Posts from the ‘Bourbon Reviews’ Category

Staying Power: A Few Bourbon Staples

One of the unique aspects of whiskey brands is that they do change over time. When you combine that change with the change in our palates, you can get some pretty intense discrepancies regarding the quality of different bourbons, especially over time. Personally, there are several different bourbons that I have found to vary a lot from batch to batch, barrel to barrel (Booker’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms), but there are also some bourbons that I have found to stay rock solid over all my years drinking the blessed spirit. Recently, I picked up two bourbons I had not had in a while to see if I liked them as much as I used to…

Ever since Heaven Hill came out with their Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases, bourbon lovers have been clamoring to get their greasy paws on some of this juice. The first release got rave reviews, as did most of their successive releases. I recently finished a bottle of their fourth release (134.8 proof, 67.4% abv), and it was absolutely fantastic stuff. It was every bit as dark, ominous, and beautiful as its predecessors. This is a complex, sweet, woody, and intense bourbon. Judging from what I have tasted to this point, I see no reason that this bourbon is going to slow down. All three bottles of this stuff that I have grabbed have been fantastic. If you see a bottle of this stuff chilling on a shelf at your local liquor store, grab it and thank me later.

The second bottle I picked up was a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel (Barrel 87-4I), and it also did not disappoint. With some single barrel bourbons, there is definitely a lot of variance from barrel to barrel, with some barrels being great, and others being just average. Four Roses is not in that category. Every different barrel of their beloved OBSV juice is aged to damn near perfection. This particular barrel was a little bit spicier than some previous inculcations that I have had, but Four Roses’ bourbons always tend towards some spiciness anyway. Like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, when you see a bottle of this juice on the shelf, you are never missing the mark if you decide to walk out with a bottle or two.

Really, this is less of a bourbon review, but just a reiteration to all of my readers that there are still a lot of good bourbons out there. So many of the blogs are heralding the end of the great bourbon era with all the new craft distillers sourcing young bourbon, and the no age statement bourbons being released. To be sure, there is plenty of gimmicky bourbon out there, and even some of my old standards have let me down a bit recently (Booker’s, cough-cough), but that does not mean that all hope is lost friends. In a bourbon universe that occasionally looks bleak, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Four Roses Single Barrel are still standing tall as testaments to making really good bourbon with time-tested precision and patience.

Old Crow Bourbon Review

The Old Crow label is one of the most recognizable bourbon brands in the world, with constant music and movie references.  Interestingly enough, despite the bird on the logo, the brand itself is named after James Crow, a Scotsman who distilled in Kentucky in the early 19th century.  Nowadays, the brand is owned by the Beam Suntory giant, and is distilled at the James Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.  The bottle indicates that this juice is at least 3 years old, and it is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

On the nose, this is a pretty straight forward bourbon with a lot of corn, candy corn, caramel, and vanilla.  This is young and spry stuff, but not at all bad. The palate is a simple, sweet presentation of bourbon full of caramel and vanilla flavors.  Wood is hardly integrated, but that is to be expected.  The finish is short and sweet with caramel and a wee bit of sawdust.

On the whole, this is hardly an offensive bourbon.  It is noticeably young, which makes it a bit simple and straightforward, but I do not really find anything in this bourbon to be especially off-putting.  My biggest complaint is simply that the bourbon is too quick, which makes it a pleasant but uninteresting bourbon experience.  Jim Beam has a quality product here that just needs a little extra loving from the barrel.  My grade: C-.  Price: $10-15/750ml.  What is most appealing about this bourbon is the price point, and how good it really is for $12 a bottle.

Breaking & Entering Bourbon Review

Today’s review is of Breaking & Entering bourbon, a fitting whiskey to review following Independence Day weekend since bourbon is a domestic product, and the United States is responsible for way too much “breaking and entering” over the course of its time.  No matter what side of the fence you fall to on this one in terms of whether or not the United States should have broken in and entered, we have done it an awful lot.  In the bourbon world, Breaking & Entering is a small-batch bourbon out of St. George’s Spirits in California.  None of this bourbon is distilled on site, hence the name of the whiskey.  The guys at St. George’s went to Kentucky and came up about 400 or so barrels of bourbon, which they have then blended into a series of small-batch releases.  There is no age statement on this bourbon, which leads me to guess that the ages of the bourbon barrels brought back probably varied.  The specific batch that I am reviewing is No. 050624, and it is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose smells of cornbread, caramel, banana bread, and rye.  The palate brings some bitter oak, toffee, caramel, banana bread, and herbal components.  The finish is medium, slightly tannic, and a wee bit sweet with caramel.  With a bit of time in the bottle, this got a little sweeter, but overall it held well with time.

