Eagle Rare Bourbon

When people ask about bourbons to try for people that aren’t familiar with bourbon, usually people recommend Buffalo Trace. The other bourbon that frequently gets recommended is Eagle Rare.

In my area, as of this writing, Eagle Rare is less, uh, rare, than Buffalo Trace.

I actually did not buy a bottle in my area. I found it in a 375ml sized bottle in my neighboring state, along with 750ml and 1.75l (handles). I had never seen a regular, big-name, middle shelf bourbon in 375ml or a handle before (excluding popular bottom shelf bottles like Evan Williams).

Given the availability of a smaller bottle to satisfy my curiosity about Eagle Rare, I jumped at the chance.

The nice thing about Eagle Rare, is that it comes across as smooth, a word hated by bourbon purists. I think they would prefer balanced to describe it. While there is some mild spiciness, it isn’t aggressive. Some of the heat comes from the alcohol, and some peppery heat from the rye. It is sweet, sort of a caramel, but not sugary sweet. There is a fruitiness, to me, almost a mild cherry. There is good bit of charred oak in the aroma as well as a decent amount in the flavor. Given it’s 10 year age statement, it would be disappointing if it didn’t have an oak flavor and aroma.

I like Eagle Rare far more than I like Buffalo Trace, although I want to revisit and update my post, since I only left an overview of the bottle without much detail.

Age: 10 years!

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Price: $20 for 375ml (Virginia ABC)

Buy Again: Yes, if I can find it, and if the price doesn’t go through the roof

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond

You know, when it comes to trying new bottles and when one is trying to focus on bargains whenever they come along, you’ve got to pay attention to those sales. When NC ABC listed Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond for sale at $3 off, that put it below $30 for a 750ml. As I always do, I started looking for reviews.

HMK10, as it is often listed in discussion groups, is a topic that evokes a lot of discussion. First, it is a single barrel product. This means that you can buy a bottle today that is phenomenal, and buy one from a different barrel tomorrow that isn’t nearly as good. Second, it is a 10-year age stated bourbon for around $30. Age statements seem to be disappearing as bourbon becomes more popular and distillers are trying to get more product out more quickly.

So off to the local state-run liquor purveyor I go. Over the shelf where the HMK10 was just days ago. Not a bottle on the shelf. Turns out, during some spirits competition, HMK10 won best something or other and people were going crazy for it. I wasn’t interested in it because of some award, but just because it was a 10 year old Bottled-in-Bond, ON SALE,  with generally good reviews as long as you got product from a decent barrel. A few days later, I walked into another ABC store and saw a couple of bottles on the shelf, and procured one for the lair.

The aroma is oaky and sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. The taste mirrors the aroma, except sometimes the cinnamon really takes center stage. I have to say that when I first opened the bottle, I didn’t care for it. I would occasionally come back and try it again. By the time I got halfway through the bottle, I started to enjoy it more, but it still isn’t my favorite whiskey to date. It isn’t bad, but I don’t know why so much hype.

Age: 10 years!

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $30 for 750ml (on sale)

Buy Again: Probably not. There are a lot of bourbons out there and maybe single barrel isn’t the best bet for me

Rittenhouse Rye

My curiosity with alcohol led me back to trying whiskey after parting ways with it many, many years ago. Back then, I knew nothing about different types of whiskey. Now, during my recent education, I was trying bourbon, and when learning about bourbon I found out that it is usually produced with with varying amounts of corn, rye, and barley. Bourbon must be at least 51% corn, and varying degrees of other grains. The rye adds a spicy flavor to the finished spirit, often a peppery or a cinnamon flavor.

After trying the Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, which has a spicy kick, I found that I liked the spice. So when looking for other things to try, I ran across rye whiskey, which must be at lease 51% rye! An affordable and popular bottle is Rittenhouse Rye. It isn’t as rye forward as some rye whiskeys, some of which are 95% rye.

In Coke, the spicy flavors really work well. I have yet to try it, but I’ve read that an old fashioned be quite good using rye instead of bourbon!

Age: At least 4 years (a bottled-in-bond requirement)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $26 for 750ml

Buy Again: Yes, but I’ll probably try another brand, or something with an even higher rye content

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)