Following up their inaugural blend, Rare Character has put another new spin on the Fortuna resurrection label championed by the creative genius of Pablo Moix and Pete Nevenglosky. Opting for a cask strength bottling this time, likely better aligning to the desires of the modern whiskey consumer, I can certainly see this drinking more complex than the 1B batch of Fortuna I reviewed back in October of 2022. I got to taste an early example of this, once again prior to a slew of barrel picks, at a pre-read from Pablo back in August. I liked it then, proclaiming my excitement that it was better than what I had tasted the year prior. I knew from that taste I'd be buying a bottle when it hit.
Being able to speak openly and honestly with friends, even when talking about "their baby", is a pillar of what I do here at Amongst the Whiskey. I was glad to hear Pablo was receptive to my feedback, even commending and encouraging further scrutiny as more releases continue to hit the shelves from a brand exploding with popularity.
Rare Character has been working hard since 2021 to bring single barrels, interesting cask finishes, and exceptional whiskeys to the world through their persistent drive to partner with the forefront liquor stores, whiskey groups, and restaurants of the world. Seeing smashing success across many of these offerings is testament to the consistent quality that these folks stand behind. Resurrecting old labels has always kind of felt gimmicky to me, but this one is rather tasteful. Attempting to recreate some vintage flavor profiles (from first hand experience), Pablo and team took modern stocks and set to work on blending something worthy of a legacy name. They don't boast some magical storyline other than a simple description of the brands history on the back label, saying:
At the height of America's original whiskey boom of the late nineteenth century, a German immigrant named Phil Hollenbach crafted a brand called Fortuna that helped define the early days of the modern Bourbon industry. Hollenbach left a lasting mark on the whiskey trade, having found great success in Louisville, Kentucky. He strived to delight customers far and wide by sharing his "Taste of Good Fortune".
Over 100 years since its inception, Fortuna Bourbon has now been revitalized for a new generation of whiskey lovers to celebrate. Aged a minimum of six years and hand-selected by the folks behind Rare Character Whiskey, the spirit of Hollenbach's passion and dedication lives on in this remarkable Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Rare Character has proven themselves time and time again with their single barrels. I do however think blends are more challenging to master than being able to evaluate the quality of individual casks... So where might Fortuna barrel proof land now? Has the blending prowess of the team, including barrel manager Chad Watson, improved with time? Were more excitable stocks selected from, including a rumor that there is an incredibly short barrel that went into the batch I have before me? Well, let's dive in and find out everything else there is to know about Fortuna barrel proof.
Company on Label: Fortuna Bourbon (Rare Character)
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed bourbon mash bill (min 51% corn)
Age: Minimum of 6 years as stated on the back label, minimum 7 years as described by the brand
Further identification: According to Chad Watson, the barrel operations manager for Rare Character, this is batch number 3 of 5 blends that were mixed up for the first release of Fortuna barrel proof bourbon that is now available at an MSRP of $100
Nose: Up front I find oodles of caramel, buttery bread, vanilla biscotti, and a delicate florality. In the nose it is light and breathable with notes of linen and newspaper, successfully carrying the vintage vibe through from the label. Deep inhales show off English toffee subdued in volume by a wrapping of wax paper. A swirl of the glass nearly scares up a few sweeter tones of cherry preserves that feel intentionally subtle. The aromas settle back neatly into a profile that exemplifies bakery tones. Fresh green tea, dark chocolate, soft scone, and a hint of cardamom give this savor-worthy depth. Wisps of a salty sea breeze can be made out on an ever evolving yet cohesive flavor wheel. The savory highlight remains as I also discover the simple smell of graham cracker alongside it. From all these bits and pieces, the minds eye wanders towards a beachfront campfire on an early evening where the temperature doesn't feel like a temperature at all. Blissful comfort. A final deep inhale is quite nostalgic for me, reminding me of pulling on a colored pinnie for a scrimmage on a well-polished basketball court.
Returning my nose to the glass after a few sips unlocks the fruit tones that were drastically subdued prior to tasting. Slowly, as the glass continues to settle, vanilla tones amplify well. Woodshop aromas swing in late in the glass. The now whiskey-less glass smells of bright, freshly washed bed sheets, an old wood home (much like my own), and brioche bread.
Palate: At first taste, this whiskey presents as a wonderful doozy of cherry skins, rich raspberry and a bit of salted caramel. The mouthfeel is quite like that of a tasty cherry cough syrup that sticks to every surface of the mouth. White chocolate, blueberry parfait, and a sweet, milky latte vibe make for an impeccably tasty second sip. A larger swig and swish adds in good levels of spice, namely white pepper, ginger, and marjoram before demerara sugar cools the cohesive experience. Overall the whiskey is deep, soaking into the tongue with juicy vanilla frosting and cool, creamy Earl Gray tea tones. My last sip is oozing with flavor; light cherry skins, delicate cinnamon, and walnut bitters suggest this would make a phenomenal cocktail if you wanted to mix things up. The finish is sticky and long with thick caramel drizzling slowly atop bread pudding.
TL;DR: There is complexity & balance abound on this cohesive blend
This is a pour that deserves a fresh palate. Trying to compare it to anything in a head to head is quite odd given its incredibly unique flavor profile. Analyzed objectively based on the quality of the experience that can be had with a singular neat pour, I find this to be wonderful whiskey. While quite unique & enjoyable through a handful of tastings, it certainly lacks some wow factor for me and therefore it doesn't end up breaking into my elusive 5/5 score.
Quickly comparing this bottle against a few calibration pours reveal that it does fall neatly into the 4/5 score. Batch 1B & 1E of the first Fortuna release trail behind with too much funky cinnamon and this pour unsurprisingly cannot live up to 2022 George T. Stagg which sings with bold, oaky, beautiful bourbon depth. I am surprised by an apple cider vinegar note that has been cropping up on 2022 George T, though I'll save that finding for another write up perhaps... At 6 (or 7) years aged, the whiskey in these Fortuna barrel proof bourbon bottlings is definitely worth picking up. I'm quite happy with my own purchase of this and looking forward to sharing this one with friends. Cheers!