So, how exactly do you piss off an angel? Henderson did so by breaking a nearly 200-year-old divine contract. In whiskey and bourbon circles, it's well-known that each distillery owes a percentage of each barrel to the angels.
This agreement is known as the Angel's Share -- and nobody save Henderson has dared to deliver otherwise. But when Henderson decided to keep a little more of his incomparably smooth bourbon for himself, he broke a few of the rules.
And that's why he thought it appropriate to call his new bourbon Angel's Envy.
Clean Plate Charlie: You're retired after more than 35 years in the business. How did you get into creating your own bourbon?
Lincoln Henderson: My son [Wesley Henderson, former president and COO of Master Distiller Select and CEO of Conecuh Ridge Distillery] had a lot to do with it -- he wanted to make his own bourbon. I really wasn't looking to start a new project, but this [process of finishing a bourbon in liquor barrels] has never been done before, so I finally had a chance to try it.
It's crazy -- you make a product and put it in a barrel to age for four to six years, and you don't see a profit that whole time. But once we got started, I decided to take my idea of using a ruby port barrel to finish the bourbon.
Today marks the first day Angel's Envy is available for purchase in Florida -- just one of several states to carry the product so far. What makes this bourbon different?
I have been making bourbon and whiskey for about 39 years. My last project was Woodford Reserve... and that process really gave me a lot of leeway as to how creative I could get.
Now, since I've retired, one thing I wanted to do was experience with working with different barrels to do the finishing of the product. Angel's Envy is different because it's finished in port barrels.
What do the port barrels do to the bourbon?
The port really helps to round it out. The flavor notes are very mellow, without being terribly sweet. You get a lot of dried fruit flavors -- cherry, apricot, and especially grape. Even the reddish tinge you see comes from the port barrels.
It also softens the alcohol. You'll find with most traditional bourbons you get a very strong alcohol burn. The port helps to make it more subtle and smoother.
Why port barrels?
Port really stood out from all the others. It's a fortified wine, and the idea of using these barrels goes back to 17th-century Portugal. Then, wines wouldn't travel very well or too far, so the Portuguese added brandy -- made from the same grapes as the wine -- to make their wine last on long trips.
How long till you finish the bourbon in the port barrels?
About six months. I tried tasting it after three months, and it was still too woody. And I tried it again around four months, and it still wasn't right. But any longer and it starts to take on the wood again. You have to pick that perfect time to get the right amount of vanilla and spice.
So you taste the bourbon throughout the entire process to get it just right?
[Throughout my career] I've celebrated my tasting of 400,000 barrels. It's known as sensory evaluation. Now, that's just tasting -- not drinking. You have to have more of an interest in the tasting and the flavor. I enjoy the taste more than the drinking, and that's what you have to do in this business.
How did you get started?
I graduated with a degree in chemistry and became a grain distiller chemist. Later, I took over the sensory evaluation department [at Brown-Forman].
It's said that every distillery "owes" a percentage of the bourbon it makes to the angels. Is that how you came up with the name?
As bourbon ages, it's put into oak barrels during summer months, and then back into virgin barrels during winter months. For each year of maturation, 5 percent of the barrel's bourbon is lost to evaporation. That's the most in any distilling process. This lost bourbon has been called the Angel's Share.
But with Angel's Envy, we're keeping the best for us. The bigger share is for us.
Well, that certainly sounds like a good deal to us.
For more information on where to purchase Angel's Envy, contact Samira Seiller at email@example.com.
ANGEL'S ENVY RECIPES
2 oz. Angel's Envy
1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 dash of Bitters
Serve garnished with a maraschino cherry
2 oz. Angel's Envy
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1/2 oz. Club Soda
Serve over ice with a lemon wedge garnish
Angel's Mint Julep
2 oz. Angel's Envy
6 Fresh Mint Leaves
2 tsp. Simple Syrup
2/3 cup Shaved Ice