There’s an eternal debate in the whiskey world, which has only become more pertinent in the last few years of the bourbon boom and subsequent price gouging crisis: How much can you charge a consumer for whiskey, without telling them where it’s from?
Looking exclusively at the specs of a new brand like Fortuna Bourbon, it’s a question that must be asked. This is a classic Kentucky bourbon recipe, with a mid-shelf age statement of “at least six years,” bottled at 51% ABV (102 proof), from an unknown distillery. The MSRP? $85. If that instinctively seems on the high side to you, I can only imagine you wouldn’t be alone—given that most of the legacy bourbon producers in Kentucky have brands with pretty similar specs available for half as much, and given that this is also likely sourced from one of those same distilleries, it begs the question of what exactly you’re paying for in a brand like Fortuna.
But there are shades of grey in this industry, and those shades are capable of making all the difference. Consumers may be more interested in Fortuna, for instance, when they learn it’s a product of Rare Character Whiskey Co., which has attracted some attention in the last few years with its private single barrel series. Fortuna is also the revival of a historic brand, though not one that was particularly well known—according the company, it last existed commercially in the 1950s. The retro labels reflect this, though to be honest they look plenty “historic” to me but don’t exactly scream “premium price point.”
Regardless, Rare Character Whiskey Co. is making a claim with this combination of specs and price, which is as follows: We are really good at picking and blending these barrels. Only an exceptional blend of 6-year-old, sourced Kentucky bourbon could really command that price point, so this bottle has some fairly lofty expectations to live up to. And thankfully, it pretty solidly follows through on those expectations. I’m not sure if this blend involves older stocks being blended in with the younger ones—the “at least six years” does make you wonder—but it packs significantly more attractive flavors into this package than many similarly sourced competitors.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting Fortuna Bourbon.
On the nose, I’m getting a nice combination of complementary elements: A hint of crisp grain or graham cracker, topped with lost of brown sugar and very toasty sugar notes as well—piloncillo or panela. These combine with vanilla to suggest pineapple upside down cake, while also hiding more subtle impressions of herbal, spicy rye and baked plantain. There’s a nice combination here of toasty sugar, spice and fruit notes.
On the palate, things are much the same, with initial impressions favoring the sweet and the spicy. There’s tons of brown sugar and vanilla up front, along with caramel, into big baking spice (cinnamon, stem ginger), and also more savory herbaceous tones and tobacco. Again, there’s a nice toastiness to the sugar that is similar to how it presents on the nose, while I’m also getting citrus fruit, lots of peppery rye and a greater presence of spicy oak. Ethanol is pretty gentle for the proof, and the overall impression is certainly quite flavorful. The initial rush of sweetness is a little bit of a mirage, as the bourbon seems like it could be quite dessert-like on the front end, but the actual residual sweetness never really goes beyond moderate levels.
All in all, it’s just a very flavorful, classic Kentucky bourbon, capturing some great elements of caramelized and toasted sugars, vanilla, spice and hints of tropical fruit. I don’t know if Fortuna Bourbon is likely to be cited by anyone as one of the best pure values in the category, but I can’t argue with the delivery.
Distillery: Rare Character Whiskey Co.
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 51% (102 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $85 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.