Virgin Bourbon

Virgin Bourbon is a 101-proof, seven year old bourbon with a limited distribution. Rumor has it that is the same or very similar to Old Ezra 101. While I can’t speak to that, I can tell you that is fine as a mixer, but to me it kind of harsh when consumed neat. And not because of the alcohol. It’s just that it seems rough around the edges. I’m not doing much to explain it properly.

Okay, so Evan Williams BiB is right about the same alcohol level, but Virgin doesn’t seem as, balanced, between the heat from the alcohol, the spice from the rye content, and the sweet from then corn. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t anything I wanted to buy again. And that folks, is my basic criteria for any bottle…

Age: 7 years

Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)

Price: $14 for 750ml

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

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)

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.

 

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)

 

Sip Bourbon? You can do that?

After a little progress trying to sip rums neat, I thought I’d revisit Bourbon. Now, mind you, I NEVER thought I’d be traveling towards this crossroads again, waiting for the devil to appear at midnight.

But dark rum and I are now friends and dark rum has some of the same characteristics of my mortal enemy of old, whiskey.

After one too many YouTube videos proclaiming how sweet and smooth various bourbons were, I decided to make a great sacrifice and try some.

I already have one, Evan Williams 1783, that I bought for mixing. But the purpose of this endeavor was to find something I could sip straight or over ice. To be fair, I hadn’t tried the Evan Williams straight. I also had a miniature of Larceny that was attached to a full size bottle of something else.

At my last visit to the ABC store, I asked the manager what he recommended. Without hesitation he said, “Maker’s Mark“.

I had learned that Maker’s was a wheated bourbon and that was supposed to yield a sweeter spirit.

Back to the web. I ended up with a list, and on the next trip, picked up miniatures of Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve. To be clear, Knob Creek and Woodford aren’t wheated, but they are popular bourbons in their price range.

Did I mention that bourbons seem to be pricey? A 750ml bottle of anything above the bottom shelf goes for $30 and up! Even the three miniatures ran me $12 and change!

My goal was to only sample each, so I poured 1/4 oz of each into separate glasses. I let them sit for a couple of minutes. I took in the aroma from each and tried to see what I could take away.

The aroma of all of the samples was sweet. Not surprisingly, corn. And some alcohol. Maybe a bit of oak. I’m not one who can start listing all of the fruits and spices. I get corn and some oak.

So, let the sipping begin! Again I find that the alcohol overwhelms my taste buds before I can get much. I had read to add a few drops of water and to let it sit. Doing so does  allow me to taste more than the alcohol, but I’m back to some sweetness, some corn and some oak. Not bad, since corn and oak should be in a bourbon.

I also read that being careful not to breath in helps with the alcohol burn. True, but even with these steps, I can only take a couple of sips before my tongue is numb. A few minutes later, try, try again.

With Evan Williams 1783 in the comparison, I learned some good news about my lack of sophistication. I can buy cheap bourbon and it tastes the same to me as something twice the price!

Along the same lines as my rum, I tried each with Coca Cola.

Makers, more burn, even with the cola. 1783 was quite good, with the oak forward. The Knob Creek and Woodford both added a peppery spice kick.

Larceny Bourbon

The clever label with the old style key and keyhole are a good match for the Larceny name.

Haven’t tasted it yet. The reviews are decent for a bourbon with a shelf price in mid $20 range (for a 750ml). I’ll have more to say after I give it a try.

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Price: Free 50ml promotional ‘collar’ on a full size bottle of another product

Buy again: Maybe (didn’t buy it the first time!)

Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon

This was a tough one. While making some cocktails with my son and his girlfriend, my son asked what kind of whiskey I had.

There was no whiskey in the cabinet, and until that point, I never intended to have whiskey anywhere near me. (If you haven’t read the intro page, now is a good time).

By this time, I had tried the Meyers’s rum, and it had reminded me of whiskey, but perhaps because of the presentation, had not turned me off to the taste.

So I went down the rabbit hole of reviews and a visit to the ABC store to snap pictures of the entire wall of whiskey, focusing (no pun intended) on the middle shelf. At this point, I discovered just how high-end whiskey had become. So, I also snapped away at the bottom shelf for reference.

I’m not a whiskey drinker, and my intention was to ALWAYS mix it. Even then, I didn’t want to settle for the bottom shelf. Strangely enough, there appears to be a fairly good opinion of some of the bottom shelf whiskey when it comes to mixing.

I finally settled on Evan Williams. Then the challenge became a choice between the lower end Evan Williams products, and the lower middle shelf.

The online consensus was that even the bottom shelf Evan Williams bottles would work in a cocktail. But in the end I decided to go one step up to the Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon.

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Paid: $17 for 750ml

Buy Again: Yes