IF WE HAD A BENJAMIN
The following is The Bourbon Guys’ contribution to a collaborative effort of many great bloggers, retailers, and other industry “folks” to the question of, “If you had a Benjamin, what bourbon would you buy?” Of course, we can’t do anything “traditional,” so the following is our rollicking, pitiful attempt at poetry with a message. If you can stomach any more, we’ve taken some time to write up a serious recommendation following all the terrible rhymes. Thanks for reading!
IF WE HAD A BENJAMIN
If we had a Benjamin,
Oh the bourbon we could buy.
A Wild Turkey 101,
Or three, or four, or five.
Traditional, with lots of rye,
this bourbon makes the grade.
Jimmy Russell and his boy Ed,
watch closely how it’s made.
Russell’s Reserve at 110 proof,
it sips just like a dream.
That telltale rye it balances
this bourbon’s caramel cream.
Old GrandDad surely hits the spot,
A favorite tried and true.
The 80 proof may fade in drinks,
where the 114 shines through.
100 proof is just as good,
They’re each a value pour.
With Benjamin we’re sure to carry
several out the door.
But then you ask, do we like more?
We’re sure to tell you Noe.
Bold flavor in his coffee cup,
Ol’ Booker made it so.
Knob Creek another favorite,
and here we’ll include rye.
Beam-Suntory raised the bar
for all you Jim Beam guys.
Our Benjamin would also let
Evan Williams come our way.
The vanilla nose and butterscotch
says, “Take me home today!”
And then there are so many brands
that Wheatley brings to bear.
A Buffalo Trace and some pecans
are an inexpensive pair.
Weller of almost any sort
represents the wheat,
while Eagle Rare at just 10 years
is the barrel char elite.
Jim Rutledge serves Four Roses
in so very many ways,
But for sheer value in the glass
His Small batch earns our praise.
Now, we know you Woodford folks
think it’s Brown-Forman’s best,
But we believe Old Forester
Is the one to pass that test.
On we could go with this bourbon show,
and on perhaps you’d read,
but all this talk of whiskey
only serves to fuel our greed.
So, if we had a Benjamin,
Which bourbons would we buy?
We’d load our cart with many here,
and to our glasses fly!
If I only had a Benjamin – By Larry Parece (The Bourbon Guys)
If I only had $100 to spend on bourbon, I would need some time to consider just how I would spend it. As in our rhyming mayhem above, there are so many stellar options under $100. Of course, I would have to consider how long this bourbon would need to last. Assuming I had reasonable expectations of another Bourbon Benjamin appearing somewhere in my future…
I would begin by purchasing an Old GrandDad 114. At $23 per 750 ml, this bourbon has the flavor and integrity to be enjoyed straight or in your favorite cocktail. Too, if it is a little bold for a guest, an ice cube or two tames the heat, making this a versatile choice.
The next bottle would have to be a Wild Turkey 101. I love most everything that Turkey puts out, but this one is a true value pour. At 101 proof, it provides the flavor-forward, high rye profile that many bourbon drinkers look for, but it doesn’t bring the heat you normally would expect from a 100+ proof whiskey. It is also about the same price as its 80 proof little brother, so I would take the 101. If I choose to, I can always proof it down myself.
My next choice is, perhaps, one of the better kept secrets in bourbon. Unfortunately for us, theword has gotten out of late, and it is harder to find than it once was. I’m talking about Johnny Drum Private Stock. At 101 proof, and roughly $30 per bottle, it is another excellent sipper. Of course, it would hold up in your favorite cocktails, but I would hesitate to alter the experience of enjoying this bourbon neat. Now, in the event that Johnny Drum Private Stock is unavailable (as it often is lately), its substitute would have to be another Wild Turkey offering. With a rich mouth-feel and bold front palate, the 112 proof Wild Turkey Rare Breed exhibits an excellent mid to back-palate balance of oak and savory spices that rise up to meet the front, without overpowering it. In truth, selecting between these two would be more a matter of stock level than personal preference.
