Your Top 10 Bourbons for 2014

End of the year is always a popular time for reflection and lists. Here are the top 10 most popular Bourbon reviews as determined by my site analytics. Certainly those Bourbons reviewed earlier in the year have an edge with more time to gather hits, but whatever. This is only an exhibition. This is not a competition. So please, no wagering.

Below are some thoughts on each Bourbon and feel free to click-through to read my full review.

1 – Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch

I think the entire EH Taylor Jr line is generating buzz at retail with its Fancy tube packaging. I think gives these bottles a little excitement. Made at Buffalo Trace Distillery, this uses the same recipe as the namesake Buffalo Trace Bourbon. I think it’s better than Buffalo Trace and worth the up-charge. I can see why it’s popular as the entry bottle in the lineup.

2 – Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof

ECBP is one of my favorite Bourbons as a barrel proof bottling of Elijah Craig 12. I’ve tried the last four batches and have enjoyed them all. The latest “Hazmat” batch is quite good, especially given the 140-proof. For the past year and a half, batches have tricked out every three months or so. Heaven Hill has indicated we’ll get another round, which is a very good thing.

3 – George T Stagg (2014)

Arguable the king of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. I’m surprised this got so many views simply because it’s so hard to buy. I guess I underestimated the number of people considering buying pours at whiskey bars. I’ve yet to try other BTAC lineup, but I did enjoy this year’s Stagg. If found for a reasonable price, definitely worth a purchase.

4 – Bowman Brothers Small Batch

If you like Elmer T Lee, you’ll probably like this bottle. It’s distilled at Buffalo Trace and trucked to is their sister operation A. Smith Bowman in Virginia. There it’s distilled a third time and aged on site. Very similar, a little cheaper, and likely an easier to find than ETL these days. I think it’s more refined, but ELT fans may find that extra distillation robs it a bit. Either way, if you’re hunting for Elmer, this is a good substitute.

5 – Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel

I think a lot of people are wondering if CEHTJ Single Barrel is worth spending the extra cash over the mentioned Small Batch. I like the Single Barrel better, but for me it costs 50%. For my money, Single Barrel isn’t 50% better than the Small Batch, so I recommend people check out the Small Batch. If they really enjoy it, then maybe splurge to try the Single Barrel.

6 – Old Weller Antique 107

OWA is in a unique class within a unique class. It’s a 6-7 year old wheated Bourbon, meaning no rye in the recipe, and there are only a handful of wheated Bourbons on shelves. But then it’s bottled at an ample 107-proof. Those two facts make this a popular option among Bourbon nerds. At times I find it a little rough around the edges. Still, it’s a unique pour and generally a great price. OWA can be tricky to find at times as result of its cult status.

7 – Baterhouse 20 Year

The first release from Diegeo’s Orphan Barrel initiative. The other bottle released at the same time was Old Blowhard. Being the first wave of “orphan” bottles, Barterhouse got a lot of publicity to go along with a big 20 year age statement. There was also a lot of bottles in this “limited” run, so it’s not surprising a lot of people were curious.

8 – Stagg Jr

This uses the same #1 mash recipe as EH Taylor Jr Bourbons and of course George T Stagg. I’ve heard it suggested this modestly priced bottle is the next best thing if you can’t find a bottle of GTS. So, it’s not surprising to see it in the stats, but I disagree with that. I tried the first two batches and I’ve heard the third is better, but I can’t bring myself to buy another bottle when the other two are just collecting dust. I’m not a fan of Stagg Jr and I would argue the true son of Stagg is CEHTJ Barrel Proof.

9 – Rhetoric 20 Year

Rhetoric is another 20-year-old Bourbon from Orphan Barrel. This is a little different though as Rhetoric will have progressive releases through 2019. So each year there will be a release that’s a year older. Neat idea and it will be interesting to compare these releases. Anyway, again another well marketed old Bourbon that caught a lot of eyes.

