Thursday, February 9, 2012
Dusty Thursday: Old Overholt (circa 1984)
For today's Dusty Thursday we look at our first dusty rye whiskey. Old Overholt is a storied brand of rye whiskey, originally distilled in the rye whiskey heartland of Pennsylvania. After prohibition, Pennsylvania rye never recovered and National Distillers, the post-prohibition owner of the brand, shut down its Pennsylvania distillery and moved production to the Old Grand-Dad distillery in Kentucky. In 1987, Jim Beam purchased National Distillers and closed most of its distilleries, moving production to the existing Jim Beam distillery. Now, Overholt is essentially just another bottling of Jim Beam rye. For a more detailed history of the brand, see this post by Chuck Cowdery.
This dusty Overholt dates from National Distillers days. The red cap is one indicator of the older version. The bottom of the bottle is marked with both a 76 and an 84. Given that the bottle measurement is metric and the bottle has a UPC code, 1984 is a more likely date than 1976. I picked this dusty up for $10 at my corner store.
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, circa 1984, 4 years old, 86 proof/43% abv.
I was immediately taken aback by the rich, caramel color in this relatively young whiskey. The nose was almost Cognac like, with lots of sweetness, fermented fruit and some herbal qualities as well. Taste gave a big bang of fruit, a tad bit of spice and some woody notes as well. It doesn't have much in the way of rye spice but it's a very nice whiskey.
I had some current Old Overholt on hand, so I did some comparative drinking. The new Overholt, distilled by Jim Beam and pictured on the right in the above photo, is also a four year old but only 40% alcohol (80 proof).
There is a huge difference between these two whiskeys. The color of the current version is much lighter and the flavor profile is completely different. Modern Overholt is sweet, light and fruity without any of the deep complex notes of the older version. The Beam version lacks the depth and richness of flavor of the older version. Indeed, it is a completely different whiskey, which bears little resemblance to its older brother.
One of the things that's apparent in American whiskey is that because of all the changes in ownership of labels, an old whiskey doesn't necessarily have anything in common with the current version of the label. The National Distillers Overholt, as with the National Distillers Old Crow I tasted, was made at a different distillery than the current Beam version, likely with a different mashbill and a different yeast. Only the label seems to remain the same, which is a pity.