Benchmark Bourbon


Would you believe that you could buy a bottle of bourbon from the same distillery that makes Buffalo Trace that costs less than $10?

You should. Is it a great bourbon? Of course not! Is it a bad bourbon? Depends on what you want to do with it. As a mixer with Coke, it is fine. Will it stand up to more aggressive cocktail flavors? Maybe not, but it tastes like bourbon, and it smells like bourbon. It is supposedly made from the same ingredients (mash bill) as Buffalo Trace. It is labeled as ‘Straight Bourbon‘ which brings with it some legal definitions. So for one thing, it has to be at least two years old. Probably not a day over two years.

The best? No. The worst? No…

Age: At least 2 years

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Price: $10 for 750ml

Buy Again: No. For just a few dollars more, there are some very good bonded bourbons

 

 

Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon

One of the things I find interesting with regards to alcohol are the numerous lists of recommendations. People feel strongly about their favorites. When patterns form and particular bottles show up time and time again, it makes one curious.

Old Grand Dad shows up on LOTS of lists. Particularly the Bottled-in-Bond (I’ll have to add a post about BiB) version. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond was a winner for me, so I figured there was something to this.

And wouldn’t you know it, NC ABC had listed on sale for $20! So it was time to try my first bourbon that was listed as having a higher rye content than bourbons I’d tried before. Rye gives bourbon a spicy flavor in addition to the corn and oak that is usually found in bourbon.

It turns out I like this as much, if not more than, the Evan Williams BiB!

Age: At least 4 years

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $20 for 750ml (on sale), normally $24

Buy Again: Yes (Absolutely)

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Rum

After finding and enjoying the Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum, I ran across a bottle of Rare Blend 12 Year Old Rum. Unlike some (many) other rums, Appleton lists the actual age of the rum for their products with an age statement. So this is truly a 12 year old rum.

The reviews indicated that this was a fantastic bottle of rum, and while you can use anything for a cocktail, this was described as a rum to drink neat or on ice.

When I first saw it, it was listed as $32. That is a non-trivial price for something I’m not sure of in a spirit. So, reviews, and YouTube videos, and checking my sofa for change. And lo and behold, the ABC store runs it for sale at $28. Well, I had to take a chance on it at less than thirty dollars, right? Not so fast! So I did what most people do. I found a way to justify it. It was a couple of months until my birthday. I’d buy it now as a birthday present for myself! And I did.

The decorative packaging

I actually put it in the cabinet until my birthday. When withdrawn from the cabinet, and the top removed, I was greeted with a bit of oak, a bitter orange, maybe brown sugar, or something similar, and I’d almost swear, pineapple.

The taste sticks around for awhile. The sweetness is there, and the alcohol burn is held in check. There is some spicyness that may come from the barrel. The Appleton Signature Blend has a harshness that isn’t present in the Rare Blend. In descriptions of many rums, there term ‘funk’ is used. I don’t know if I can define it, but I know it when I taste it. There is definitely fun in Appleton rums. And that is a good thing!

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Paid: $28 (on sale) for 750ml (normally $32)

Buy again: Yes (but only on sale, or for my birthday)

Ron Zacapa 23 Rum

Holy Moly! Ron Zacapa 23, now that is rum! This is a fantastic top shelf rum. There is a pleasant sweetness, molasses, honey, banana, maybe vanilla, a subtle spiciness, something fruity, along with a mild alcohol bite. As much as I like Plantation, and I still like Plantation, this is an incredible rum!

There is considerable discussion online regarding the labeling of “23” on the bottle. On other spirits, it is considered bad form, or in some cases, is illegal, to state an age unless that number is accurate. In the case of Ron Zacapa 23, it is not 23 years old. If it was, it would be far more expensive. It is thought to be a blend, including some amount (who knows how much) that is 23 years old. Some say it is more likely 6 to 8 years old. If you want to know more, there is a detail articles (with charts!) here: https://refinedvices.com/ron-zacapa-part-ii-solera-system-explained

There is also a great deal of discussion about rums, including this one, having added sugar. Purists are concerned/offended/angered/insert-adjective-here. I don’t care, and will continue to enjoy the rum for whatever it is.

Age: Thought to be a blend of rums distilled from virgin sugar cane aged between 6 and 23 years, in white oak casks.

Proof: 80% (40% ABV)

Price: (It was a very generous gift from my son!) On the shelf it is $50 for 750ml

Buy Again: Yes, but I’ll have to save my pennies and save it for special occasions!

Mount Gay XO Reserve Cask Rum

Mount Gay XO (Extra Old) Reserve Cask Rum is a top shelf rum. The taste is intense molasses, banana, and even though the alcohol is there, it doesn’t hurt too much. It is not as sweet as the Don Pompero Aniversario. This is one of the few rums I can drink neat. I don’t know if I would ever admit to mixing a rum like this and as long as I can drink it neat or over ice, that’s probably how I’ll continue to drink it.

Age: Thought to be a blend of rums aged between 8 and 15 years in American bourbon barrels

Proof: 86% (43% ABV)

Price: (It was a very generous gift from my son!) On the shelf it is $50 for 750ml

Buy Again: Probably not, based on the price

 

 

Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum

I’m a big fan of rum. And so far, I’m a big fan of Plantation rums. This was no exception and in fact it a fantastic rum. The Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple is one of Plantation’s dark rums, with a pineapple infusion. Don’t think syrupy sweet pineapple. This has a mild sweetness and the essence of pineapple. You instantly get the flavor, but it doesn’t overwhelm.