For my final bottle, I have to agree with my partner Tim that Old Forester Signature 100 is one of the best bourbons below $20. Exhibiting greater refinement than some bourbons that cost twice as much, Old Forester Signature 100 is a pleasant sipper and enhances any cocktail. For my money, I’ll just take it neat.
If I only had a Benjamin – By Tim Beckelhimer (The Bourbon Guys)
If I only had a Benjamin to buy bourbon, I would first be a little bummed. All kidding aside though, it would be fairly easy for me to decide what bourbons I would buy with my Benjamin. The first bottle I would grab is without a doubt Maker’s Mark ($26.99). Not because it’s a bourbon that I regularly drink but because many of my friends like to drink it and it’s also my wife’s favorite! After all, Happy wife, Happy life!
As I continue to walk through the liquor store aisle, I would without a
doubtgrab a bottle of Old Forester Signature 100 ($19.99). This 100 proof gem is one of my favorite all-time pours in the under $20.00 price range. It provides a fantastic foundation for any bourbon cocktail such as an Old Fashioned. The nose, taste and finish are also above average compared to any bourbon in this price range. This is a great sipper and it’s great to use in blind taste tests as well. Old Forester Signature 100 is one of my true everyday drinkers.
Another well-rounded bourbon that would I would purchase with my Benjamin is Knob Creek ($27.99). In my humble opinion, Knob Creek is one of the most underrated bourbons on the
market. Thought it recently received high praise at the San Francisco World Spirits competition, it still receives little mention publicly. Knob Creek is great neat, with a splash of water and on the rocks. It’s also nice to know that it’s readily available in many restaurants, which is very nice since I travel somewhat.
For the price, this high rye gem is one of the most well-balanced bourbons on the market. This bourbon is what I call a year-round bourbon; it’s crisp, bright and floral, which makes it a great sipper when sitting out on a porch swing in the summer time. It’s equally delicious in the winter. Four Roses Small Batch is great in cocktails, neat, on the rocks or any other way you prefer to drink it, but I prefer it neat.
Though there are many other fine bourbons that I could just as easily have purchased with my Benjamin such as Buffalo Trace, Weller (not easy to find any more), Wild Turkey 101, Elijah Craig and Evan Williams just to name a few, I must say that Maker’s Mark, Old Forester 100, Knob Creek and Four Roses Small Batch are what I would spend my Benjamin on – at least for today!
The Bourbon Guys hope you’ve enjoyed our take on “If I Only Had a Benjamin…”, but more than that, we hope you’ve found some value pours of which you were previously unaware! Cheers!
Special Thanks: The Bourbon Guys would like to thank Bill and Matt from Modern Thirst for coming up with such a great idea and for allowing The Bourbon Guys to contribute. Check out all our friends’ takes to “If I only had a Benjamin” below:
- Bill with Modern Thirst
- Matt with Modern Thirst
- Ben with Big Earl’s Beverage Co.
- Darren with Bottom of the Barrel Bourbon
- Chris with Bottom of the Barrel Bourbon
- Claire with See Claire Write
- Melissa with The Chicagoist
- Ginny & Charlie with the Charlie Tonic Hour
- Brian with Sipp’n Corn
- Jason with Sour Mash Manifesto
Recently, The Bourbon Guys engaged in a lively discussion regarding the claims of many distilleries that, “Age doesn’t matter, Flavor matters!” Well, you would never hear us argue against that wisdom, but we found ourselves questioning whether the non-age stated replacements were truly as good as the originals. Kentucky Bourbon Trail wrote an article about one whiskey that is flying in the face of this latest convention, but there are so many examples of labels changing from “10 Years” to just “10″ (or “10 Half Moons”) that it was hard to decide which to try. We finally settled on Jim Beam Black 8 Year and it’s new replacement, Jim Beam Black Extra Aged. Both were bottles we found on the shelf at our local package store, so we felt this would be the most fair comparison that could be made. Opening both bottles at the same time removed any (dis)advantage that oxidation may have granted one bottle over the other.
We began by setting up “blind” pours, each for the other. I left the room as Tim poured a tasting of each for me in glasses with differing logos. When he had finished, he left the room as I returned the favor. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil (No School like Old School!), while Tim broke out a Notes app on his phone. There was nothing for it but to dive right in.
