Spirit Of The Week: Bhakta 1928

An exquisitely innovative blend of American rye whiskey, XO Calvados and nearly 100-year old Armagnac.


“The notion of blending rye, Armagnac, and Calvados was a concept of my own devising. Sometimes these inspirations arise out of a rather mystical place. Not to get too spiritual, but I’ve always found it to be true,” Raj Bhakta responds when asked who on his team first imagined the concept of his Bhakta 1928—a spectacular expression blending those three categories into a single bottle. 

“At first the idea felt like a daring act of whimsy. A caprice, if you will. But it quickly took the shape of a breakthrough of the imagination that was borne out in the glass. And then, on a product level, we made the impossible happen: We created a mass-market spirit with nearly 100-year-old Armagnac from the literal Roaring Twenties. And released it at scale. At a price any American can afford.”


Yes, there are always a couple eye-rolling moments when speaking with Raj (as we’ll call him here to differentiate from the eponymous spirit that bears his name), which shouldn’t surprise completely given that the successful entrepreneur cheerfully describes himself as a “reality TV star”—thanks to his appearance in the second season of The Apprentice

But behind the marketing bluster there is always substance, and quality, with Raj. His first big-time spirits endeavor, WhistlePig, initially received gruff from #whiskeynerds for sourcing all of its early rye and packaging it as a luxury product. 

But the juice was damn good, and now sourcing is a common practice across the industry. The market spoke for itself, growing the Vermont specialist into the largest luxury rye brand in America—culminating with Moët Hennessy purchasing a minority stake in 2020. 


Like WhistlePig the foundation of his new spirits brand Bhakta is based on superb juice. In this case much of it comes from a picturesque 18th-century château Raj purchased in the Armagnac region of the French countryside—its cellar containing a treasure trove of Armagnac with nearly every vintage the house, formerly known as Maison Ryst-Dupeyron, dating all the way back to 1868. So now his attention turns to introducing Americans to the sublime French brandy category. 

If Raj found introducing rye to unknowing Yankee palates difficult, however, then he really has his work cut out for him with Armagnac—a spirit few non-cognac lovers and spirits enthusiasts will even be familiar with. But if his goal is to do for Armagnac what he did for rye, at least he’s starting with a foundation of exceptional spirit. 

Blending two venerable French brandies with an American whiskey should not work, and yet it does—beautifully.

The base of Bhakta 1928 is built around a 2018 vintage of American straight rye whiskey (60%), which is enhanced with a truly wonderful XO Calvados (30%) one could happily sip neat. The remaining 10% consists of five different ancient Armagnac vintages (1928, 1941, 1962, 1973 and 1996), which are all married and finished in virgin French oak. 

Raj points out the average age of the spirit is 15 years old, with 30% over 30 years, 5% over 50 years, and its oldest vintage is nearly a century old. For under $70, that’s an impressive feat. 


“I’ll take the heat on the balance sheet to make this happen,” Bhakta concedes with his signature humility. “I’ll do my part, if drinkers do theirs. Because the appreciation of rare and exquisite spirits is a matter of national importance much bigger than mere money.”

Marketing, packaging, and eyebrow-raising aged spirits aside, what’s really important is the juice itself. And Bhakta 1928 offers one of the most unique and intriguing spirits we’ve gleefully sloshed around in our mouths in a long while.

Blending two venerable French brandies with an American whiskey should not work, and yet it does—beautifully. Of course the deep color and elegant mouthfeel are there in spades, but it is how the flavors combine in Bhakta 1928 that merits Raj’s description of “the magical touch of transubstantiation.”

Imagine red apple and orchard fruit, giving way to rich notes of flan with a touch of Breyer’s French vanilla ice cream in the long finish. Simply delicious.  

“Have you ever tasted something 100 years old?” he asks rhetorically. “Let me remind you that Bhakta 1928 is our flagship product. A permanent part of our lineup, not some special-allocation-limited-release-one-off-stunt-bottle. We’re able to offer it at $69. That’s an extraordinary opportunity for drinkers. You could call it a gift.”

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.