Most bourbon drinkers have seen that beautiful bottle of Angels Envy by now. It has what’s called “shelf appeal” because it stands out among the other bourbons when they’re all lined up on the bar shelf. The tattoo-like wings and the tall graceful bottle…You know you’ve seen it.
The whiskey itself is about 4-6 years old. It was sourced from an undisclosed distillery in Kentucky and then finished in port barrels. I’ve read that the port barrels used to finish Angel’s Envy bourbon are 60 gallons, but I’ve also read that they used port pipes (a large tapered barrel used in the port industry) which are closer to 150 gallons…not sure on that one. The company didn’t establish a distillery until 2013 so the whiskey had to be sourced from elsewhere. The most important thing to me about the brand is that it was introduced by the late Lincoln Henderson.
Lincoln Henderson received a BS in chemistry from the University of Louisville. He went to work as a grain chemist for Brown-Forman soon after he graduated. He rose up through the ranks to become master distiller and remained at the company for 39 years. He helped to develop brands like Gentleman Jack (launched in 1988) and Jack Daniels Single Barrel, as well as Woodford Reserve (launched in 1996). While at Brown Forman, Mr. Henderson developed brands specifically for the Japanese market like Early Times Premium and a special Jack Daniels which was geared toward a lighter flavor profile. He had lots of interaction with consumers throughout Europe and Asia while promoting Brown Forman. After he retired from Brown Forman in 2004, he continued to work in the industry by becoming a U.S. spokesperson for Suntory International promoting single malt whiskey from Japan. When the Kentucky Bourbon hall of Fame was established in 2001, Lincoln Henderson became an inaugural member.
It wasn’t long after he retired that his son, Wesley Henderson, approached Lincoln about starting their own brand. In his 70’s now, he was not immediately thrilled with the idea, but with the support of Jay Maltby (CEO and CFO of Bacardi Rum), Lincoln Henderson began to see a future in bourbon again. He would take his experiences at Brown Forman, in California experimenting with Spanish, Portuguese, and other wine barrels, his interaction with foreign markets and palates, as well as his years of hands on brand development and launch Angel’s Envy. The name is a play on words from the “angel’s share,” which is the whiskey industry’s term for the loss of whiskey through the barrel into the air by evaporation. The angels get it, not us. In the bottle is the whiskey that they envy us for keeping. Lincoln Henderson wanted to create a lighter whiskey that would be appreciated by those new to bourbon or those that prefer a lighter sweeter flavor profile.
This whiskey is just another reason why people need to realize the talent that a good blender and skilled craftsman can have on a sourced whiskey. It reminds me of a chef that goes to a marketplace and purchases his produce carefully in order to create a dish. Knowing his craft is the reason that the sourced whiskey tastes nothing like the final product. Not all port finishes are created the same. Angel’s Envy is bottled at 86.6 proof. It is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley.
Sadly, on September 10, 2013, Mr. Lincoln Henderson passed away only 3 years into the establishment of the brand at the age of 75. His grandson, Kyle Henderson, had hoped to learn through years of working side by side with him, but was only given a short time. Bacardi bought the brand in March of 2015. It will be interesting to see where the brand goes without the guidance and experience of Lincoln Henderson. He was one of a kind.