10 – W.L. Weller 12

Old Weller Antique likely got caught some of the wake from Pappy Van Winkle, but Weller 12 is definitely seeing a lot of attention due to Pappymania. Weller 12 is an older wheated Bourbon of the same recipe as OWA, but bottled at 90-proof. Again, this is a unique class with in a class as there aren’t many wheated Bourbons and no other regular released wheated Bourbon with this age. And Buffalo Trace supposedly only dumps batches once a year, so there’s not a ton of inventory coming to shelves. Then add fuel of having the same/similar recipe as the Pappy stuff, well, you have a frenzy. Oh, and price is pretty darn good on top of all that.

So there it is. I hope you enjoyed this list and hope you stick around to see what 2015 brings.

Bulleit Bourbon – Review

Bulleit Bourbon Background

Bulleit Bourbon
Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon is a brand of Diageo and was introduced in 1999. It’s widely assumed to be entirely, but certainly at least in part, distilled at Four Roses. Bulleit Bourbon is then aged at Diageo’s Stitzel-Weller warehouses. The Bulleit brand includes Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon, and Bulleit Rye. The source of Bulleit Bourbon has changed or will be changing shortly away from Four Roses. This deal goes back to when Seagrams sold off many of its brands, which included both Bulleit and Four Roses and the Four Roses Distillery to Diageo. Diageo later sold Four Roses to current owners Kirin.

Diageo is now building a $115 million distillery in Shelbyville, Kentucky and is expected to begin producing in 2016. It’s unclear if there will be a gap between this new production and the end of Four Roses sourcing, and if so, where it will come from. For now, however, we do know that current bottles have distillate from Four Roses.

Bulleit Bourbon doesn’t share the same recipe as any of Four Roses’ products. Four Roses has its 10 recipes and can create a unique product through blending. Bulleit Bourbon uses both of Four Roses’ 20% rye and 35% rye mashbills for a mash recipe of around 28% rye. Bulleit Bourbon doesn’t have an age statement, but is typically aged between 6-8 years.

Details

No Age Statement. Bottled at 90-proof. Mash of about 28-percent rye. Paid $27

Aroma

Floral and sweet. Spicy, cinnamon. Minty. A bunch of caramel. Fruity with some apples. A little leather.

Flavor

A little flat without a lot of depth. The barrel character seems light with a hint of chocolate. Minty. Mint carry through the finish. Nice sweet, caramel, and vanilla flavors. Some astringency and ends on a bit of an acrid flavor.

Overall

Bulleit Bourbon was technically my first bottle of Bourbon. Years ago I went into the liquor store and asked for a quality middle of the road Bourbon to soak some oak cubes when making a Bourbon barrel stout. I remember taking a big swig of it and breathing fire. LOL. Times have changed.

Bulleit Bourbon is a pretty nice Bourbon and at a good price for a nice value. To me it seems a bit flat and some roughness around the edges, but it has a nice rye profile and does present a nice barrel character. Given the sub-$30 price for a good spicy rye Bourbon, it’s very nice option.

Comparatively this is like Four Roses Small Batch. Similar recipe split between Four Roses two high rye mashes, although it’s unknown which yeasts are used. It’s also bottled at the same 90-proof. Largely the difference appears to be perhaps the yeast and barrel storage. Bulleit Bourbon is stored at Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Louisville as noted, while Four Roses has a different style single story warehouses about an 45 minutes further south in Coxs Creek. I really like Four Roses Small Batch, and I would say Bulleit Bourbon is right in there. To use their tagline, I find Four Roses Small batch a bit more mellow with a little more character. Overall I prefer it, but Bulleit is still a nice pour for a few dollars less.

Bourbon nerds will likely object to Diageo and Tom Bulleit’s fishy back story. A lot of Bourbon brand lore is part myth and part truth, so I’m not going to get too worked up over it. At least not so much to shun a perfectly fine value. Still there’s plenty of fine Bourbon out there and people are free to vote with their wallets on both the Bourbon and the people behind the bottle. Personally, I’m not that concerned.

