Posts tagged ‘Booker’s’

Phil’s Favorite Bourbon

What better way to kick off my favorite whiskey series than bourbon?  In honor of awards season, I will present five nominees for the category, with the winner being revealed along with other winners at the end of the month.  In cases where two of the same whiskey might be nominated (i.e. two different releases of George T. Stagg), I have chosen my favorite iteration of the bourbon to be nominated.  These nominees achieved their status based on their taste profile alone; unlike most of what I do at Bargain Bourbon, price was not a consideration.  Without further ado, here are the nominees for Phil’s favorite bourbon (in alphabetical order).

Name: Booker’s

Distillery: Jim Beam

Age: 7 years, 5 months

Batch: C05-A-12

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 128.5 (64.25% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: This uncut, unfiltered, barrel strength bourbon rarely disappoints, and each batch tends to have something worth enjoying about it.  This particular batch was my favorite because there were some cinnamon and oak spice notes that rounded out the big caramel and vanilla notes that Booker’s is known for, giving the whiskey a depth and complexity that stood out above other Booker’s batches I have tried.  Unfortunately, as this was an older release, it is extremely unlikely that there are still unopened bottles of this juice floating around, but Booker’s bourbon is readily available at most liquor stores.

 

Name: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Age: 12 years

Batch: 3rd release

Release Year: 2014

Proof: 133.2 (66.6% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This barrel strength bourbon is another one that could have placed multiple releases on this list.  What set this particular release apart for me was the layers that the bourbon had when diluted at various levels.  The flavors were deep and complex at barrel strength, and as water was added, the bourbon just peeled back layers of flavor to reveal a sweeter profile, softening some of the coffee and dark chocolate notes that stood out at full strength.  Unfortunately, this release is probably long gone, and people have started to realize the quality of this bourbon, so current releases are harder to find, and they are selling for a good deal more than they did three years ago.

 

Name: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch

Distillery: Four Roses

Age: 11 years

Batch: 2012

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 111.4 (55.7% abv)

Price: $90-100/750ml

Notes: Four Roses could have had multiple limited edition releases make this list, but their 2012 small batch release is my favorite because of the balance between all the flavors that make bourbon great.  It was sweet, oaky, and spicy, all in perfect harmony.  Like many great whiskeys, a little water brought out different twists on each tasting note, making for an even more diverse experience.  Four Roses releases a limited edition small batch bourbon every autumn, but this specific release is undoubtedly unavailable excepting only the rarest and most esteemed of bourbon collections.

 

Name: George T. Stagg

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Age: 15 years, 11 months

Batch: 2013

Release Year: 2013

Proof: 128.2 (64.1% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: This is one of the most famous and most sought bourbons in the world, and for good reason.  Many years, George T. Stagg could make an argument that it’s the best bourbon released that year.  However, the 2013 release caught my taste buds because it was bottled at a slightly lower proof than the Stagg usually is, and I believe it did the Stagg a lot of good, peeling back rich oak and cigar box notes not often found in bourbon.  This was a bourbon that worked to transcend bourbon.  If you know where to look and are willing to pay the price, there are always bottles of Stagg floating around, but this one is going on 4 years since its release, which makes me think that it is probably extinct.  However, more Stagg is coming this fall, so keep your eyes peeled.

 

Name: William Larue Weller

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Age: 12 years

Batch:  2012

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 123.4 (61.7% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This wheated bourbon was one of those bourbons that brought wave after wave of rich, sweet flavors set upon a board of rich mahogany and oak.  Dried fruits, maple fudge, and vanilla all roared over the palate when sipping this bourbon.  There have been many worthy Weller releases, but this one was my favorite to pour after a delicious meal.  This one falls into the same category as the Stagg as far as availability.  There will be more coming out this year, but the old releases are hard to find and often have massive price tags on them.

 

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.

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.

My Favorite Whiskeys by Price Point

I am often asked, “What’s your favorite whiskey?”  Honestly, that is like asking me to name a favorite child, favorite beer, favorite song, or favorite movie.  I have many favorites, and many of these depend on my mood, and the money in my wallet.  However, I have recently had a request from my good friend, Kate at http://www.kateampersand.com/ for some recommendations for how to give the gift of whiskey.  I have reviewed about 40 whiskeys on the site so far, and here are my favorite whiskeys out of those 40 at different price points.  The prices used are the approximate prices for 750ml of the whiskey.

