Like a Russian nesting doll, or a boozy fractal, the business of sourcing and selling whiskey in the U.S. only continues to grow more complex on a yearly basis, with more companies and middlemen occupying the area between “distiller” and “bottler.” For the average consumer who doesn’t take much time to skim the fine print of labels or look up distilleries online, this aspect of how their bourbon gets from point A to point B or C is still largely a mystery, but even to the geeks in the audience it’s become a more complicated question. Even with sourced brands, the question is often no longer so simple as asking “who sourced this?” Rather, it’s more akin to “Who did they buy this whiskey from, and who did they originally source it from?”
Case in point, we have still-young bourbon brand Puncher’s Chance, a non-distiller-producer (NDP) currently selling two products: A flagship, moderately aged Kentucky bourbon, and a 12-year-old bourbon from Tennessee finished in California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, labeled The D12TANCE. Both of its products are sourced, but both hail from different sources. And in the case of both, they’re buying whiskey from companies that also didn’t distill the original juice. You can’t quite shake the image of the ouroboros here. It feels like a microcosm of the ever-expanding complexity of the American whiskey industry.
Puncher’s Chance is a brand that launched in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing all the challenges you would expect in trying to blast out press releases into a landscape that was being dominated by other news. Despite that, the brand has grown rapidly, and they’ve now settled behind these two labels—one a highly accessible, affordable classic bourbon and the other squarely positioned in “ultra premium” territory. I have samples here of both, so let’s see how Puncher’s Chance is trying to carve out a place for itself in an increasingly crowded field.
The flagship bottle of Puncher’s Chance, which evokes rum with its black coloration and squat shape (it reminds me of Diplomatico Exclusiva in particular), is a 45% ABV (90 proof) non-age-stated bourbon, though it’s reportedly between 4 and 6 years old. This was sourced from Kentucky, from an unnamed distillery, but it’s most likely one of the big boys on the block. Puncher’s Chance, meanwhile, is owned by Eugene, Oregon’s Wolf Spirit Distillery, best known for their Blood x. Sweat x Tears Vodka. Suffice to say, this spirit has bounced around a few times since leaving the likes of Beam or Heaven Hill, and it may have undergone some of its maturation outside of Kentucky. With a friendly $30 MSRP, though, it fits in pretty well against other sourced, moderately aged bourbons from American NDPs. As I’ve been known to say, there’s always room for more affordable bourbon on the shelf.
On the nose, Puncher’s Chance Bourbon strikes a pretty distinct balance between youth and maturity—I’m getting caramel corn and peanut shells, along with traces of musty oak and brown sugar, with developing rye spice and herbals. On the palate, this drinks very easily indeed, with a somewhat generic but friendly profile of caramel, cinnamon brown sugar, nutmeg, gingerbread, honey-roasted peanuts and slightly sour, tangy oak. It’s lacking an X-factor to make it stand out, perhaps, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with the quality of the bourbon that Puncher’s Chance has sourced. It drinks extremely easily, and could make a good quaffer, though it will also be right at home in classic cocktails where you don’t want to feel the punch of booze all that intensely. A solid Kentucky straight bourbon.
One glance at that MSRP is enough to make it clear that Puncher’s Chance The D12TANCE is being aimed at an entirely different demographic than the accessible, $30, high-value flagship bourbon. This one was unsurprisingly produced in more limited quantities—just 70 barrels of 12-year-old Tennessee bourbon (the mash bill tells us it’s Dickel, though that’s never a surprise), finished in French oak California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels and bottled at a slightly higher 48% ABV (96 proof). That MSRP would perhaps be a bit high if this was simply a 12-year-old selection of Dickel (which tends to be more affordable than most), but the wine barrel finish gives it a novelty that is considerably harder to price.
Interestingly, though, this wasn’t sourced directly from Dickel—rather, the named source is the IJW Whiskey Company of Louisville, KY, a rather fascinating newer company that has been effectively operating in the shadows in recent years, buying whiskey from many sources and then aging it themselves in their own warehouses. IJW will eventually launch an entire product lineup of their own, but in the meantime this is something of a preview of what they’re able to do with sourced spirit from Tennessee, although it’s obviously been influenced afterward by the wine barrel secondary maturation. In this case, this is whiskey from Tennessee, purchased and blended by IJW, and then sold to Wolf Spirit for use in Puncher’s Chance.
On the nose, The D12TANCE started off a little slow for me, but quickly bloomed into something striking with more time in the glass, transforming from caramel corn and cocoa powder to an increasingly rich and spicy profile of clove, cinnamon and chai-like warming spices. The secondary wine barrel finish really seems to have driven some warm, sweet baking spices into the aroma, which is something I quite like.
On the palate, this is also very spicy, with cinnamon and cardamom meeting toasted oak, vanilla and subtle fruit notes of strawberry and cherry. The vinous “wine” character doesn’t show up strongly, but the French oak barrels do make a huge impression via their aromatic spiciness and vanillans. There’s some tannin as well, which leads to a finish that turns more dry, but thankfully doesn’t dry out the palate excessively, as some particularly spice-rich bourbons tend to do. All in all, I really think the French oak character here is lovely—quite expressive, particularly as time goes by, to the point that it might actually be too much for some drinkers. If you enjoy bourbon that is heavy on oak-infused baking spice notes, though, The D12TANCE is quite a delight.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.