I’d have no problem buying another bottle of Bulleit Bourbon. In fact this is my third, including the first bottle back in the day. I’d happily spend a couple extra bucks for Four Roses Small Batch, however, their prices are going up, so that may change the equation a bit in the future.

Recommendation

Buy Again – 4.0 out of 5.0 Rating
(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

Bulleit Bourbon is a high rye Bourbon. In its price range I’d recommend also checking out Old Grand Dad 100, Redemption Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch, and Ridgemont Reserve.

Links & Other Reviews

Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof – Review

Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof Background

Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof
Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof

Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof is the big brother in the new-ish Taylor Jr line from Buffalo Trace. Current Bourbon releases also include Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch and Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel. There’s also a Colonel EH Taylor Jr Rye out there.

There have been three releases of Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof and I’m looking at the last two.

  • Batch 1 – 134.5-proof (67.25%)
  • Batch 2 – 135.4-proof (67.7%)
  • Batch 3 – 129.0-proof (64.5%)
  • Batch 4 – 127.2-proof (63.6%)

I never got a chance to try the first release, but I’ve had plenty of time with the second and have been getting acquainted with the third. There are some differences between the releases, but I’ll get into that in a bit.

So, the idea is we’ve got a barrel proof version of Buffalo Trace’s low rye #1 mash. This should make Bourbon nerds think about George T Stagg, which is also a barrel-proof Bourbon from that recipe. The big difference is Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof is aged likely around 7-8 years while George T Stagg is about double that, typically. We also have Stagg Jr, which promises to be a younger version of the granddaddy GTS, but if you were to ask me, I’d call Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof more of a true “Stagg Jr,” but lets save that comparison for the review.

Details

Bottled at 129.0-proof.  No age statement. Buffalo Trace #1 mash of less than 10% rye. $69.99 (2016 MSRP)

Aroma

Dark fruits, raisin bread, some grapes. Vanilla. Burnt sugars. Charred Oak. Trace of coffee. A little perfume. Add some water: Fruit turns more to pears, apples, cherries. Now getting baking spices of Cinnamon and cloves. Brown sugar. Vanilla seems stronger.

Flavor

Roasted coffee, charred oak, toffee, burnt sugars. Overwhelming at full strength. A little water brings out a bunch of caramel and more sweetness. Finish has wood and some astringency.

Overall

I hate to sound like a hipster and claim the older version of Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof is better, but I do like the second release more than the third. I enjoy both of these releases, especially with a splash of water, but the second release more so. I think the difference is enough to affect my rating, but only in the sense of it’s worth buying, but not worth stocking the bunker.

As far as George T Stagg, there is no comparison, in my opinion, but if you dig Stagg, Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof arguably could be the next best thing. It lacks the complexity and robustness of Stagg, but to me it’s much more enjoyable than Stagg Jr. Retail pricing is only about $10 less than Stagg, which is kind of funny, but the big difference is you actually have a relatively decent chance of finding Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof sitting on a shelf.

On the flip site, another way of looking at Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof could basically be a barrel proof version of Buffalo Trace, which also is #1 Buffalo Trace mash. I’m not sure I’d agree with that, although the resembles is there when adding enough water. Even if the years in barrels are close, I think Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof is aged better than Buffalo Trace, thus worthy a premium.

I enjoy barrel proof Bourbons and this is a good one to have on hand. A little water I think really makes Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof sing.  If you can find some of the second release, I’d say grab that one, but the third release is just fine. If the third release matched up for me like the second, I’d be probably gushing more in this review. I’ll be curious to see what next year brings.

I’ve seen pricing get up to $100+, which is getting to be a questionable value, in my opinion. If you can find it for a little closer to retail, I think it’s a good buy. Compare that to other Barrel Proof offerings from Heaven Hill, Marker’s Mark, and Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace itself, Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof retail is about ball park, I think.