Best Whiskey under $20:  Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/17/old-grand-dad-bonded-review/).  This is a very good, rye forward bourbon, with a lot of power.  It doesn’t have the complexity of some other high rye bourbons, but it is hard to beat for $18 a bottle.

Runner-up under $20:  Four Roses Yellow Label (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/14/four-roses-yellow-label-review/).  In comparison to the power of Old Grand-Dad (bottled at 100 proof), the Yellow Label is a delicate rye-forward bourbon.  There is a lot of light spice that tingles the tongue and the nostrils, but it doesn’t quite have the depth of Old Grand-Dad.  Nevertheless, Four Roses Yellow Label is a great buy.

Best Whiskey under $25:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/28/rittenhouse-rye-review/).  Not only is this whiskey a great value, it is a great whiskey.  There is a ton of complexity, ranging from spiciness to sweetness to a rich earthiness.  If you want to impress somebody, buy them this whiskey for their birthday.  Trust me, they will think you spent a good amount on it (especially if you put it in a fancy decanter since the bottle design is not especially flattering).

Runner-up Under $25:  McClelland’s Speyside (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/30/comparison-review-scotch-styles-mcclellands-speyside-vs-mcclellands-lowland/).  This is a fine single-malt Scotch for the price.  It has all the delicacy of a Speyside, with the craft necessary to give it some soft chocolate and smoke flavors that give it character.  (It should be mentioned that if you can find Wild Turkey 101, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10 yr. Single Barrel, or Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for under $25, they are even better.  However, I live in Boston where I am not quite so lucky.)

Best Whiskey under $30:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond.  It still reigns supreme; it’s just that good.

Runner-up under $30:  Buffalo Trace (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/31/buffalo-trace-review/).  It is the bourbon that turned me on to bourbon a number of years ago, and it continues to impress.  It is not overly sweet, leaving the vanilla to be blended perfectly.  It is like eating a perfectly balanced cheesecake (sort of).

Best Whiskey under $35:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/12/russells-reserve-10-year-bourbon-review/).  Finally, Rittenhouse was dethroned.  Every time I drink Russell’s Reserve, I am amazed at how wonderfully structured it is.  It is like reading a great novel, where the plot unfolds precisely when it should.

Runner-up under $35:  W.L. Weller 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/28/w-l-weller-12-year-review/).  This is exactly what a wheated bourbon can achieve.  It is sweet, but complex, demonstrating the many phases of a sweetness.  It reminds me of eating buttermilk pancakes smothered in cinnamon sugar and maple syrup (except not as filling).

Best Whiskey under $40:  Four Roses Single Barrel (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/14/four-roses-single-barrel-review/).  Although this is a single barrel whiskey (meaning there will be some difference between batches), I’ve never had a bad batch of this whiskey.  It is plainly brilliant.  It has the all the spicy rye character of Four Roses Small Batch, but it demonstrates a whole other layer of complexity with a sweet, dark palate.

Runner-up under $40:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr.  It has rightly remained high on my list even at a higher price point.

Best Whiskey under $50:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/22/bunnahabhain-12-year-review/).  This is really a brilliant Islay whisky.  The sherry influence is strong, but the Islay peat hangs around to provide a perfect balance.  Although this is not a traditional Islay whisky, it is my favorite value.

Runner-up under $50:  Four Roses Single Barrel.  Yes, it can compete with whiskeys that reach above its price point.

Best Whiskey under $60:  Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/06/21/comparison-review-bookers-vs-noahs-mill/).  This is my favorite whiskey to date, and it should only be given to a true whiskey lover who you love very much.  It is a full, robust whiskey, providing a complexity and intensity rarely seen elsewhere in the bourbon world under $60.  (I have seen Booker’s for as cheap as $47.  If you see it around that price, snatch up a bottle.)

Runner-up under $60:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr.  As many of you are aware, Scotch is expensive.  However, I have yet to find a better value among Single Malt Scotch than Bunnahabhain.

I am stopping at $60, because most people that read this blog are seeking value bourbons.  If you like some recommendations for higher price ranges, feel free to email me at thedagupeir@gmail.com.  I would also recommend that you read the reviews of these whiskeys before purchasing them, just to make sure it sounds like something that will truly be enjoyed by whoever is its lucky recipient.  Let it ride!

