For the New Bourbon Drinker, Top 5 Whiskies to Try

Bourbonmania has hit new highs. Some people say it’s a bubble. I’m not quite ready to say that because I believe Bourbon was ignored for far too long and only now are the masses actually recognizing appreciating it. We have years before this bubble bursts and the quality and quantity will keep getting better and better for the foreseeable future.

Everyone newbie wants to get the newest BTAC, FRSBLE, or OFBB released. To be honest, it’s not just the newbies who want them–it’s all of us. But the difference between the newbies and the old timers to this hobby, is that the older group has already tried it all and realizes that some things are worth the hunt (or paying up on secondary) and some things aren’t;  what is or what isn’t is purely based on your personal preference, not a review or a bloggers piece. Personally I love the Cask strength bourbons and the high proof ryes. Pappy, OFBB, Michter’s wax capsule releases and ER17 are great, but if I come across them at retail I’ll trade them for GTS, THH or FRSBLE any day.

Today I’m putting out my top five whiskies for the “new bourbon drinker”…. These are the ones that I’m happy to drink any day of the week and are readily available.  You won’t find the unicorns on this list, but these are the whiskies that if you want to start the hobby, go for these.

#1 Buffalo Trace: yes the one that costs $20 in your retail store. This may be one of the most overlooked and undervalued whiskies in the world. Yes it’s lower proof than I like but it has the flavor, the mouthfeel, and for goodness sakes, it’s $19!!! It’s the same mashbill as some of their releases that secondary for hundreds of dollars. This is the Bourbon I serve people to see if they like Bourbon or not. It’s just that simple. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/buffalo-trace-yes-the-standard-one-with-the-buffalo-one-yes-its-very-very-good/)

#2 Pikesville Rye: thank Heaven for Heaven Hill and their high proof 6yr rye. Spicy and amazing in every way and best of all you can usually find it for between $50-$60. When I don’t feel like I deserve a pour of Handy (which is my favorite, but too expensive to make this list), Pikesville comes in a close second. Just an amazing product. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/pikesville-rye-2-of-the-year/)

#3 Just when you though I was going to go all cheap on you and only mass produced products, I’m going to throw you for a loop. Barrell Bourbon, any batch, is #3 for all new bourbon drinkers. Unlike most limited release, Cask strength, Bourbon releases, this one can usually be found and retailers aren’t jacking up the prices on it. Retails for between $70-$90 for a regular batch and $10 more for a single barrel release, Barrel is worth every penny. As a sourced whiskey, Barrell finds the best of the best and bottles it at cask strength to provide the consumer with the purest Bourbon you can get. I’ve never been disappointed, and more often blown away by what they come out with on a regular basis. I’ve never missed a release, and some of them I’ve stockpiled because I know once they are gone they are gone for good. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/newest-barrell-bourbon-batch-is-a-home-run-011/)

#4 Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. Although I wasn’t a huge fan when I first opened it, after sitting for a month or two it really mellows out but keeps the nice spice and strong mouthfeel. By far the best of the series, this one is still pretty readily available at around $60.  Although my review makes it sound just ok, I would revise it up a point or two after airing it out for several months.  (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/old-forester-1920-very-good-not-great/)

#5 Blanton’s. The Original Single barrel Bourbon. This is most people’s gateway to great Bourbon, and I was no different. Still pretty readily available and looks great on the shelf. I’ve never been disappointed by any Blanton’s I’ve ever had. If you are overseas and can get the Straight From the Barrel, it’s even better and totally worth snagging. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/4-bottle-blantons-tasting/)

I really wanted to put OGD114 on this list, but you can never find it. I also wanted to put Mellow Corn on it, but again, almost every store is sold out of it. Part of the criteria for making the list was being readily available and not trading for silly prices on the secondary, which is why ETL, which is amazing, obviously got cut.

Anyway… I hope people like the list and learn from it. Happy to answer any questions on DM on twitter or on the comment section of the blog. Happy drinking!

P.S. Yes this is my top shelf, and you won’t find most of these on this list, but if anyone wants to come by I’m happy to pour any of them for my readers!

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http://www.barrellbourbon.com

http://www.buffalotrace.com

https://www.blantonsbourbon.com/

https://www.oldforester.com/

http://www.pikesvillerye.com/

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2016 BTAC George T Stagg: Proper Glassware Matters!

I first had 2016 GTS at a bar a month ago.  It wasn’t it the proper glassware, the situation wasn’t perfect, and when I tried it, I found it to be way too hot on the nose and unable to enjoy it.  When I was able to acquire one a couple days ago (thanks bottle-spot.com!) I considering flipping it, but after a few drinks, drunker heads prevailed and I opened it.  I decided that I will review it twice to see how it evolves given how high the proof is.  I also decided to do the first  review in a Norlan glass to help focus on the flavors and reduce some of the heat.