Recommendation

Buy Again – 4.0 /5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

I’m going to stack this up against other barrel/high-proof Bourbon near in price. Four Roses Private Barrel is a great deal, I think, and worth considering for a few dollars less. Also, the new Marker’s Mark Cask Strength is about the same price retail for equal volumes. Booker’s is another option for less, sometimes a lot less, depending on your local pricing. Then we have Stagg Jr, which I’m not a huge fan, but does fit in well price-wise and comparable in flavor. Lastly there’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, of which I’m a fan.

Links & Other Reviews

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength – Review

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Background

Marker's Mark Cask Strength
Marker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is a full strength bottling of the classic Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is uncut and non-chill filtered Bourbon that basically turns up the volume on the standard Maker’s Mark.

For decades Maker’s Mark basically only offered its iconic wax dipped bottle filled with Bill Samuels Sr’s family wheated Bourbon recipe. In 2010 his Bill Jr was thinking about his legacy, but they had a problem. They didn’t have capacity and perhaps too time to launch a new product. Maker’s 46 was the result of some creative thinking to utilize existing barrels but finish them with toasted oak staves. Now a few years later there’s a booming demand among Bourbon nerds for barrel strength bottling. Heaven Hill last year launched a barrel proof version of its Elijah Craig, which I’m a big fan. Seems a great idea for Maker’s Mark to do the same.
Maker’s Mark is bottled at 90-proof and the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength version here is a relatively low proof. Maker’s Mark is thought to have a lower barrel entry proof, and given it’s aged around 6-7 years, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength lower proof would seem to confirm that. This bottle is is batch 14-02, or the second batch. The initial batch was initially only available for retail at the Maker’s Mark gift shop, but distribution is widening. Batch 14-01 was bottled at 56.6%.

Details

Bottled at 113.3-proof / 56.7%. No age statement. Wheated Bourbon. Paid $35 (375ml)

Aroma

Old coffee grounds, lots of butterscotch, Werther’s originals. Charcoal. Floral with fruity berries. Cinnamon.

Flavor

Surprisingly a little thin. Butterscotch, creamy vanilla. Cinnamon. Maple. Sawdust. Charcoal. Burnt sugars. Rich Dessert like. Some astringency and roasted corn in the finish. A little hot.

Overall

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength reminds me of breakfast. It’s a rich, sweet experience and I think I’m keying on a few things to bring up cinnamon french toast w/ strawberries. I enjoy this with just a little water. The proof isn’t extreme to require water, I think, but at least this batch just gets better knocked down slightly. This is a little disappointing because the proof is just 20% or so higher than the standard bottle, but the price is over 100% more. Adding water feels a little counterproductive.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is distinctively Maker’s Mark, but at the same time pretty unique. I’m going to make the assumption this is the same age as regular Maker’s Mark, and if so, it might benefit from a bit more age. It’s a little rough, but has plenty of barrel character. Could stand to round out some edges, I think. With that said, this is a pretty interesting pour. A light splash of water improves the glass and helps with those rough edges I think. Brings out more of caramel and butterscotch. Good stuff.

I like regular Marker’s Mark, although it can be a little plain jane  at times. Cask Strength fixes that nicely by giving rich, sweet, charred flavors of Maker’s Mark, but then turns up the volume for more of fruity, caramel, and butterscotch.

The 375ml bottle on Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is a bit high, but the $60 or so 750ml is more reasonable for a something special than the standard these days.

Recommendation

Buy Again – 4.0/5.0 Rating
 
(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

I’ll compare this to other barrel-proof/high proof offerings around this price. Some good bottles to also consider include Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof, Booker’s, Noah’s Mill, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and the already mentioned Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. Those are all near the price, although Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is unique in the group as the only barrel strength wheated Bourbon.

Links & Other Reviews