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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

First Call

It was my birthday and my daughter wanted to gift me a bottle of bourbon. She is always on the hunt for something new, and being an avid equestrian (that's fancy talk for "horse crazy girl"), she found a bourbon that I hadn't tried (imagine that!), had a horse emblazoned across the label, was reasonably priced, and was in an absolutely HUGE 1.75ml handle- First Call Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Kentucky's Newest Distiller? Bottler? Or what?

The label of First Call indicates that it is from the "IJW Whiskey Company" ... but who is this company? Does it distill its own product? Or source this from other producers?

For the past few years, IJW has been quiet on the subject with rumors circulating around a property acquisition in Louisville, partial ownership by the University of Michigan, and its new warehouses - identical to its next door neighbor - Wilderness Trail Distillery. While IJW does not have its own production facility, over the past 5 years, it has quietly sourced 100,000 barrels that now fill those 4 rickhouses adjacent to Wilderness Trail. In addition to its neighbor, IJW is also using Bardstown Bourbon Company, as well as Wilderness Trail to produce bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskeys.

Currently, Master Distiller Kevin Curtis oversees distilling operations at the various locations, and is assisted by Master Blender Steve Hughes. Curtis brings experience from Woodford Reserve, Michter's and Angel's Envy. Hughes was a longtime director of whiskey development and innovation at Brown-Forman.

Records confirm that IJW owns a building along Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville as well as the warehouses in Danville, Kentucky The University of Michigan connection comes via disclosures of a $130 million investment in 2017 investment into a fund targeting "mining, distressed opportunities, operating businesses and commodities or production inputs that exhibit attractive upside potential to valuation dislocations, transactional complexities, or supply and demand imbalances." Further research indicated that the fund's managers are a private equity firm that includes IJW Whiskey Company.

The Tasting

First Call Kentucky Straight Whiskey comes in a shouldered-bottle sporting a horse and rider in jockey silks along with the race course bugler. The bourbon derives its name from the tune - “The First Call” or “The Call to the Post” - that signals that it will soon be off to the races. It is bottled at 90-proof and the label indicates that the spirits have been aged a minimum of 3 years.

Eye: Light honey. There are a few thin legs on the inside of the glass.

Nose: Vanilla, candy corn, and those marshmallowy circus peanuts you enjoyed as a summer treat. There is also a good splash of caramel and butterscotch candy. This has a well-developed nose for a younger bourbon.

Palate: A light mouthfeel with vanilla followed by orange and milk chocolate - similar to Terry's orange-chocolate candy ball that's common at Christmastime.

Finish: Medium-short and dry with toasted oak and peppercorn, followed by a gentle wave of vanilla.

Overall: This drinks like a much lower proof bourbon. This was smooth, but also had some decent complexity. To be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot for an inexpensive 3-year bourbon. But overall, this was well worth the price - and then some.

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