In theory, taking the best of Kentucky’s different flavor profiles and turning into a bourbon-blending playground is a great idea.  In practice, it is a good result, too.  St. George’s has succeeded in making a straight-forward bourbon that gives you an overview of what Kentucky bourbon is made of.  Obviously, the specific potential of individual distilleries is lost in the final product, and I do not think Breaking & Entering bourbon is an instance where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  That said, this is a good bourbon, and it is very reasonably priced for a craft distillery; the only problem is that none of this bourbon is actually small-batch craft bourbon, just bourbon blended into small batch at a craft distillery.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This is definitely worth a shot, and since it varies from batch to batch, your next experience with Breaking & Entering could be a memorable one.

Baker’s Bourbon Review

Baker's BourbonSince today is Memorial Day, I thought it important to review an American spirit, specifically a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Perhaps no distillery in the United States is synonymous with bourbon in the way that Jim Beam is, which is why I have chosen today to review Baker’s, the final member of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection left to review on the blog.  I have already reviewed Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek, and they are all solid bourbons.  Baker’s is a 7 year-old Beam bourbon, and it is bottled at 107 proof (53.5% abv).

Upon pouring a measure of Baker’s, the dark amber in the glass is truly beautiful, as is the smell wafting out of the glass. On the nose, Baker’s is a pure bourbon nose of caramel, cinnamon, corn, leather, and oak.  The palate has a medium to full body, with caramel, black peppercorns, oak, corn, deep vanilla, and some bitter tannins.  The finish is slightly bitter, but sweet enough to round it out with corn, caramel, and some lingering vanilla sweetness.

Overall, Baker’s is straightforward bourbon with a lot to offer if you love bourbon.  If you are not a bourbon fan, then this bourbon is likely to change your mind. It is deep, robust, and pleasantly sweet.  The added proof gives it nice depth, and the depth is indicative that this is quality bourbon regardless of how “small batch” it actually is.  This bourbon won’t blow your mind; it will merely remind you that tradition and quality make for good bourbon.  My grade: B/B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  If there is a beef to have with this bourbon, it is that there is nothing that especially stands out about it, and it usually runs for close to $40 a bottle.

Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon Review

Sorry for the break in posts, folks, but a few new jobs have made life rather busy of late. Today’s review concerns a relatively new small batch bourbon from the Heaven Hill Distillery: Evan Williams 1783. There is no age statement on the bottle, but Heaven Hill claims that this bourbon is “extra-aged,” but that is hardly an official term.  As far as the term “small batch” on the label, Heaven Hill claims that each batch of this bourbon has a maximum of 80 barrels dumped; I will let you be the judge as to whether or not that constitutes a small batch bourbon. All that said, this bourbon continues on the tradition of well-priced whiskeys from the Heaven Hill Distillery. It is bottled at 86 proof (43%).

On the nose, Evan Williams 1783 presents a classic Heaven Hill bourbon flavor profile. Soft and pleasant, there are notes of caramel, vanilla, and freshly cut oak. The palate is soft and mellow, with classic notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak, but with a little herbal underbelly. The finish is short and sweet with a slight tannic bitterness offsetting the sweet caramel.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable bourbon, perhaps a dangerously drinkable bourbon. It is not overly complex or hard to understand, which makes it a great bourbon to start your bourbon journey with, or keep around the cabinet for those events when not everybody is an experienced bourbon drinker. My grade: C/C+. Price: $15-20/750ml. Truth is, this is one of those really solid bourbons under $20 on the market today.

Barrel Strength Bourbon Tasting: Four Roses, Booker’s, Elijah Craig, and E.H. Taylor

Last week, some of my best new and old whiskey-loving friends got together for another meeting up of the Boston Brown Water Society.  Last month, we kicked off the society in style with some full-bodied Scotches, and last week we crossed the pond for some full-bodied, barrel strength bourbons.  We tasted the four bourbons mentioned above, and we did the tasting blind so as not to allow our preconceived notions about these bourbons to influence our palates.  I have done my best to summarize everyone’s general thoughts (and some of my own) on these four wonderful bourbons from four of Kentucky’s most notable distilleries.  Bourbon Barrels Aging

