Here’s your hat, what’s your whiskey?


I don’t typically associate whiskey with headgear, but a recent promotional event I attended did just that. It was my first opportunity to taste the enjoyable new I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which was relaunched last year. I also walked away with a new hat, a stylish — verging on hipster — wool felt black fedora with a gold-colored silk band made by Goorin Bros., an American hat producer since 1895.

This hat-shitck was a nice twist on the concept-driven marketing event. Here the focus was not, ostensibly, on the booze, but on promoting a new hat called “The Harper,” which is the result of a partnership between Goorin Bros. and Harper Bourbon (a Diageo brand).

The “I.W. Harper” was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim and his brother Bernard way back in 1879. The Bernheims had two Kentucky distilleries, one in Shively and another in west Louisville, which was where Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery now stands. The brand was launched as Harper, not Bernheim, presumably because Harper sounded more American at the time. The Bernheims retired and sold the company. Years later, after Prohibition was repealed, the company and its various brands—like I.W. Harper—became part of Schenley, which eventually was subsumed into what we now know of as Diageo.

Around 1990, the I.W. Harper brand was taken out of the U.S. market entirely, and was only sold overseas. Diageo eventually jumped back into the American whiskey game with real gusto a few years ago. One of their most recent new products was the relaunch of the I.W. Harper brand last year.

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (41 percent abv; $35): This non age statement (NAS) whiskey is a decent, light, introductory-style sweet-leaning bourbon with notes of vanilla, light caramel, a little nutmeg and light cinnamon, some apple and some shortbread.  The finish is a bit clipped and slightly dry, with a little more cinnamon and some woody notes. This is more of a cocktail-base, or an easy thirst-quencher, but easy drinking and enjoyable if a touch too sweet.

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old (43 percent abv; $75): an aged whiskey from the original run, this bears no real resemblance to the NAS Harper (this mashbill is roughly 86 percent corn, 6 percent rye and 8 percent barley, while the NAS is about 73 percent corn, 18 percent rye and 9 percent barley). This aged bourbon is happily not over-oaked, offering appealing notes of corn, cinnamon, dark chocolate and some wood on the nose, followed on the palate with more of the same along with a little citrus, more spice, and a little caramel, with a medium finish. This is balanced and cohesive and gentle, verging on elegant. A bit pricy, but really rather nice.

Oh, and the new “The Harper” hat by Goorin Bros. is pretty swanky and seems well made. Not sure how often I’ll don this particular chapeau, but whenever I do I likely will think of I.W. Harper Bourbon. L’Chaim!

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here