I can certainly drink this neat. I’m sure it would go well in any number of cocktails. I’ll have to try some and report back.

Proof: 80% (40% ABV)

Price: (It was a very generous gift from my son!) On the shelf it is $30 for 750ml

Buy Again: Yes, but I’ll have to save my pennies and save it for special occasions!

 

 

 

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

When I first considered trying a bourbon after all of these years, the reviews resoundingly said that Buffalo Trace was the “go-to” bourbon, popular and relatively inexpensive. It just so happens that the Buffalo Trace Distillery also makes Pappy Van Winkle, a very sought after bourbon (in some opinions, over-hyped and over priced).

So into the ABC Store. “One Buffalo Trace please”… Okay, they didn’t laugh at me, but they made it clear that, in North Carolina anyway, Buffalo Trace didn’t stick around long after a shipment comes in. By pure chance, I walked into one of the ABC Stores that I visit less frequently. There, on the shelf, were a couple of bottles of Buffalo Trace, behind the hand-written sign stating “One per customer, per day”. By this time, I had purchased and tried a few other brands. But, given that Buffalo Trace was the first bottle I had been looking for, I grabbed one of the bottles and made my way to the cashier. A few days later, my usual store got in 8 bottles and they were gone in short order. Whether the difficulty in getting this product is real or artificial, I can’t say.

[more coming]

Age: No age statement, but thought to be 8-10 years

Proof: 90% (45% ABV)

Price: $29 for 750ml

Buy Again: Probably not, given it’s price compared to others I like equally as well…

 

 

 

 

Sip Bourbon: Revisited

As an update to my previous post on sipping bourbon, I find it much easier to consume by adding a couple of ice cubes. I guess its the same as adding water, but a little at a time as the ice melts. The alcohol burn is greatly reduced, and more of the flavors seem to come through.

With this in mind, and after adding more bourbons to the mix, here is my current ranking of the bourbons I have tried, from least favorite to most favorite. These are only my opinion, and subject to change with the next bottle.

6) Woodford Reserve: I get a lot of alcohol burn and the spice and oak are very strong
5) Knob Creek: Spicy, more than I think I like, but I can see how people would like it if spice is your thing
4) Maker’s Mark: Was highly recommended and I like the sweetness, but the burn was more noticeable than some others
3) Evan Williams 1783: Relative mild alcohol burn, some sweet, some spice, but maybe a little mild
2) Larceny: The sweetness brought by the wheat was nice and the alcohol burn wasn’t too bad
1) Evan Williams White Label Bottled-in-Bond: Even with the higher proof, the burn was, manageable, the oak was prominent, as was the corn sweetness, and the touch of rye still gives some spice.

 

Don Pompero Aniversario

I ran across Don Pompero Aniversario at an ABC store across the county. I had read great things about it and had never seen it anywhere in my area. It comes in a leather pouch, has a real cork, and it is rum, so there.

This not a bottom shelf rum, and has the price to prove it. The aroma is molasses, a hint of cinnamon, with very little alcohol. Tasting it, I get a subtle sweetness, molasses, cinnamon, caramel, oak. I also get subtle banana after a couple of minutes. After comparing it at a later time, the sweetness is more intense than the Mount Gay XO.

We are a long way here from a Bacardi light rum! This is no Captain Morgan sugar bomb. It is far more more sophisticated than I’m used to, so it might be an acquired taste.

Age: Thought to be a blend of rum 4-6 years old.

Proof: 80% (40% ABV)

Price: $32

Buy Again: Not sure, given it’s price.

 

Evan Williams White Label Bottled in Bond

With the Evan Williams 1783 getting low, and my mini bottle comparison proving that I don’t know beans about bourbon, I went to Reddit and a few other sites looking for low cost, much appreciated bottom shelf (or bottom adjacent) bourbons.

Repeatedly, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond (White Label) kept coming up. And guess what? It was on sale! So 750ml made the trip back to the lair.

You know what I smell? Corn! Imagine that! Given it’s 100 proof, I expected to have my nose burst into flame, but the alcohol wasn’t overwhelming. I can also get some oak.

Tasting it gave me sweetness, corn, and oak. And there is the alcohol! Surprisingly, it might have been less imposing than the lower proof 1783. I added ice and this helped quite a bit. I have read of people saying that they taste peanut of all things. Over ice, I swear I can taste peanut!

Hmm. So far, drinking any base spirit straight isn’t my favorite thing to do, although I keep trying! So what to do? I added it to Coke in a 1:3 ratio (1 part bourbon, 3 parts Coke). The survey says: Oak! Vanilla. Pepper. So much oak. I think I shall call it Oak-a Cola. I don’t dislike it, but the oak is very prominent. And I get a peppery heat, almost more so than an alcohol burn.

So, even if I can’t drink it straight, there are always cocktails.

Age: At least four years (a requirement for bottled-in-bond bourbons)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $13 for 750ml (on sale)

Buy Again: Probably (or similar)