I am finally getting around to one of my most asked about bourbons. As soon as I mention to someone that I write a bourbon blog, it seems inevitable that I will be asked what I think of Trader Joe’s bourbon. For those of you not living in one of the nine states where Trader Joe’s exists, it is a chain of eclectic grocery stores that specialize in off-the-beaten-path foods that is now dabbling in the wonderful world of whisk(e)y. The draw of Trader Joe’s bourbon is obvious (it is $15 per bottle), but the question is whether or not we are drinking a good value bourbon or distilled shoe polish. As Jeff Foxworthy once said, “You would go for the cheapest Lasik surgery in town or the cheapest vasectomy in town, so maybe cheap isn’t always good.” That said, Trader Joe’s is sourced from Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, as it is distilled at the 1792 Barton Distillery (where 1792 Ridgemont Reserve is distilled, for example). Trader Joe’s is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv) and sold exclusively in Trader Joe’s outlets.
For me, the nose is the best part of Trader Joe’s bourbon. There are notes of clove, caramel, oak, burnt pine, and mint leaves. The palate leaves quite a bit to be desired, though. It tastes like bourbon, for sure, but it is mostly soft caramel and corn, with very little complexity or depth of flavor. As the whiskey moves towards the finish, there is an unpleasant lemony note that I find off-putting. In some whiskeys, some tart citrus works really well, but rarely in bourbon. The finish is short to medium in its length, and has traditional bourbon notes of caramel and sweet corn, with a slight twinge of oak.
Overall, I was disappointed in Trader Joe’s bourbon. It is certainly what you might expect from a young bourbon, but there is very little going on with it, and that makes it a hard whiskey to get behind. Of course, if you need a bourbon for cocktail night, this one has the price tag to fit that bill, especially if craft cocktails aren’t your thing. My grade: D+. Price: $15-20/750ml. If the price point looks like it might be your thing (and you love wearing Hawaiian shirts), don’t hesitate to give this one a try and let it ride!