Angel’s Envy Bourbon’s super premium “Cask Strength” has been rated the world’s top spirit by “Spirits Journal,” an esteemed distilled spirits publication penned by respected booze wonk Paul Pacult.

Cask Strength tied for the 2013 top spot with Highland Park 25 Year Old Orkney Islands Single Malt Whisky ($250).

Cask Strength, which costs $149 per bottle, spends the last of its years aging in port barrels, and is 121 proof. Yet at less than 10 years old, Cask Strength not only got Pacult’s highest marks, he called it an “equivalent of the mythical Black Bowmore 1964 Sherry Oak Islay Single Malt,” which is a rare and nearly priceless Scotch.

“For him to say that about a spirit that was bottled in from 1964 just floored me,” said Wes Henderson, chief operating officer of Angel’s Envy, which is close to announcing where its Louisville distillery will officially be located. “If you could even find that Bowmore it would cost up to $10,000. It’s one of the most iconic spirits ever produced.”

In just three years, Angel’s Envy has drawn an amazing share of heavenly attention. A darling of the liquor press, the bourbon even drew a rating of 98 out of 100 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Created by 74-year-old Lincoln Henderson, the longtime master distiller at Brown-Forman who created Woodford Reserve and oversaw decades of production of Old Forester, it’s fair to imagine Angel’s Envy as not only an exceptionally well-dressed bourbon, but one with gold cufflinks and Gucci shoes. Pacult explains in detail in his review:

“The port pipe aspect comes shining through right from the get-go on this supple, caramel-laden, and pipe tobacco-like opening aroma. Concludes long, roasted, meaty, winey, bakery shop bittersweet, and fudge-like.

Short of that deserved grandiosity are my own descriptions of rich, silky mouthfeel, caramel and light malt back notes, gentle wine nuances and just a bit of heat on the finish.

It’s not a bourbon within my budget, but a guy can want, can’t he?

Louisville-based spirits writer Fred Minnick said Pacult’s endorsement is not only significant, it signals a favorable evolution in bourbon making.

“There are purists who don’t like the fact that they finish the whiskey in port barrels because it’s not traditional,” Minnick said. “I do like it, though. I like the whiskey itself and I like that the Hendersons are experimenting some. Pacult saying he likes it also could mean others will, too.”

“Spirits Journal” takes no advertising and is purely subscriber based, so Pacult is beholden to no one when it comes to his opinions, Henderson said.

“Paul is probably the gold standard of the industry, a guy who knows spirits better than anybody I can think of,” he said. “I look at him as being the best in the world at this, so to have him say what he did about this brand is so important.”

Kyle Henderson (bottling manager), Wes Henderson, COO, and Lincoln Henderson, master distiller of Angel's Envy. Photo courtesy of Angel's Envy.
Kyle Henderson (bottling manager), Wes Henderson, COO, and Lincoln Henderson, master distiller of Angel’s Envy. Photo courtesy of Angel’s Envy.

Minnick agreed.

“He’s more than credible, though not everyone agrees with him,” Minnick said. “I certainly respect his opinions.”

What’s also important to note is five of Pacult’s top 10 rankings are made in Kentucky, as are 15 of his top 100.

Interestingly, many are highly affordable, proof that bourbons at each end of the price range are upscaling.

“It shows you don’t have to spend $50 on bottle of bourbon to get a great bottle,” Henderson said. His personal value pick is Old Forester. “In my opinion it is one of the best bourbons at that price point. I think the 100 proof is one of the best anywhere, and the Birthday Bourbons are phenomenal values.”

Read on to see my cheat sheet of who from the Bluegrass finished where on Pacult’s list, and click here to go see the complete list with Pacult’s tasting notes. If you’re into great spirits, it’s a good read.

1. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels (USA) 60.5% abv, $149.

2. George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA-2012) 71.4% abv, $70.

3. Elijah Craig 20 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 45% abv, $130.

7. Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mash bills Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 63.5% abv, $80.

10. Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Uncut & Unfiltered Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 67.25% abv, $70.

18. Larceny Old Fitzgerald Very Special Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 46% abv, $25. (I’ve had this and find it an amazing bargain.)

20. Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA-2012) 45% abv, $70. (Also had this and if you want complexity, this is a doozy.)

32. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA-2012) 66.2% abv, $70.

54. Colonel E.H. Taylor Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA) 50% abv, $70.

58. Parker’s Heritage Collection Wheated Mashbill Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 62.1% abv, $80.

60. William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 61.7% abv, $70.

64. Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 50% abv, $50.

68. Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA) 45% abv, $35.

76. Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 47% abv, $26. (Huge, huge bargain that I tasted alongside Larceny. The finish is fun and hot.)

83. Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey 20 Years Old (USA) 57.1% abv, $450.

* Bonus nod: Coming in at No. 70 was Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 46.3% abv, $80. Reason why I mention this Hudson Valley, N.Y., entry is because it’s done by Louisville distiller and consultant Dave Pickerell, who’s whiskey Pacult called, “A new craft distilling rock star.” (I also have had this and loved it.)

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

6 thoughts on “Kentucky rules bourbon! Spirits Journal picks Angel’s Envy Cask Strength as world’s top spirit

  1. “…Never mind that high-profile black comedians and rappers use the n-word with impunity – apparently it’s no big deal if you’re black…”

    Really?

    False comparisons about Blacks using the term drips with as much self-pity as Paula Dean’s buttery, self-serving apology.

    However distasteful – and it is – African-American’s have seized the power of the N-word from bigots by effectively making the term irrelevant as a tool of racial power. This doesn’t mean that the slur is any less hurtful or hateful when applied as a racial slur. It does, however, mean that ownership of that once whites-only epithet has been repossessed.

  2. So a few rappers whose biggest audience are white say the n-word and you atribute it all black people? Gary Glitter is a pedophile, Keith Moon was a destructive drug addict and Phil Spector is a murderer. Are all white people drug addicted pedophile murderers? Pitiful and lazy.

  3. And that’s a good thing? Every time I heard it used by blacks was never in a positive light. Sometimes it was just a gig of criticism, other times it was downright mean. What would be good is if the whole of humanity disowned the word. It’s dreadful in any context.

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