I often say that I like surprises, but that’s not really true. What I actually like is discovering new things. It’s safe to say I know a bit about whiskey. Yet I constantly find myself surprised and excited by things that I don’t know. And it is rarely the massive, specialty releases that catch me off guard. It’s the little guys that usually make me sit up and notice. Maybe it’s because they’re unexpected, or maybe it’s just a touch of arrogance. If I haven’t heard of it, who knows what it could be?
It happened just the other week. I got a call letting me know that if I moved fast I might be able to get a case of Hancock’s President’s Reserve. Before that call I might have vaguely recognized the name but couldn’t have told you anything else. So immediately I was intrigued.
The whiskey seems to be named for Hancock Lee, one of the cofounder of Leesburg, Kentucky. But information on Hancock is relatively scarce and the same goes for his namesake whiskey, which is odd in an age where debating the minutia of even the most esoteric of hobbies has become a pastime of it’s own. But what is known is that it’s made by Buffalo Trace using mashbill #2. This put it firmly in the Elmer T. Lee, Blanton’s and Rock Hill Farm family which despite how well known its siblings are the fact that they are related could be part of the reason for it’s obscurity.
When Sazerac purchased what is now known as the Buffalo Trace distillery in 1992 the distillery was already under contract producing whiskey for Age International, a contract that continues to this day. The relationship is complicated but essentially boils down to the fact that Age International owns the labels, and by extension rights to the mashbill, for Blanton’s, Elmer and Rock Hill Farms while Buffalo Trace distills the whiskey and distributes in the Unites States. And the Hancock is no different. So without full control of the label, the success and demand for its sibling single barrel bourbons could be the reason Buffalo Trace doesn’t have much information available.
Incidentally, this arrangement between Buffalo Trace and Age International is why there are two different Buffalo Trace mashbills. Mashbill #2 for the preexisting contracts and mashbill #1 for all their proprietary bourbons and while they don’t publicly disclose the recipes for either they’re pretty similar in the end with mashbill #1 being lighter on the rye.
The liquid itself sits between the taste profile of the Elmer and the Rock Hill Farm. It is lighter in body, and much more mellow at 88.6 proof. There is a nuttiness on the nose that is somewhat overwhelmed by the sweetness of the body with an abundance of vanilla, cinnamon, and oak giving why to a dry, tannic finish. In the end this reminded me more of the now discontinued Ancient Age 10 Year than any of its single barrel counterparts. As it stands there really isn’t anything that differentiates in from the other mashbill #2 single barrels. I’d personally grab it over Blanton’s but with the apparent effort needed to track down a few bottles I’d much rather put in the time grabbing a bottle of Elmer or Rock Hill Farm.
This bottle was a surprise but it doesn’t seem that its scarcity is due to some amazing liquid in the bottle, but rather simple lack of information and knowledge of the brand and with its pricing it certainly isn’t poised to take over the cult following that the Ancient 10 left behind. Then again, it did just win a silver medal at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Awards so maybe there’s another surprise around the corner.