November 14, 2013

Review: Angel's Envy Cask Strength - The First World Class Beast of 2013

Angel's Envy

2013 was both a beautiful and a sad year for bourbon.  To the wonder of many and the chagrin of those who enjoyed bourbon's "glut" years before it became a mainstream commodity, the world truly began to embrace American whiskey for the art form that it is.  Brands like Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and A.H. Hirsch Reserve transcended their historical status as consumer products and became some of the most sought after treasures of retail world-wide.  Yes, this means that it's next to impossible to find a bottle of George T. Stagg for Christmas.  But at the same time we believe that this is a good thing for whiskey.  Many more brands are popping up, people are experimenting with all kinds of different production methods, and ultimately this makes us happy.  If one person orders a neat bourbon instead of a rum & Diet Coke, the world is a better place.

It was also a sad year for bourbon.  Two of whiskey's most influential patriarchs left us this year.  Elmer T Lee, Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace passed on in July.  Elmer was one of the men largely responsible for the huge resurgence of the bourbon industry through his focus on single barrel expressions and his dedication to the craft.

Lincoln Henderson was Master Distiller at Brown-Forman for almost forty years.  In 2006 he came out of retirement to create his own brand and Angel's Envy was born.  As whiskey lovers know, the portion of the barrel that evaporates each year as whiskey ages is called the "angel's share".  As the story goes, "After tasting his creation, Lincoln joked that the angels might have wanted a bigger cut. Thus Angel’s Envy was born."  Lincoln passed away this September.  Two weeks earlier he had sampled and approved this second batch of Angel's Envy Cask Strength.  

Tasting Notes

Appearance:  Well-steeped English Breakfast tea.  

Nose:  Superb Vermont ski-lodge french toast with brown butter and fresh maple syrup.  Opens up with a huge dose of vanilla and Skor Bar - toffee and chocolate.  Finishes off with salted cashews and a hint of green chile peppers.  Really the only two noses that are comparable are Pappy Van Winkle 15 and Four Roses Small Batch LE 2012.  So, yeah, pretty high marks.

Body:  Ok, just unreal smoothness for a cask strength.  It's ephemeral on the palate, sort of wisping (can wisp be a verb?) across the tongue.  There's almost a bit of yeastiness, like fresh Italian pasta full of eggs, butter, and flour.  The brown butter and molasses continue with a rich oiliness across the tongue and those little hints of nuts and pepper turning into tiny bursts of warmth across the roof of the mouth.  

Finish:  A short finish typical of good bourbon (good peated scotch is super-long, good bourbon is short and sweet).  Honestly we missed the port barrels until the tiny punches of grapes and stone fruits on the finish.  Zero alcohol burn, but a brilliant warmth building from your belly up through your chest and finally a hint of deep birch smoke through your throat and nose.  


Cut to the chase, it's a world class bourbon.  It's got the sweetness of a Pappy Van Winkle, all molasses and brown sugar.  It's got the richness of the best Four Roses', huge cloves and cinnamon, some hot pepper and a tiny drop of (curry?  mustard?  some of that sweet exotic spice that a better palate than ours would tag immediately).  But truly it's the balance that is striking.  It's sweet just to the point of not being hot, and it's very spicy and rich but not off-putting.  Clearly a mighty spirit, but leaving you with all the candy, spice, and warmth and none of the fire.  And seriously, over 60%?  Are you kidding me???  It's just astounding.  It's got all the smoothness of a top-quality 90 proof bourbon like Pappy Van Winkle 20-year or Eagle Rare 17-Year.  But the strength of the spirit comes through in the warmth of the finish in a big way.

This year's Spirit Journal ranked Angel's Envy Cask Strength as tied for #1 Spirit in the World with Highland Park 25-Year.  We have to agree.  While there have been many outstanding whiskies this year, we haven't found a new breakout hit that has wowed us yet.  This one is so unique, with the port wine cask, the big sweet nose, and the incredibly smooth finish.  There are only a few thousand bottles for the entire country, which means a few hundred for your state if you're lucky.  Good hunting!  /SmokyBeast


  1. Hey Steve, Dana - Congrats to you guys for snagging this big exclusive - another first for the SBeast! Glad you guys enjoyed the spirit.

  2. Have my usual feelers out on this but have zero hope of attaining it. The way it's going, it will all be barrel proof and gone at the same time. It's a shame on LH's passing; just when the industry needs more top shelf competition.

    Marvelous review as always, Beast's.

    1. Thanks FT!

      Yes it was quite a loss. On the bright side, Wes and company seem completely dedicated to continuing to build and improve on his achievements.

      The availability issue is really tough! As you can see we only got a sample, still keeping fingers crossed that we can score a full bottle of this glorious sauce ourselves!!! Word on the street is that the first batch was around 600 bottles, this one was around 5,000. So at least that's a very good sign that they can increase production without sacrificing quality...

  3. First batch was 650 bottles and the second batch is 4,800.

    1. You're right about that sir, however according to the Hendersons, only about 3700 made it to retail... We can tell you it was war trying to find some in NYC (but we did!!!).

  4. Great review, just found a bottle today! Very excited to taste it.

  5. Enjoyed your review. Santa brought me a bottle, but have not yet opened it. Beautiful presentation in the stained oak box with angel's wings.

  6. Opened my bottle tonight to celebrate the holiday. Simply amazing.

  7. I got a bottle today in Collinsville, IL. I am excited to have gotten one.