I don’t want to give away too much so early in the review, but it will suffice to say there were no surprises.
Larry’s Pour #1 – The color is a very light amber, almost a shiny brass. The nose is faint and difficult to extract. What did come through was the underlying grain. The mouthfeel was fairly thin. Flavors improved from the beginning to the end of the experience: Front – Minimal flavor. Some mellow sweetness, but left me searching. Mid – Savory spices rise to fill the void left by the front palate. Finish – More spice and now heat traveling to the core. The end of the finish brought along some tannin that overshadowed the other elements as it progressed.
Larry’s Pour #2 – The color is nearly identical to Pour #1, a very light amber, almost a shiny brass. The nose is more pronounced than Pour #1 with a combination of clove and floral elements coming through. The mouthfeel was also thin, but a fuller flavor met the front palate. Flavors progressed nicely from beginning to end: Front – Satisfying savory notes with a backdrop of vanilla & caramel sweetness. Mid – Savory rye continues to build as the barrel makes its presence known. Finish – Spice carries through to the back-palate with heat in the back of the throat, but no burn running to the core. A mild tannic note accompanied the finish, but not to an unpleasant degree.
Tim’s Pour #1 – The color was very light. The nose was mild and youthful with subtle flavors of vanilla and caramel. The burn was minimal which is typical of an 86 proof whiskey. The initial mouth feel was very thin not unlike straight water. The overall taste was very mild with less sweetness compared to some other Beam products. Most of the flavors were isolated to the mid to back palate and the back roof of the mouth. There was vanilla and very little caramel along with a very subtle youthful peppery flavor. The finish was short to medium with very little burn and some mild bitterness that wasn’t bad.
Tim’s Pour #2 - The color of pour #2 is pretty much identical to the first pour which was very light. The nose on pour #2 was much more inviting than the nose of pour #1. The vanilla and caramel flavors were also there along with a very well balanced woody essence. The mouth feel like pour #1 was still very thin and watery but when pour #2 hit the palate the overall flavors were more balanced. The flavors hit the palate in pretty much the same area as pour #1 but there was was less tannin and bitterness on the finish of pour #2. Both pours were similar, as they should be, but pour #2 just seemed a little more developed and balanced.
We don’t believe it will surprise anyone to learn that the more satisfying of the two for both of us was revealed to be the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. More fully developed, the 8 year bourbon offered a more satisfying olfactory experience and created a far more complex flavor profile than its substitute. More full-flavored from the start, the longer finish does not present significant heat to the core like its more youthful cousin. All in all, were the Jim Beam Black 8 year a daily staple, we would scour the countryside to stock up before they’ve gone the way of the dodo. Our final Ratings? Jim Beam Black Extra Aged – Rating: 86 Jim Beam Black 8 Year – Rating: 88
We look forward to continuing this series with offerings from other distilleries that have chosen to remove the age statements from their labels. What trends do you suppose we will uncover? What are your thoughts regarding this relatively new practice? We look forward to your thoughts.
Every now and again, we have the opportunity to try something new. What does not happen every day is experiencing a resurrected brand that has been dormant for 95 years.
The story of the Kentucky Owl dates back to 1879 in north Mercer County. The original distillery was started by C.M. Dedman, an orphan who was adopted by a judge that gifted Dedman the distillery as a wedding present. Dedman operated the distillery until 1916 when the government shut down the operation and confiscated around 250,000 gallons of bourbon aging at the time. Sometime in 1919, after the passing of the Volstead Act, a mysterious fire destroyed the warehouse. It is speculated that the fire burned only bright enough to make the warehouse unusable and that a great deal of the bourbon made it out unscathed before the fire was set: It is thought that the bourbon made it into the hands of those that would sell it in speakeasies across the country. T.C. Dedman, the son of C.M. would fight tooth and nail to receive compensation for the loss, but never saw a dime. Despite insurmountable odds, the family came into ownership of the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, KY, which is run by the Dedmans to this day.
