At the end of the day, it should come as no surprise to American whiskey and bourbon geeks that MGP of Indiana would eventually develop a house brand worthy of great critical acclaim. After all, their sourced bourbons and rye whiskeys have for years and decades helped to build the profiles of countless other distilleries large and small, and it was only the distillery’s business model that kept MGP from receiving the lion’s share of the credit for all those years when it was primarily known as a purveyor of sourced whiskey. When the George Remus brand launched a few years ago, it was immediately clear that this was going to be the in-house showcase that MGP bourbon had always needed, and subsequent releases have done nothing but illustrate how great their spirit really is. And now, the series has arguably reached its apex, with the release of Remus Gatsby Reserve.
This is, as one might guess, an “ultra-limited” new expression from MGP’s Ross & Squibb Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, aged 15 years and bottled at cask strength, which is an unusually low 48.9% ABV (97.8 proof). This is because MGP’s bourbon barrels have a tendency to lose rather than gain proof over time, likely owing to cooler temperatures in the warehouses. This sets up a potential question of value, as the Gatsby Reserve is actually a bit weaker than the 100 proof Remus Repeal Reserve series, which has an MSRP of $100 and recently released one of its best expressions in Remus Repeal Reserve Series VI. That bottle, though, was primarily a blend of 8-10 year old bourbon with just a splash of older stuff, where the Gatsby Reserve is significantly more mature with its 15-year age statement. With that in mind, the $200 MSRP for the Gatsby Reserve is no doubt steep, but does not seem automatically excessive or unreasonable to me. As a bonus, the art deco-inspired bottle is pretty lovely.
This is a very limited release, and will no doubt be hard to come across in the wild, but it represents liquid that MGP views as some of its very best. And after tasting it, I’m inclined to agree. Although I initially worried—like some other tasters who have sampled this expression—that the Gatsby Reserve would be overtaken by oak and hurt by its lower proof point, I ultimately found it to be beautifully complex and in no way overoaked.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
Holding up this glass, its auburn color really gives a good indication of all those years it spent in the oak—it looks every bit of 15, and even more. I’m reminded visually of nothing so much as grade A maple syrup from the farmer’s market. And that proves apt, because on the nose, Remus Gatsby Reserve does indeed evoke maple, along with molasses, black cherry, clove and old, musty oak. After thinking for a moment, a star note appears: Browned butter, with a wonderful nuttiness. It has a quality that evokes a shortbread cookie in the oven that has been taken past golden and is just starting to get brown and crisp along the edges. Lovely.
On the palate, I’m getting molasses cookie and deeply caramelized sugars, along with sweet oak and earthier impressions. The black cherry fruitiness remains, along with cinnamon brown sugar and something that might remind cocktail geeks of pomegranate molasses. There’s also a solid roastiness/char, but it’s actually not nearly as oak dominant and dry as I was afraid it might be. The tannic profile isn’t particularly aggressive or drying, but it lends some appreciable structure that works well with moderate residual sweetness. Over time, I’m getting additional layers of earth, leather, cinnamon and tobacco, along with dark and dried fruit complexity. Each sip here is increasing my esteem. I have seen a few reviewers saying that they found this oak dominant or unpleasantly dry, but I’ll have to disagree in a big way—I found a wonderful interplay between oak, fruit, earthiness, spice and lovely caramelized sugars.
This is a very impressive, very satisfying bourbon—the kind of experience that any bottle with a $200 MSRP needs to be living up to. And for the Remus brand, it’s just another accolade to point to, another indication that MGP has been making some of the best bourbon in the U.S. for decades, and now finally gets to enjoy full credit for their labors.
Distillery: George Remus (MGP of Indiana/Ross & Squibb)
City: Lawrenceburg, IN
Style: Straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 48.9% (97.8 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $200 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.