Right after opening it: the Norlan glass is amazing because I’m finding this to be not nearly as hot as I remember it in the crappy bar glass.  The color is pretty much as dark as I’ve ever seen for a bourbon.  On the nose, French toast brioche with maple syrup, buttered cinnamon toast, butterscotch, candied walnuts and subtle charcoal.  The taste is BIG.  Huge tannins, huge mouthfeel and a big amount of heat.  This is so complex, and there is so much happening on the palate.  The heat quickly dissipated leaving the oak notes, tannins and the flavors.  The finish is several minutes long finishing nicely.  When you first taste it you think that the oak tannins will overpower everything, but they integrate nicely and much better than expected in an amazing way.  This is a very special bourbon.  I’m very glad I opened this because it is nothing like when I tried it in the bar with the wrong glassware.

A couple weeks later: this time in the classic Glencairn glass… the aroma is so rich with everything from a couple weeks ago and even though not in the Norlan glass, the heat isn’t that bad.  It’s incredible what a bad bar glass will do to the experience.  The taste is huge, big tannins, big flavor, with an insane finish.  So much sweetness and spice the lingers for minutes.  This is a special bourbon.

144.1 proof, a monster, but in the right glassware, it can be tamed.  Highly recommend picking this one up if you can find it at the lower end of secondary, but given pricing these days, it’s not easy to find.  97.5/100

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Holiday Sample Party: Willett Family Estate Single Barrels WFE Rated

I’ve been trading and collecting samples of lots of different whiskies for a while, especially Willett Family Estate single barrels.  It got to the point when I had too many to drink alone, but I also don’t feel like writing up a full review for a single sample is warranted due to the potential of contamination in a sample.  My brother in law is a big bourbon fan as well, so we tried them all together and gave individual ratings.  The notes are from me.

Willett Family Estate 12yr #751: Nice standard butterscotch and caramel nose, graham crackers. GREAT mouthfeel, sharp, enjoyable, long finish.  I wish I had a whole bottle of this.  94/100   Brian’s Score: 90/100

Willett Family Estate 13yr #780: Very strong nose, maple syrup, much hotter and bolder than the previous sample.  Tons of brown sugar and vanilla on the nose too.  Thick, juicy and spicy palate but finishes in a bitter note. Very different than the previous one.  93/100    Brian’s Score: 94/100

Willett Family Estate 9yr #7174:  Sweet rock candy, Reeses Pieces and vanilla with some pretty strong heat.  Palate is a lot of heat as well, ok mouthfeel, sweet but not overly complex.  87/100     Brian’s Score: 81/100

Willett Family Estate 14yr #2366: Nice nose, caramel and s’mores.  Tannic with oak on the palate but without solid oils leaving it bitter and astringent on the finish.  After a solid nose, the taste is disappointing.  86/100     Brian’s Score: 80/100

Eagle Rare 17 2010 Vintage: Forest Floor, Leather, mushroom, candied walnuts, stewed pears and apple sauce with cinnamon on the nose.  The palate is equally complex with all the nose coming through in an extremely mellow way.  No heat at all, easy down.  Finish is very good.  96/100   Brian’s Score: 92/100 (he also said the nose was better than the taste)

Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017: Reeses Pieces, caramel, Twix, very nutty nose.  GREAT mouthfeel, thick and chewy, nice oils, very comple.  Moderate heat with an amazing finish.  This is a bottle that I am going to hunt and hunt and hunt until I find it and then I’ll do a very proper review.  96-97/100   Brian’s Score: 95/100

2012 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon: Classic OFBB nose with mushrooms, nuttiness, caramel with weight, but hotter than this year’s release.  The palate is less exciting than the nose, but with a bit more bitterness than I would prefer.  Overall better than the overage OFBB.  89/100   Brian’s Score: 94/100

Old Charter 10 (Old Label): Butterscotch, cedar, oak, sour cherries.  This mouthfeel, underwhelming sour finish.  79/100   Brian’s Score: 81/100

Booker’s 25th Anniversary: Hot nose, caramel, butterscotch, ginger snaps.  Amazing mouthfeel, less hot on palate than expected but still classically Booker’s hot.  Long, long and incredible finish. 96/100   Brian’s Score: 92/100 (too hot)

1993 Old Grand Dad (National Distillers): Different than the OGD 114 I had tonight, more vanille, brown sugar, stewed pears, green apple, very mellow nose.  Super smooth, very nice taste, mouthfeel ok but low proof and chill filtering take out a lot of the complexity.  Wish this was cask strength.  93/100      Brian’s Score:  90/100

 

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Chelsea Wine Vault… Are You Joking?