Fast forward five generations, and the Inn is now operated by Dixon Dedman, 33, whose hands-on approach to the management of the Inn speaks volumes of doing things “the proper way” (Beaumont Inn). Several years ago, Dixon met Mark Carter, fellow innkeeper and proprietor of Carter Cellars in Napa Valley, California (Carter Cellars). After long discussions (and a few drinks), plans to bring back the Kentucky Owl, “the Wise Man’s Bourbon,” started taking shape. Dixon and Mark wanted to make sure that this first batch was done correctly and in a way that would pay tribute to the many generations that came before them. With that philosophy in mind, they decided that the first batch would come in at barrel proof and be uncut/unfiltered. Dixon and Mark believe that “the consumer should decide how they want to drink it.” After several iterations and consultation with some of the most respected folks in the bourbon industry, they decided on a blend of five hand-selected barrels that would yield a little more than 1,500 bottles.
We were thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to be one of the first to review this bottle.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Batch 1 Bottle 1366/1506
ABV: 59.2% 118.4 Proof
We allowed the bourbon to sit for about twenty minutes and did not add water to the first part of the tasting.
Nose: The nose was complex and evolved the longer the pour was in the glass. The aromas of vanilla custard/creme brulee/caramel, mandarin orange, dried apricot and ginger were well represented.
Palate: The palate was remarkably different than the nose. The initial hit to the front palate delivered a viscous mouthfeel that carried flavors of cinnamon candy, savory wood, evergreen, and molasses with an oily disposition.
There was little burn that did not make itself present until the finish. The finish is long lasting and pleasant with evolving citrus and candied fruit flavors. After adding a bit of water, we found that the savory wood was diluted, leaving more pronounced corn sweetness. If one were to use this in a cocktail, it would likely hold up well to ice and bitters.
Concluding thoughts: Overall we enjoyed this pour. One would not think this to be the first batch as the quality of the bourbon spoke volumes of the time that was invested to resurrect this brand. While we believe there is always some room for improvement, this pour was very nice. The bottle should be available in limited quantities in August and will be released only in Kentucky.
Overall grade: 90/100, Buy if you can find it.
If you want to experience Dixon’s hospitality, make a point to venture to Harrodsburg and stay at his Inn. There you can experience a variety of bourbons at the Old Owl Tavern, enjoy the historic charm of the Inn, and even make arrangements to have a bourbon tasting with Dixon.
Thank you to Bill Whitlow and the staff at Wiseguys Bar and Lounge for allowing us to use their venue. (http://www.goodfellaspizzeria.com/wiseguy.php)
He’s back! Long awaited and much anticipated, Elmer T. Lee has returned to store shelves, even if it’s just for a short while. Today, The Bourbon Guys were fortunate enough to lay our hands on a bottle of 1919-2013 Elmer T. Lee, Single Barrel, Sour Mash, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey! A commemorative, limited edition, this offering comes in at 93 proof (in honor of Elmer’s 93 years spent making this world a better place), slightly higher than the traditional Elmer T. Lee. At just a couple of dollars more than its 90 proof brother, 1919-2013 is worthy of a far higher price tag. Continue reading
Over the past year, The Bourbon Guys have had the honor of tasting many great and different bourbons. As a follow up to last year’s “Sweet 16 of American Whiskey” we have decided to share our list of Sweet Sixteen Bourbons for 2013 and 2014. Once again we also wanted to release this list in honor of March Madness. We see this as fitting because it’s the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 and because we are likely to stir up a little “Madness” with our choices. Continue reading
A few days ago, we had the opportunity to revisit an old favorite, Old Forester Signature Bourbon. This 100 proof staple from Brown-Forman is a heartier version of its 86 proof sibling, and a solid offering form master distiller Chris Morris. This Straight Bourbon whiskey lacks an age statement, but we would peg it at least four years old. At less than $20 per 750 ml, this bourbon is a star of its price point.
Bourbon Name: Old Forester Signature
Distiller: Brown Forman
Age: 4+ Years
Color: Rich amber
Nose: The nose produced sweet elements of apricots and brown sugar. Mild rye spice and cinnamon rise up to balance the experience.
