In last week’s Whiskey Wednesday, I recommended a couple of bottles that clock in at over $200 apiece, and I know that’s not in everybody’s price range, including mine. But there are so many collectors out there chasing rare bottles that I figure some folks are interested in these precious whiskeys.
This week’s review features another hefty price tag: a $499 bottle of Chanticleer from Chicken Cock, a straight bourbon finished in cognac barrels.
The whiskey is bottled at an elevated proof of 112 to ensure that the character of the base whiskey and the contribution of the cognac barrel-finishing isn’t lost to being watered down. Chicken Cock doesn’t share the provenance of the whiskey or offer any age statement, but they have shared the mash bill of 70 percent corn, 21 percent rye and 9 percent malted barley. This is a pretty high rye content for a bourbon, and the spicy and fruity notes provided by that grain certainly should play well with the plummy characteristics of cognac. This was the first sign that I was dealing with a very intelligently designed whiskey.
If you like the plum and raisin notes of a fine brandy, you will absolutely love Chanticleer. Dark brown, almost purple, in the glass, the spirit has a delightful nose that opens up over time. I spent a few minutes just sniffing it ($500 bottle, remember?) and marveled at how the aromas moved from floral to fruit to vanilla like some sort of Everlasting Gobstopper of a whiskey.
On the first sip, I detected some age on the barrels, a little tannic harshness that surprised me. Only later did I realize that this was probably a big part of why this product was designed like it was. Cognac can easily overpower whiskey if the original spirit doesn’t have the backbone to play with the fruit of the brandy. To maximize cooperation, you have to start with a spirit that has some character in the first place.
The high rye content contributes the expected winter spice notes of cloves and cinnamon which combine with the plum, prune, raisin and cherry of the cognac to basically create a fruitcake in a glass. (Except it’s a fruitcake that you’d actually like to receive at Christmas!) The other grains of corn and malted barley add a bit of sweetness and chocolate to the party, extending the cake analogy as far as I can take it.
The name “chanticleer” is fitting since that’s French for “rooster,” which you might remember from your forced reading of Chaucer in high school. This particular whiskey was created to celebrate both the friendship of France and America dating back to the 18th century and also to the fact that the original Chicken Cock distillery was in Paris, Ky. And if you’re thinking French, then cognac has to be one of the first things to come to mind. Many fantastic whiskeys are finished in used cognac barrels, and this extremely limited release consisted of a little more than 30 barrels, so it shan’t pass this way ever again.
I’m happy to say that the level of the whiskey bottle I received is still above the top of the label as I gift it to the Whiskey House, which will use it in multiple tastings to raise money for local nonprofits.
Overall, Chanticleer is a remarkable whiskey, albeit so rare and expensive that not many people will be able to experience it. On the plus side, big dollar bottles like this often live at the front of the liquor store waiting for the right wallet to come along, so you might still be able to find some. If you take the plunge, you’ll be rewarded with a helluva bottle, or maybe you can try it as part of a future charity tasting at the Whiskey House. If that happens, say hi to the rooster for me and tell him I miss him!