Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey

If I’ve learned anything from the whiskey business it’s that people love a good bourbon story. Whether the liquid survived a legendary tornado strike or visited five continents aboard a research vessel, bourbon with a cool backstory is bourbon we want to drink. Such is the case with Jos A. Magnus and Co.’s Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey. While the Magnus story doesn’t include a natural disaster or a transoceanic voyage, it does involve a bourbon resurrection, and that should be more than enough to pique your curiosity.

The Story:
Joseph Magnus, a once highly regarded pre-prohibition distiller, originally founded Joseph Magnus & Co. in 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although Magnus’s flagship product, Murray Hill Club Whiskey, was considered one of the finest whiskeys on the market at the time, the brand slowly faded into obscurity after prohibition forced the distillery to close its doors in 1918. However, in a stroke of fate, Joseph’s great grandson, Jimmy Turner, uncovered an original bottle of Magnus bourbon in his mother’s home in 2007. With the help of a veritable who’s who of whiskey experts (including former Woodford Reserve Distiller Dave Scheurich, former Buffalo Trace VP and General Manager Richard Wolf, and famed Master Blender Nancy Fraley), Turner embarked on a journey to not only understand the contents of the bottle, but to recreate it. The result? The reestablishment of Jos. A. Magnus & Co. distillery in 2015 and the introduction of Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The base of the 21st Century version of Magnus is a sourced eight-year bourbon from MGP (Lawrenceburg, IN) that is said to be reminiscent of the original bottle Turner discovered. The bourbon is then finished in a combination of sherry and cognac barrels to mimic the process Joseph Magnus likely used to create his signature whiskey over a century ago. The end product is said to be so similar to the 100-year-old bottle that Fraley, while once tasting a sample of the new product, thought she was drinking the original Magnus. Here’s to bourbon resurrection…
Joseph Magnus Bourbon - Bourbon Sippers
The Whiskey:
Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $85
Stats: Batch 10, bottle # 562/892, 100 proof, 8-year sourced bourbon whiskey finished in Oloroso Sherry, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, and Cognac casks.

Dark amber/golden brown in color with hues of deep red that shine through along the outer edge.

Chocolate covered cherries right up front, followed by layers of orange zest, brown sugar, caramel, and warm alcohol. Deep in the glencairn you get hints of sweet cinnamon and cloves that meld with the orange to produce a mulled wine character. An impressive, complex nose.

The entry is thick and heavy with chocolate initially dominating. The mid-palate progresses to black cherries, red hots, more orange zest, and a funky, earthiness that I associate with full-bodied wines. The finish is long and somewhat bitter with dark chocolate, coffee, and finally a cola-like sweetness. The sherry finish definitely comes through here, but I can’t say that I pick up any Cognac influence (I typically get more vanilla from Cognac casks).

With water:
Water tames the alcohol and cherries a bit and brings out some sweet mint and honey notes. Most of the original flavors are there, just muted. The finish is heavy on spice and leaves a slight, but lingering alcohol burn that fades to vanilla. In the end, I don’t think water improves the dram. Keep it neat.

My expectations were understandably high when I heard that Joseph Magnus was awarded a prestigious Double Gold medal and named Best Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016. I was not disappointed. This is a dark, brooding bourbon that deftly balances sweet and powerful, while ultimately delivering on both fronts. I only have two minor critiques. First, I really wanted the Cognac finish to be more assertive, but that may never have been the intention. Instead, maybe the role of the Cognac cask was to subdue or nuance the sherry influence? And second, the retail price, which I’ve seen as high as $90, is a bit steep for most casual drinkers. Whether the bottle is worth the cost is a personal decision, but my guess is that most will not regret their purchase.

Bottom line:
Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a well-crafted, intriguing bourbon that both novice and experienced drinkers will enjoy. I have never tried the original Magnus, but if it tasted anything like the 21st Century rendition I can understand its lofty reputation.

Non-Distiller Producer

– J.E.

What is a State Liquor Store?

State Liquor Store - ABC State
State Liquor Store / ABC State Liquor Store
State Liquor Store (ABC State Liquor Store)

A state liquor store is a store in an Alcoholic Beverage Control State (ABC State), which means the state determines where and when alcohol can be sold. If you don’t know how to feel about this, you should know that the unanimous consensus from the whiskey community is that this structure is awful.

State liquor stores suck and they’re Anti-American.

I know this is a bold statement, but hear us out. When the state controls the relationships and sales of liquor, the Capitalism component that is responsible for economic evolution stops. The state has a monopoly on all of the liquor sales which means there’s no competition or opportunity for anyone else to find success in the space.

The US has a Mixed Economy which means (in theory) that it’s a balance of Capitalistic elements and Socialistic elements. People and businesses can work harder to change their current situation while the government enforces certain regulations for the benefit of those who can’t look after themselves and the greater good.

Competition is a key ingredient to a successful economy. The concept that a business can innovate to gain a bigger piece of the market is crucial for growth.

What if every player on your favorite College Football team got equal playing time regardless of skill-level? Meanwhile, you still compete with Alabama and Clemson who choose to play the best players since they give the team the highest chance of winning… You would no longer believe that winning was the goal of your team. Sure you could win a few games here and there, but you’ll never be the best. Great players wouldn’t bother coming to your school anymore and the fans would hate it.

Currently, when you walk into a state liquor store, the selections are usually very limited. ABC States have an incredibly challenging time getting Private Barrels from the well-known distilleries and are largely disconnected from the desire to do so. The barrier to entry in these markets is harder than it should be, so Craft Distilleries are dissuaded from pursuing these markets.

A State Liquor Store has very little incentive to do anything out of the ordinary to succeed, it’s a massive blob that maintains its trajectory with limited vision or risk. Whereas your typical liquor store is run like a startup business – innovate or die. They stay on top of market trends and what new whiskeys their customers are asking for. They know that if they have a good understanding of the supply (available whiskey) and demand (what people are looking for), they can make decisions that change the outlook of their business. A state liquor store competes with itself and has no fear of being put out of business, so there’s no need to change.

ABC State Everything?

Most of us are somewhat used to State Liquor Stores where you get a handful of the most popular bottom/mid-shelf brands, but rarely anything new and exciting… But what if this expanded to other industries?

  • What if we had State Restaurants?
    • No Mom & Pop establishments, only chains.
  • What if we had State Home Builders?
    • No Custom Homes, only a certain set of builders and designs.
  • What if we had State Clothiers?
    • No fashion designs that the state doesn’t carry, only those it has agreements with.

If you live in an ABC State, get your local whiskey group together and contact your state representatives.

ABC States are a joke and it’s time they change.

Other Popular Articles