Taste: The front palate is dominated by candied walnuts, leather and brown sugar. Cinnamon spice rises on the mid-palate along with the caramels of charred oak. Mild rye helps to balance the sweetness, but we might have liked a bit more of this savory spice.
Finish: The finish is clean and relatively long for a bourbon of this price point. The sweet apricot notes and pleasant nuttiness return to bring the experience full circle.
Overall Rating: ( 88 / 100 ) A Definite Go-To
Old Forester Signature is an elevated offering from a staple in the bourbon world, Brown Forman. The sweet elements are balanced by pleasant, savory spice on the mid-palate where they become the star straight through to the finish. If you are looking for a well-crafted bourbon at an entry level price point, you may just have found it.
We recently had the opportunity to taste the new Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon. This craft offering from Jefferson’s is the latest round of seafaring whiskey in this grand experiment by Trey Zoeller. We had the opportunity to discuss the project with Trey at this year’s Bourbon Classic in Louisville, KY. He told us that the latest Ocean is a blend of roughly seven and eight year old whiskeys that were strapped to the deck of an ocean going vessel, kept out at sea for a full ten months, then proofed down to 90. At roughly $70 per 750 ml, we were particularly eager to see the end result. Continue reading
When we first heard about the arrival we were very excited! After all, we’ve never had the privelege to taste a 10 year version of Booker’s, not to mention a 10 year Bourbon that Booker Noe himself had his hand on before his passing in 2004.
Fred Noe stated on the Jim Beam website that “These are some 10-year old barrels laid down from the last bourbon Dad made before he passed away. . . . I have the final say, so if you don’t like it, blame Fred. The only thing Dad told me before he died was, ‘Take care of my Booker’s’.” We think it’s safe to say that Fred is taking care of the Booker’s!
Bourbon Name: Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon
Distiller: Jim Beam
Color: Copper, Deep Amber (A little darker than standard Booker’s)
Age: 10 Years
Nose: The nose on the 25th Anniversary Booker’s does not pack a lot of heat considering the high proof but that is actually a good thing. The lack of burn on the nose allows you to savor the notes of black cherry and banana with a nice blend of pepper spice and pine. The longer you sniff
you even get a little salted caramel flavor. It’s an excellent nose that allows you to enjoy the sum of its parts without frying your nose. Adding a few drops of water didn’t really add much to the nose.
Taste: When you get around to tasting the Booker’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon you get a rich mouth feel with upfront cherry flavors combined with toasted caramel, bit o honey and black walnut with an excellent peppery rye spice. Not a lot of oak but enough. Adding water added more sweetness but that’s about it. We preferred this Bourbon neat.
Finish: The finish of the Booker’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon seems a little mild at first, but what you soonrealize is that the finish only seems mild because there is absolutely no burn when the Bourbon travels down your throat. This is really unique, especially for Bourbon of this proof. There is a very nice taste: sweet cherry and peppery spice with subtle oak that rests on the back and sides of your tongue. The longer you drink the better it gets. This stuff is dangerously drinkable And has much more finesse than regular Booker’s.
Overall: We are so glad and honored that we were able to acquire a bottle of this fine Bourbon. This is a true sipping whiskey that we prefer drinking neat, but I’m sure you can enjoy this fine Bourbon any way you desire. There were only 6000 bottles of this rare Bourbon produced so this one won’t last long. This is also a must have Bourbon for anyone that enjoys nice barrel proof Bourbon with a bit of history behind it. Fred Noe and the rest of the Noe family should be extremely proud of this gem! Get yourself a bottle before this piece of history is gone!
Overall Rating: 93/100
The Bourbon Guys are always looking for new or changing trends that are taking place in the world of American Whiskey. One of the recent trends we’ve been seeing is the term “Solera” aged whiskey. One of the most popular of the “Solera” aged whiskies comes from Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, New York. We wanted to learn more about this product so we thought we would do a little research and give it a try.