Bourbon Rankings (Taste)

I have had several people ask me to provide a ranking of the bourbons I have reviewed based solely on the bourbon.  Well, here are my bourbon grades.  Check out my grading scale here.

1.  Booker’s (A)

2. Four Roses Single Barrel (A-)

3. Russell’s Reserve 10 Year (B+)

4. Jefferson’s 18 yr. Presidential Select (B+)

5. Noah’s Mill (B+)

6. Rowan’s Creek (B+)

7. Maker’s 46 (B+)

8. Rock Hill Farms (B+/B)

9. Wild Turkey 101 (B+/B)

10. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002 (B)

11. Woodford Reserve (B)

12. Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel (B)

13. Blanton’s Original (B)

14. Wild Turkey Rare Breed (B)

15. Four Roses Small Batch (B)

16. Knob Creek 9 Year Single Barrel Reserve (B/B-)

17. Elmer T. Lee (B/B-)

18. Basil Hayden’s (B-)

19. Buffalo Trace (B-)

20. Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (B-)

21. Elijah Craig 12 Year (B-)

22. W.L. Weller 12 Year (B-)

23. Willett Pot Still Single Barrel Family Reserve (B-)

24. Jefferson’s (B-)

25. Four Roses Yellow Label (C+)

26. Wild Turkey 81 (C+)

27. Old Forester (C/C+)

28. Knob Creek 9 Year Small Batch (C)

29. Old Grand-Dad Bonded (C)

30. Old Weller Antique (C)

31. Jim Beam Black Label (C)

32. Evan Williams Black Label (C)

33. Bulliet Frontier (C)

34. Berkshire Bourbon (C)

35.  Fighting Cock 6 Year (C-)

36. Kentucky Vintage (C-)

37. John E. Fitzgerald Larceny (C-)

38. Maker’s Mark (C-)

39. Wild Turkey 80 (C-)

40. Jim Beam White Label (C-)

41. Jesse James (D+)

Those are my bourbon rankings ranked solely on my tastes.  That’s the fun of bourbon, you might rank these completely different.  Which ones would you change?

Bourbon Myths

I started Bourbon for Beginners with the intention of disproving one of the most outrageous myths about bourbon – the more expensive a whiskey is, the better a whiskey is.  As I hope to have proven in the several months I’ve had the blog up and running, that is simply not true.  In addition, I have hoped to distill the rumor that tasting and enjoying whiskey is an objective endeavor.  Tasting whiskey is firmly a subjective pursuit, varying greatly from person to person.

However, there are still more myths about bourbon (and whiskey at large) to be debunked.

1.  The older a whiskey is, the better a whiskey is.  This is simply not true, as I hoped to show in my comparison review of Booker’s and Noah’s Mill.  Booker’s is only aged between 6 and 8 years, while Noah’s Mill is aged at least 15 years.  However, while they are both fantastic whiskeys, I definitely prefer Booker’s.  All aging a whiskey does is give the whiskey a different character than when it was young.  What is true is that older whiskeys tend to be more expensive because they are more rare and harder to find.  The best way to find out whether a younger or an older whiskey is better is to go out and drink the whiskey for yourself, which brings me to the second bourbon myth I’d like to debunk…

2.  The only proper way to drink bourbon is straight up and neat.  I used to believe very strongly in this myth, but it is also not true.  I recently had the opportunity to try Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey, one of the esteemed offerings from Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.  As a barrel-strength whiskey, it was a little tight in its flavors.  However, after adding a few drops of water, Thomas Handy opened up to me and exploded across my taste buds with brilliant spices and vanillas in perfect balance.  I suppose you could say I had a conversion experience.  That being said, I still prefer drinking most whiskeys neat, but a splash of water can sometimes do wonders for opening up a whiskey.  Of course, if you bought the drink, you can drink it however you would like.  I enjoy the fullness of whiskey, so I don’t usually like it on the rocks because chilling the whiskey usually dulls the palate in my opinion.  But as I have said before, there is no right way to drink whiskey; it is a subjective journey.

