoir Bourbon as a Christmas present and rather recently a good friend of mine surprised me with a 375 ml bottle of V5 bourbon left on my doorstep when I returned from work. Both were very thoughtful and unexpected offerings and both were rather new labels to my modest knowledge of bourbon. New but not completely unfamiliar. I actually sampled Reservoir at a bourbon and beer festival in Fredericksburg, Va., back in 2016 (see my past article Commence au Festival) however, never enjoyed a dram. As far as Smoky Quartz Distillery’s V5 bourbon, I had only recently read about it’s arrival on the bourbon scene. So, like any inquisitive Bourboneer, I went to school on the matter. I needed more information. I needed some history and of course I needed a private tasting to see what each had to offer.
After a little research, I realized that both Reservoir and V5 bourbons were perfect candidates for a taste comparison. Not just any comparison, more like a North vs. South, blue vs. gray, good old fashion American “mine is better than yours” taste comparison. I’ll explain why momentarily, but what made this observation categorically perfect was that both bourbons were produced from the same exact mash bill: 100% corn. The similarities didn’t end there. Both bourbons are considered to be “small batch”, both are aged for only 12-24 months in small 5-15 gallon charred oak barrels as opposed to the standard 53 gallon barrels and both were produced from locally sourced corn. This was setting up to be a heavy weight test of labels. One for the ages. Ok, that was a bit dramatic, but the similarities were prime for an epic battle. The differences, however, were what made this taste comparison a war of home town pride and territorial dominance. Still too dramatic?
Here is the battlefield review (fight card):
- Representing the blue corner (North): Smoky Quartz Distillery’s V5 Bourbon Whiskey
- Tale of the Tape: Seabrook, New Hampshire Bourbon Whiskey, 45% ABV or 90 proof, Aged 14 months, Year – 2017, Batch – 7, Bottle – 1230. “Veteran Owned and Operated”, 2016 New York International Spirits Gold Medal winner, 2017 Distillery of the Year.
- Nose: Vanilla, heavy corn (obviously), candy corn, honey, definite grassy notes.
- Taste: Tons of corn, vanilla, cherry cola, grass or grain and oak. Quick hot finish.
- Representing the gray corner (South): Reservoir Distillery’s Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
- Tale of the Tape: Richmond, Virginia Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV or 100 proof, Aged 24 months (a straight bourbon whiskey), Year – 2017, Batch – 5, Bottle 126, “The Capitol of the South”, 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Double Gold Medal winner, 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Silver Medal winner, 2016 New York Wine and Spirits Gold Medal winner, 2016 New York International Spirits Silver Medal winner.
- Nose: Corn (of course), vanilla, cinnamon toast, slight gingerbread notes.
- Taste: Candy apple, candy corn, some cherry highlights, buttery. Long hot finish.
Decision: This was clearly a split decision based solely on my flavor profiles. We all know that heavy corn bourbons will be sweet to the tongue. Reservoir and V5 are no exceptions. Such offerings are generally much sweeter than traditional, wheat and especially rye heavy bourbons. However, both labels were quite delicious, not cloyingly sweet and certainly worth drinking over and over (special thanks to my brother and good friend). So it boils down to a personal taste preference. I think the grassy notes in the V5 bourbon were the difference. It’s a new taste and nose for me. Not one I am accustomed to. I think if I had experienced a longer history with such notes the outcome may have been different. The Reservoir edges past the V5 in the final review but it was incredibly close. If I had to use a Civil War battle to best describe the taste comparison between Reservoir and V5 it would have to be Antietam: All out, close in and bloody campaign, numerous casualties (empty shot glasses). Considered a northern (blue) victory (by the numbers) yet southern forces (gray) showed toughness and were ready and willing to fight again.
No matter my preference, I’d definitely recommend both of these smaller distillery, corn bourbons for your bar. If you have the opportunity to get your hand on either of these bourbons I’d strongly encourage you to grab one. If you can get a hold of both, perform your own taste test and let me know your results. Enjoy.
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article:V5 Bourbon Whiskey, 45% ABV or 90 proof, Aged 14 months. Smoky Quartz Distillery, Seabrook, NH.