According to the Hillrock Distllery website the term “Solera” aging is described as “A stack of barrels where a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically and new whiskey is added. No barrel is ever fully emptied, and age and complexity gradually increase over time. Hillrock marries small barrel-aged Hillrock Estate Bourbon with mature seed bourbon before finishing in 20 year-old Oloroso Sherry casks to balance flavors and add layers of complexity.”
According the the Hillrock website, “the resulting spirit offers a pronounced nose of caramel, dried fruit, vanilla, oak and spice, accentuated by an elegant floral note. The full-bodied palate opens with rich notes of brown sugar, molasses and toffee, followed by roasted corn, clove, cinnamon and a touch of spicy rye. Oloroso Sherry notes of walnut, fig and candied fruit merge with caramel and butterscotch on the long, balanced finish.” Wow! Now that is quite the description for a whiskey!
Our friend Jason just happened to have a bottle of Hillrock Solera aged bourbon, so we asked him to join us for this review. Let’s see if this bourbon lives up to its description:
Bourbon Name: Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon
Distiller: Hillrock Estate Distillery
Color: Medium Amber (Looks a little darker in the bottle)
Age: at least 6 years old (according to the distillery)
Barrel Number: 6
Nose: The nose is very light when neat. We got earthy notes of honey, raisin, sassafras, root beer and vanilla. When we added a little water more sweetness developed along with some sweet tobacco.
Taste: The taste when neat started very mild and then a grainy astringency rose in the mid palate. It was almost a tannic feeling, which could be from the Sherry finish. We also tasted a little bit of vanilla but it was very mild. The taste wasn’t bad but there were not a lot of flavors. When we added water the bourbon really opened up and a great deal more rye spice came out. This bourbon tasted much better with water.
Finish: When tasted neat, the finish was mellow and didn’t stick around very long. The main flavors of vanilla and oak were noticable but very faint. After adding water the rye spice developed quite nicely.
Overall: At a price point of $79.99 to $92.99 we had high expectations, but the Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon didn’t blow us away. The bottle is beautiful but the whiskey inside doesn’t quite match up. In addition, we feel that you really have to add water to this whiskey to get any of the more complex notes to emerge. Due to the overall lack of flavor profile along with the price point we would probably pass as there are other superior whiskies available for much less.
Overall Rating: 85/100
The Bourbon Guys want to thank our friend Jason Farler for graciously sharing his bottle as well as his tasting input.
Many of you have asked us to review Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, the latest joint venture from Jefferson’s Trey Zoeller and the famed Louisville Chef Edward Lee. According to the Jeffersonsbourbon.com website, “the Chef’s Collaboration developed after a late night spent tasting some of chef Edward Lee’s culinary creations led Trey to the idea that someone should blend a bourbon that would pair well with the bold flavors in chef Lee’s cookbook and other modern cuisine. Without hesitation, Trey and Ed set forth. The result is a blend with a spicy upfront and a fruity finish, enhanced by the addition of rye whiskey into the mix. Perfect with meals, for mixing cocktails or simply drinking neat.”
The description sounded intriguing to us as we have been a fan of Trey’s whiskey for quite a long time. We bought a bottle the day that it arrived in stores and we weren’t disappointed. Here are our tasting notes:
Bourbon Name: Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration Bourbon
Proof: 92 Proof
Color: light amber
Nose: The nose is very nice and light but at the same time has lots of explosive rye spice. It has a slight youthfulness to it but that doesn’t detract from the overall nose.
Taste: The front palate begins with the same nice rye notes that you get from the nose and then rises into the bourbon spectrum with a very well balanced oak and cherry flavor.
Finish: The Chef’s Collaboration finish is fairly long but mellow with continued oak, cherry and cinnamon flavor. Very nice!
Overall: We tasted the Chef’s Collaboration neat, with water and on ice and this whiskey tasted great any way. The nice rye spice on the front followed by the smooth bourbon finish is a perfect match when pairing with food. In our humble opinion Trey Zoeller and Chef Lee have done an excellent job with this project. At a price point of less than $40.00 the Chef’s Collaboration is a must for any foodie/bourbon fan!
Overall Rating: (90/100) highly recommend