Ranking The Blood Oath Bourbons, Pact 1 To 6
By Richard Thomas
Not all of the annual, limited edition whiskey series have been around for most of the current century, ala Old Forester or Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. In fact, most of them are less than a decade old, which makes tracking the entire arc of these pricey, one-time only whiskeys an achievable project. One such example is Blood Oath, a series of (thus far) sourced bourbons made by Luxco.
Blood Oath seems to do pretty well, but it hasn’t received the same degree of buzz as some of the others, and that can’t be pinned entirely on its status as a newcomer or as a sourced brand. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, to cite one example, has been around only a little longer and was just as sourced for a long time, but has a cohort (not a legion, but a cohort) of diehard fans willing to drive hundreds of miles to fetch a bottle.
My guess is that this moderated display of affection from enthusiasts is tied to Luxco’s past as a purveyor of bargain basement whiskey, like Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks. The paradox in that sentiment, if I’m right about it, is that Rebel Yell 10 Year Old Single Barrel is a major sleeper bottle and one of those favorites that the folks who know want to keep a secret.
Another explanation is that the series may not have earned those plaudits just yet. This is a series that The Whiskey Reviewer is quite familiar with, and we’ve reviewed five out of six. It’s worth noting that Rebel Yell 10 Year Old was always as good or better than whatever Blood Oath Pact was available at the time, so Luxco clearly had some excellent stock on hand, but perhaps not enough of it to give Blood Oath the pizazz of other annual, limited edition whiskey series.
That said, this is our ranking of the Blood Oath Pacts, 1 to 6. All Blood Oaths are bottled at 98.6 proof, with 98.6 F being the textbook temperature of the human body. From the information we had at time of printing, most or all of the Blood Oaths came in substantial, 45,000-bottle production runs.
1. Blood Oath Pact No. 1: The inaugural, 2015 run was the best in our estimation. The blend was made from two mature bourbons, a 7 year old traditional (rye) mash bill and a 6 year old wheated mash bill, with some 12 year old, middle aged bourbon added to the mix. I recall at the time the croakers on the forums scoffed at that composition, this being the middle part of the 2010s when bottles bearing 10 and 12 year old age statements were still available for $30 to $40. This blended bourbon fetched $90 at that time, which was actually a fair price given what came in the bottle: an able example of what John Rempe, now Master Distiller at Lux Row, could do as a blender. At the time, I described it as being a properly mature version of the four grain whiskeys being made by craft distillers at the time, and as time has passed that assessment has only gotten firmer in my mind.
2. Blood Oath Pact No. 3: In this installment, Rempe drew on a 12 year old bourbon, a 7 year old bourbon, and a 7 year old bourbon finished in cabernet sauvignon casks from Swanson Vineyards. In something of a theme with Blood Oath (see below for more), the cask finish stood out in the blend so strongly as to lead one to suspect the other elements in it were not very large. That was certainly the case here, with a strongly wine-influenced bourbon.
3. Blood Oath Pact No. 2: The age statement rules require said statement to be based on the youngest whiskey used, a universal standard in the industry. Hence, many blenders have taken to announcing the ages of the whiskeys used instead, although this is only indicative if one also knows the proportions, which Luxco never reveals. That said, Pact No. 2 drew on two 11 year old bourbons, one rye and one wheat, plus a 7 year old finished in Port casks. In this instance, the port-finished bourbon really sang out, leaving one to suspect (but only suspect) that it was the commanding majority in the blending tank. It was a good buy for lovers of a Port-finished bourbon (such as the aforementioned Angel’s Envy diehards).
4. Blood Oath Pact No. 6: This year’s installment of Blood Oath was drawn from 14 years, an 8 years, and a 7 years old bourbons, which were finished in Cognac casks after the marriage. This is in contrast to the aforementioned cask finishes, which were not applied to the entire end-volume, but only a constituent part of the blend. It also had the oldest constituent member of a Blood Oath yet, a 14 year old. With the Cognac finish and mix of mature and middle aged bourbons, this one doubles down on the fruity and caramel flavors.
5. Blood Oath Pact No. 5: Coming in at fifth place is number five, and no, I didn’t plan it that way. In a now-familiar formulation, Rempe took an 8 year old traditional bourbon finished in rum casks and combined it with an 11 year old wheated bourbon and a 13 year old traditional bourbon, one that was said to have come out extra spicy from its middle-aged time in the barrel. The result was very rum-finish forward, which was off-putting to some and (once again) suggestive that the rum-finished component was overwhelmingly in the majority.
6. Blood Oath Pact No. 4: The fourth installment of Blood Oath became a part of the burgeoning class of double new oaked bourbon, which is to say the whiskey received a finish in (often toasted, instead of charred) new oak barrels. That effectively doubles down on the new oak maturation experience. But, as has so often been the case, this was only in part. This blend was 12 years and 10 years old bourbons, plus a 9 year old that was finished in the new, toasted barrels. The results were the least inspiring of the series (thus far, anyway).