3.  There are correct tasting notes in a whiskey.  This is only somewhat true.  When I taste a whiskey, the flavors usually conjure up other thoughts in my mind.  Maybe a scent reminds me of Christmas morning, or a finish reminds me of a warm bonfire.  These sensual memories contribute to the tasting notes that I bring out of whiskey.  The reality is that most whiskey simply have a basic profile.  There may be a general sweetness in the finish, but how a person exactly describes that sweetness is entirely subjective.  In other words, if I review a whiskey and said it has a raspberry note in the nose, and you think it smells like strawberries, neither one of us is wrong.  That, my friends, is the beauty of whiskey.

Hopefully, this has been helpful.  Now, when one of your parents’ uppity friends tells you they have The Glenlivet 15-year French Oak Reserve in their liquor cabinet, you can confidently tell that person that The Glenlivet 12-year is every bit as good as the 15-year (at least in my opinion), and they wasted their money just to look fancy.  In the meantime, drink some young, value bourbon and let it ride!

Top Ten Foods to Pair with Bourbon

In honor of July 4th, a day when many folks will be eating a ton of food, I thought I should do a post of my favorite foods to drink bourbon with.  Of course, bourbon is a big, flavorful spirit that is certainly not in need of a food pairing.  However, it is July 4th, and bourbon whiskey is America’s native spirit, so why not try a few fingers of bourbon with some of good food?

Here are my favorite foods to pair with bourbon…

10. Peanuts – Of course peanuts are a beer companion.  However, I think they go well with certain types of bourbon as well.  I think peanuts go especially well with oaky bourbons, so maybe try a bottle of Rowan’s Creek next time you are shooting pool and munching on peanuts.

9. Apple pie (a la mode) – I find that the sweetness of an apple pie is bolstered well by a full-flavored bourbon with a lot of brown sugar and caramel flavors.  If you’re up for it, try a finger or two of Booker’s with your apple pie this evening.

8. Pistachios – Pistachios are another great beer companion that also works well with bourbon.  I like a big bourbon with my pistachios to compliment the big pistachio flavor.  Take it slow, and enjoy a long evening with friends, pistachios, and a bottle of Eagle Rare 10 year.

7. Fresh Peaches – Fruits are a great bourbon companion, and I have found that peaches have a delicate enough flavor to compliment bourbon well.  Peaches are a fantastic pairing with the subject of my most recent bourbon review, Jefferson’s.

6. Cheese and Crackers – Crackers are especially good for a bourbon tasting because they will clear the palate to ready you for more bourbon.  However, a light-bodied cheese with some crackers is a fine snack for the next summer evening with friends.  Like with peanuts, I usually like a big, oaky bourbon with my cheese and crackers.  However, a flavorful, rye-forward bourbon like Wild Turkey 101 also makes for a great evening.

5. Banana Bread – Banana bread has a tempered enough flavor profile to make for a very good bourbon companion.  I find that banana bread goes especially nice with a balanced, sweet bourbon.  This is where I recommend a bottle of my favorite value bourbon, Buffalo Trace.

4. Dark Chocolate – A few bites of a bitter dark chocolate can really set off some amazing flavors in the palate of a bourbon.  If you were to indulge in some Old Forester with some dark chocolate, you mind just find a whole new reason to love a great value buy like Old Forester.

3. Pecans – Of all the nuts that I have on my list, pecans are soundly my favorite to drink bourbon with.  They have a natural ability to compliment sweet flavors very well, which is probably why they top so many desserts.  Although I have only tried this pairing on one occasion, I was extremely pleased with the way pecans tasted as I was drinking William Larue Weller.

2. Cheesecake – Cheesecake is one of my favorite foods, with its soft, seductive flavors and texture.  It goes great with bourbon because it will not overpower the palate.  If you want to make your 4th of July a memorable one, I would highly recommend a slice of cheesecake and a glass of Woodford Reserve.

1. Steak – A nice cut of steak is my all-time favorite food to drink bourbon with.  For some reason, the savory flavors of a steak always seem to go right along with a great summer bourbon.  There are few things in life that I enjoy more than eating a good steak, and washing it down with a glass or two of Basil Hayden’s as the sun sets on a warm summer’s eve.

Of course, most of the time, I drink bourbon before or after a meal, not during.  However, if you would like to try some bourbon and food pairing, I think these ten foods are a great place to start.  Please comment and let me know which great bourbon foods I’ve left off my list.  Let it ride!