You’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of booze in DC’s nascent distillery scene for more than $100. But year-and-a-half-old Ivy City distillery Jos. A. Magnus & Co. is blowing way past that with a limited-release bourbon for $1,000.
J.A. Magnus Reserve is a cask-strength blend of 16- and 18-year straight bourbons, which come from Indiana mega-distillery MGP but spent most of their maturation life at Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky.
Jos. A. Magnus & Co. partner and master blender Nancy “The Nose” Fraley, who earned her nickname for sniffing out the best whiskeys, selected the spirits. “I methodically go through each barrel to pick out certain types of aromatic profiles of the particular whiskey that I’m trying to create,” she says. The bourbons she chose come from rare “honey barrels,” which have a lot of “good wood sugars” and were traditionally found near a distillery’s windows or with southern exposure.
“Think caramel and toffee notes. You get some of the vanilla, maybe dark dried fruits in there, honey, good barrel spices,” Fraley says. “They just kind of have the complete package. The flavors tend to be very complex and very full.”
It’s not uncommon for young distilleries to source aged whiskey from elsewhere, blend or finish the product on-site, and then sell it under its own label. But to do so for a thousand bucks?
“There’s a lot of emphasis on the United States on distilling,” Fraley says. “Everybody else in the world puts the emphasis on the blending side, even if they don’t distill it themselves. There’s a lot of art in blending. It doesn’t matter if it’s only two barrels, it’s finding the right combination.”
Jack Rose Dining Saloon owner Bill Thomas, one of DC’s go-to experts on whiskey and an avid collector, agrees “the most important person is the blender.” He’s less concerned with what’s on the label as what’s in the bottle.
As for the lofty price?
As recent as six years ago, Thomas says a 16-year-old barrel might yield $75 bottles. But those barrels are so rare today that the prices have spikes substantially. “If I tried to go source a 16- and 18-year-old barrel on the street right now, it would be so cost prohibitive… I don’t know that they can’t justify that price point, because that’s probably what they had to pay for the barrels.”
Thomas wasn’t going to get a bottle at first, because “c’mon, this is ridiculous.” But then a bunch of whiskey friends tried it and really liked it. Thomas just got in a bottle at Jack Rose, where it will be available by the ounce next week. (He hasn’t priced it out yet.)
In total, 192 bottles of J.A. Magnus Reserve were made, and as of yesterday, 125 had been sold.