The Bourbon Experience: Angels’s Envy
Writer / Chris Cates, Bourbon Connoisseur
This Derby season, when you are looking for a way to showcase Louisville to your visiting guests, may I suggest you try the bourbon experience at Angel’s Envy? When bourbon enters the barrel to mature, we immediately lose 3-5 percent to evaporation. This loss is called the Angel’s Share. What remains in the barrel has been cleverly labeled by the late Lincoln Henderson as Angel’s Envy because all the angels are looking down with envy at the remaining bourbon!
Angel’s Envy Bourbon is the passion project of the now deceased Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes. Lincoln had an impressive 40-year career with Brown-Forman. By all accounts, he was a distilling genius. He worked his way up to Master Distiller of products that are still world-renowned today, such as Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack, and many of the Single Barrel projects at Brown-Forman. Lincoln earned many accolades in the distilling world including being one of the inaugural inductees into the Bourbon Hall of Fame. He was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malt Advocate. But it appears his real passion was to create this brand with the collaboration of his family. After retiring from Brown Forman, Lincoln and his son Wes decided to try their hand at making traditional bourbon, with a unique spin.
Angel’s Envy is known for its secondary maturation process, meaning the bourbon is aged in new white oak barrels, then finished for several months in used port and rum barrels. This additional maturation process gives the bourbon its unique flavor and finish and helps it to stand out from traditional bourbons.
Angel’s Envy is one of the many distilleries opening on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row. They renovated a century-old building across the street from Slugger Field. They offer an impressive and innovative presentation of their brand production. It is evident that they care immensely about the visitor experience. They keep the tour groups small, and the tour guides are knowledgeable, engaging, and entertaining. Brent was my tour guide, and I can’t rave about him enough.
The distillery embodies incredibly new technology, rich bourbon history, and Southern hospitality. We started the tour in the lobby discussing a mural of the entire family. Three generations of Henderson’s have had their hand in producing this bourbon. One of the requirements from Lincoln himself was that each of his grandsons has to work their way up through the ranks of the distillery. Three grandsons are not old enough yet, and two are working their way through different distillery jobs. Currently, Kyle, the son of Wes, is the master taster and blender. He is responsible for quality and consistency.
Even though deceased, Lincoln is still considered the Master Distiller, that is how much they sincerely respect his contributions to the brand and the bourbon. Angel’s Envy has won a multitude of awards, but the one they are most proud of is the Best Spirit on the Planet from 2013. I found the family history fascinating. Lincoln is quoted as saying that all of his previous accolades don’t compare to his proudest moment of creating Angel’s Envy with his family. I think it shows in the bourbon, and in the distillery.
From the lobby, we moved into the distilling room. Here Brent described mash bills, yeast strains, and aging. We went into the room with their vast Vendome Copper still, and it was stunning. In the distillation room, we tasted new mash, just as it was beginning to cook. We then compared it to 4-day old mash and the difference in flavor was unbelievable! The new mash tasted like a sweet corn porridge, and the 4-day old cooked mash tasted like a hoppy beer.
Each station in the distillery has an informational wall infographic that explains what the process is. They are painted on the wood or the brick, and they add a nice touch of crucial knowledge. From there we went through the aging process, just like all bourbon, Angel’s Envy is initially aged in a new white oak barrel. They then move it to the second barrel (used Port or Rum barrels) for an additional finish. The last distillery stop was the bottling plant. Along the tour, we got a ton of general information about bourbon, the brand, and even the building.
We ended the tour in their beautiful, modern, yet still Art Deco style tasting room. The tastings take place at an impressive table made of a gorgeous and massive log, cut in half. Again, their impeccable attention to detail heightened the experience. The tasting mat laid out the entire process from grain to bottle on one side. The other had photos of familiar flavor profiles such as cashew, almond, and toast.
Our tasting glass was upside down over a specially made Art Eatables chocolate. Brent poured our bourbon then taught us the Kentucky Chew. The Kentucky Chew is the best way to acclimate your palate to the high proof spirit. You do this by swishing it around your mouth a few times before swallowing. We then tasted the bourbon with the chocolate. He gave us an additional pour with one ice cube so we could compare the difference in the flavor profile with water. Here are my tasting notes:
Nose: Caramel, toasted almonds, cherry
Taste: Almond, pepper, citrus
Finish: Strong and peppery.
Nose: Caramel, Toasted Almonds, Cherry
Taste: Orange, Caramel, Butterscotch
Finish: Sweet, smooth, citrus
Nose: Caramel, Cherry, Plum
Taste: Fig, Cinnamon, Toast
Finish: Soft, caramel, slight pepper
It was incredible to see the flavor variations with just the chocolate and ice. Lastly, we were invited to purchase an additional drink at their beautiful bar. The bar manager, Alex, was brilliant and obviously passionate about the spirit. He had an impressive cocktail list with new and exciting spins on classic cocktails. We also had the opportunity to order the coveted Angel’s Envy Rye. It was the perfect complement to an already impressive tour.
Overall, the extensive attention to details, the knowledge and passion of the employees, the layout of the distillery, and history of the spirit perfectly combine to leave the visitor with a more meaningful impression of this bourbon and bourbon culture. I hope you too will visit soon. For information on booking a tour visit angelsenvy.com.