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More and more I’m finding liquor stores really pissing me off.  I’m actually fine with stores selling stuff for close to secondary markets.  I’m not one of those guys who thinks they need to sell it for MSRP.  I’ve given up on that… but I do find it beyond obnoxious to be selling bottles for 2x or more secondary values.  It just is a huge tease when I see it on the shelf and waste my time getting excited.  I prefer and show most of my business to those stores who stick to closer to MSRP, and when I find a store selling for prices like this… I’m going to let all my readers know about it.

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Weller 107 for $84.99!!!!  Weller 12 for $299.99, oh wait, it’s on sale for $279.99.  EHT Barrell Proof for $199.99!!  Weller Antique is a $29.99 bourbon at most… Weller 12 secondary is $100, some idiots charge $125 (and bigger idiots buy), but it should be $75… and EHTBP secondary is between $100-$125, but most places you can still get it for under $100.  Stores like this are a complete joke and people should go out of their way to avoid them.

Now… for the real kicker.  And I was so upset when I was there I didn’t even take a photo, but they have an entire wall of BTAC behind a locked cage.  The prices aren’t listed on the shelf, you need to lift up the bottles to see them.  Thomas H Handy is marked at $899.99.  That’s a bottle that goes between $225-$375, but generally can be had for $300 or lower secondary.  You wouldn’t even believe the price of the Sazerac 18…  The manager said that they sourced the bottles from collectors, but I’m pretty sure in New York State, selling liquor that you didn’t acquire from a distributor is illegal.  What do I know though?

All I know is that even though rent in Chelsea Market is quite high, attempting to gauge your clients by charging 2-3x secondary prices and 10-15x wholesale prices is not a way to run a successful business.  I would wish the owners at Chelsea Wine Vault luck, but I don’t mean it.  I hope they are reading this so they can fix their mistakes or move along so someone else can move in and be fair to customers.

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Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye: Worth the Hype?

The VWFRR is one of those very rare releases that trades at crazy prices on the secondary market and is arguably the hardest to find of the Pappy line. It is the only Rye and it is 13 years old.

Very spicy nose, lots of cracked pepper, strong oak notes, crushed smoked pecans, Twix, s’mores on cinnamon graham crackers and cedar closet. Moderate heat for a 95.6 proof whiskey.

Initially an enjoyable mouthfeel but then comes in with a big punch of oak. Heat is a little higher than expected the first time around but still very enjoyable. The finish is moderate long as it fades away into mostly wood flavors. The palate is dominated by the oak flavors instead of the more complex spicy ones.

VWFRR is a very good whiskey but isn’t one you need to camp out to try. It’s a little too oaky for my taste. Just to make sure my palate wasn’t completely nuts I thought it prudent to pour some of my favorite rye, the 2014 THH. Everything about the Thomas Handy is better: more spice coming through on the palate. The Handy is hotter, but it’s half the age and 35% more alcohol so that’s not surprising. But the finish is more enjoyable and longer. For 1/3 the secondary price, albeit still expensive, THH kicks VWFRR’s butt. I still really enjoy it, but for the price there are just so many better options. VWFRR 93/100.

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Bar Review of ER17 2016

I tried this at a bar near my office, so not as scientific as we are used to, but still accurate…

Forest floor, hay, yellow Necco wafers, wet gravel, old cornbread, frozen waffles and moss. Not terribly exciting to be perfectly honest as the aroma is only found when the nose is deep in the glass, the aroma is not jumping out like a lot of other whiskies have…

Uber mellow but the low proof and chill filtering had taken so much away from the experience. The finish is fine, but nothing exceptional. A bit disappointed. Certainly wouldn’t buy this at secondary prices and at retail I would buy only to sell or trade for any other BTAC.

Try at a bar like I did, but I do not recommend to pay up for this: 88/100.

 

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BTAC Thomas H Handy 2016

Unlike a lot of bloggers out there, I have yet risen to the level of free BTAC samples; I have to fight and scrape and use the secondary market like the rest of people to get my BTAC. I bought this one on bottle-spot.com (like most of you) for around $300.

The 2016 edition clocks in at 126.2 proof, NAS as always, and forever beautiful in the iconic BTAC bottle. Nice amber color.

Candy corn, rock candy, white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Not very hot considering the age and proof, but that’s why it’s THH. Smells amazing.

And the taste… Wow. The spices and sweetness come through immediately while firming up a nice grip on the tongue. There is an extremely enjoyable warmness that permeates through your mouth and upper chest creating an absolutely incredible finish. Even after two minutes the flavors are still evolving and improving. This review is without a drop of water; I don’t think it needs it and I won’t even do it because it is just that good.

I’m pretty much obsessed with Handy. The 2014 was one of my favorites of all time and this one is pretty darn close. If you can find one at a reasonable (and I’ll let your budget determine that) price, don’t be afraid to pick it up. And if Buffalo Trace is reading this and wants to add me to next year’s blogger sample list, I won’t say no (please add me to next year’s list–thank you so much). 97.5/100

 

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