Bourbon Review

Saint Cloud 7 Year Single Barrel Bourbon

Barrel Name: Oceanus

122 Proof

As a creative soul first and foremost, even before design school, I have always been drawn to certain aesthetics, for better or worse.  At age 13, I bought an album by a band I had never heard of based solely on the cover art and it led to a lifelong love of that band that I wouldn’t have had without that spur of the moment visual and visceral pull.  I’ve also made purchases based on visual appeal that weren’t nearly so pleasant (cough… Town Branch… cough).

Saint Cloud Bourbon has a beautiful bottle.  Simply stunning.  Equally stunning is the price point.  I waited over a year, while this bottle kept tugging at my mind, searching reviews, reading good and bad.  Finally, some personal good business news and a local bottle shop scoring a few of these converged into a “WTH” moment and I bought a bottle…

…Which has sat in the bunker cabinet for about 4 months now as I weighed the existential crisis of an expensive thing bought without testing.  What if it’s bad?  Or, at this price point, just average (looking at you Tommy Bahama Bourbon)?  Am I a sucker to hype?  To a pretty presentation?  Am I, God forbid, a tater?  Or the other side of the card; what if it’s great?  What future wallet devastations will that lead to?  What if it is, after all is said and done, really worth the sticker shock?

With some trepidation, I have now opened this lovely Pandora’s Box of a bottle.  And discovered:

Nose:  Cinnamon toast.  The really good cinnamon toast that grandma or your favorite great breakfast place makes.  Then what Fred Minnick says is “fresh baked cornbread” and others have said is buttered toast.  I’m not explicitly getting either of these, but there is a beautiful sweetness here that is quite refined.  Creme Brûlée maybe?  A little ‘funk’ similar to what I love about Willett bourbons.  You have to get your nose deep in the glass to get any burn, quite remarkable for the proof.

Taste:  Big.  Bold.  Hot – but hot in all the right ways and so controlled it’s not overwhelming but it bounces all around your tongue and palate for a long, long time.  That in itself is unlike anything else I have ever tasted.  The mouth feel is extraordinary. There is Madagascar vanilla here, and well-worn leather, and charred oak comes through with the spice on the back of the tongue.

Re-nose:  After initial tasting I get cherry and deep stone fruit that I often get (and love) from Kentucky bourbon.  Then that creme brûlée sweetness again and some oak and cigar notes that I missed initially.  Finally, that vanilla comes ‘round to say hi on the end of the inhale.

Re-taste:  Man this is big.  Oceans big.  So rich and deep.  Still cinnamon toast hit at the front but then long waves of that sweetness and vanilla and the leather.  That oak at the end.  It’s a symphony.  I usually water down something this high proof and see what other notes I get but this one… for now… I just don’t want to.

Finish:  That cinnamon and spice lingers on your lips and the back of the tongue for a long, long time.  The Kentucky Hug is a long one, and warm, and oh so joyful.

Recap:  So I read a lot about this brand and these bottles and about Ray and I am both relieved (as mentioned, it’s a pricey bottle purchased without tasting first) and amazed by what he has produced here.  The explosiveness matches some of the best high proof bourbons I’ve had and it’s SO BIG but with such control.  It’s incredibly balanced and just rides that line of heat so well.  I’m not normally a high spice bourbon lover, I tend to prefer the wheaters, but I really love this pour.  This is definitely going on my top shelf and I will be looking for others.  I cannot wait to see how this bottle opens up over time.  I would love to try a 13 year and see how it differs from this, and see what else Ray thinks is worthy of this beautiful bottle and brand presentation.  I think I understand the pursuit of uniqueness that he is doing here and how every barrel will likely be different and I hope they all surprise and delight the way this one does.  Single barrels from the same distiller can have wide variations, much less more widely sourced barrels.  This sets a high bar for future Saint Cloud releases.

Damn the critics and the naysayers.  This is exceptional bourbon.