The first bourbon we tried was a private barrel selection of Four Roses, bottled for Kappy’s liquor store in Medford, Massachusetts.  It was made from Four Roses’ OBSK recipe, aged 11 years and 4 months, and bottled at 109.6 proof (54.8% abv).  This bourbon got mixed reviews around the table, ranging from really good to a very solid bourbon.  This particular inculcation of Four Roses was especially spicy, with rye zip, chili peppers, and some black pepper.  Those spicy, zesty notes and some alcoholic heat continue all through the bourbon, but are tempered out nicely by  the addition of water, which calms the whiskey down and opens up more sweet flavors, such as caramel and butterscotch.  Overall, this one is quite tasty, indicative of the consistent quality of Four Roses.  My grade: B+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The second bourbon we tried was Booker’s.  This bottle of Booker’s was 7 years and 6 months old, from Batch 2013-6, and bottled at 125.4 proof (62.7% abv).  This bourbon was widely put at the bottom of everybody’s list for the evening.  I have been a bit proponent of Booker’s in the past, but this batch was not the best bottle to ever hit the shelves.  There was a tannic bitterness that stayed throughout the nose, palate, and finish that most of us found off-putting.  There were some sweet brown sugar and caramel notes that stayed throughout the bourbon, but this one did not bring the complexity or depth of the other bourbons of the evening.  Water did not help this one much at all, either.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The third bourbon we tried was the third release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof from Heaven Hill distillery.  It is 12 years old and registers at a whopping 133.2 proof (66.6% abv).  For many folks around the table, this bourbon was the highlight of the evening.  The nose on this bourbon is unbelievably delicious, with all sorts of deep caramel, mocha, brown sugar, vanilla, and oak notes.  The palate is plenty drinkable at barrel strength, but if you find it a little hot, water calms it down beautifully yielding notes of barrel char, spiced nuts, vanilla, and freshly roasted coffee beans.  The finish is long, warming, and sweet.  This bourbon was my personal favorite of the night, and I loved it equally as much at barrel strength and cut with a little water, demonstrating the complexity and depth of this sexy bourbon.  My grade: A.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The final bourbon of the evening was Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof.  This was the only whiskey we sampled without an age statement, but judging by its fiery 135.4 proof point (67.7% abv), I suspect this bourbon probably has at least an average of 10 years or so under its belt.  This bourbon also garnered some votes for the best bourbon of the evening, and for good reason.  The nose on this one is woody in a really good way, described as “funky in a good way” by several people at the table.  There are some citrus notes in this nose as well, along with some spicier notes and some traditional bourbon sweetness.  The palate is pretty hot, but water brings the heat into balance with the sweetness and yields a great bourbon.  It remains quite woody and citrusy, but there are also notes of orchard fruits and a spice cabinet.  The finish is long, warming, and mildly woody.  Overall, this is a rough and ready bourbon in the best possible sense.  It might not fit in at fancy dinner parties, but that’s alright with me.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.

At the end of the day, these are all good bourbons, and none of them are too overpriced.  The E.H. Taylor is the most expensive of the four, but some in our society believed this was the best bourbon of the lineup as well.  The Elijah Craig packs the best value of the bunch, but it is very hard to find.  The Booker’s is the most readily available of these four bourbons, but its variance from batch to batch does not always make this a great buy.  The Four Roses was a limited edition, privately-selected bottling, but judging by what I have tried from Four Roses, if you see a bottle of Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel available, I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the bourbon.  The real moral of the story is that price, popularity, and exclusivity do not determine a bourbon’s quality.  The only way to determine the quality of a bottle of bourbon is to crack the bottle, let it ride, and let the bourbon speak for itself.

Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Bourbon Review

It’s been a while since I did a good old-fashioned bourbon review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today we’re getting into Jim Beam’s new Signature Craft series.  The Jim Beam Signature Craft series is a new line for the famous Beam distillery which will include limited releases (the first release was a bourbon finished with Spanish brandy) and the new Jim Beam 12 year bourbon.  To the best of my knowledge, 12 years is the oldest standard release out of the Beam distillery to date.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).  The release of the Signature Craft series is not the only thing Beam has been up to in the past year or so.  Beam, Inc. was recently bought by Suntory, Ltd., which was followed shortly by the announcement of their new spokesperson, Mila Kunis.

In the glass, Jim Beam 12 is a beautiful amber, russet color.  On the nose, this bourbon smells of a sawmill (in a good way), with cherry cola, oak, some florals, and some vanilla.  The palate develops the oak even further along with vanilla, cherry cordial, and some tannic bitterness.  The finish is medium in length, with those same cherry notes, oak spice, and some lingering bitterness.  This bourbon is plenty drinkable at its bottle strength, and water tends to bring the flavors apart too much.

Overall, Jim Beam 12 year-old is decent bourbon, but in my opinion, it has spent a little too much time in the wood.  Jim Beam makes very good bourbon, and their new 12 year is no exception.  However, there is a reason Booker Noe liked his bourbon between six and eight years old – that is where Jim Beam’s bourbon is at its best.  Booker Noe knew what he was talking about.  This is a bit like a child that lives at home too long.  It is still very good, but it is just too woody to be my favorite bourbon coming out of Jim Beam.  My grade: B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  At the price point, there are bourbons I prefer to this one, but its elegance and age give this bourbon a unique spin on the standard Beam line.

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