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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Top 5 Drams of the Year 2016

Another year gone by and I’ve read so many negative stories, yet, there were some pretty awesome bourbons released this year.  Overall the prices have gone up, but you can still find bargains and making friends with your local retailer has never been more important… onto the list!

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#1 2016’s Buffalo Trace Thomas H Handy 126.2 proof 97.5/100  secondary price: $300 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/btac-thomas-h-handy-2016/)  This was my favorite of the BTAC releases, with a close second being GTS, but THH is far easier to get your hands on and better price giving it the edge.  Handy may be the BTAC that is least respected, but time and time again it is my favorite release.

#2 2016 Release Four Roses Elliott’s Select OESK 52.9% abv 91/100 secondary price $225 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/four-roses-elliotts-select/)  There was a lot of worry when Jim Rutledge retired from Four Roses, but when Brent Elliott came out with this bottle immediately afterwards, all fears were assuaged.  In fact, this bottle was substantially better than the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition release, although not quite as good as last year’s winner, the 2015 FRSBLE.  I think we can all sleep soundly knowing that Four Roses is in good hands.

3# Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017 retail price $99.99 (for now!) (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/happy-new-year-barrell-bourbon-2017/)  Another top award for this up and comer.  This is their first true marriage release of 4 different barrels from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, and once again blows the competition away.  Grab a few while you still can as the first release of this bad boy probably will be worth a lot of money in the near future…. keep your eye

#4 Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon #438 119.8 proof 96/100 $120 @ gift shop (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/willett-family-estate-single-barrel-bourbon-438-holy-moley/)  This was one of the bottles I was lucky enough to buy when I visited Willett in January of 2016.  This was a honey barrel if I’ve ever tasted one.  If you are ever able to get some of this, don’t hesitate!

#5 Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon #3824 97 proof 96/100 $100 retail price (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/go-visit-garrison-brothers-single-barrel-amazing/) Garrison Brothers consistently puts out a great product.  I also visited their distillery this year and really enjoyed meeting Dan and the team.  Very excited to see the 2017 Cowboy Bourbon when it is released next year!

There were so many that almost made the cut… I tried a couple rums this year that were really good including one from Balcones (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/balcones-texas-rum-special-release-batch-15-1-63-9-abv/) and another from Barrell (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/barrell-rum-batch-001-7yr-jamaican-pot-still-rum/).  Barrell’s Whiskey 002 was another one that almost made the cut, but after careful consideration I preferred the New Years (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/barrell-whiskey-002-magical-sherry-cask-finish/).  Most lists have Booker’s Rye on their top 5, and although it is a good whiskey, it’s just too hot and expensive and does not deserve to make it in my very humble opinion (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/bookers-rye/).  PHC 10yr was also hotly debated, and I thought it was extremely good, but given the price, just not quite worthy vs the Garrison or the WFE (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/phc10-parkers-heritage-collection-10-24yr-bourbon/).

I’ll have my top five disappointments in the world of bourbon coming up soon… thanks again for a great 2016 to everyone who reads this blog.  Readership has gone up 5x and I hope to continue that trend into 2017.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 of the year were?  Happy New Year!

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/  http://www.garrisonbros.com/  http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/  http://fourrosesbourbon.com/  https://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/

RIP My First BTAC Bottle: George T Stagg 2014 UK

True Story:  I’m in London last September for a business trip to see a couple clients, meet my colleagues in the office and travel with my new boss.  The first evening of the trip is for internal meetings, meeting colleagues I had not met before and building camaraderie with them.  Part of my job was to not get too drunk and look professional.  My tolerance happens to be extremely high compared to most of my colleagues, so not getting too drunk wasn’t an impossibility, however the professional aspect may have been slightly derailed because of some BTAC… at this point I had not owned any BTAC bottles (that changed later that Fall when BTAC hunting season began and my obsession on this blog expanded)….

I was at a bar with some colleagues that was selling Pappy 10, 12, 13, and George T Stagg, per pour, for less that I could buy it for on the secondary market in the states.  So… I ended up with three pours of bourbon in front of me during dinner.  Not the best way to impress colleagues, but I had never had Lot B, Pappy Rye or Stagg before, so emotions (understandably to you reading this blog, although not to those at the table) overtook me.

By the end of the night, I managed to not get too drunk and we all parted ways. After leaving the restaurant and all the hand shaking, I did a u-turn back to the bar and entered negotiations with the bartender.  The bottle was 1/4 full and I did the math and negotiated to buy the rest of it for less than 1/4 of a full bottle would cost me back at home.  My boss, smarter, soberer, sneakier than I, followed me back to the bar, scolded me, and forced me to return to the hotel before I inflict too much damage to myself, knowing that in addition to buying this bottle, I probably was going to try every other unicorn for pour that night.  (Side Note: good thing he did, because I probably would have stayed there for a couple hours and really did myself in.  He’s quite a good boss and almost always knows what’s best for the firm and his employees, myself included, even if it’s more fun to keep drinking.)

Which leads me to today… after many small pours over six months, this bottle is finally being put to rest.  And I will be giving it a review today as well.

George T. Stagg, 2014 UK edition, 138.1 proof: dark amber with tiny bits of charcoal floating in it, at least for the final pour.  Camp fire fresh s’mores on the nose with candied butterscotch, overbaked brown sugar carrots, raisin bread toast with light butter spreaded on it topped with cinnamon and sugar, and a touch of cloves.  For 69.05% alcohol, the burn on the nose is very manageable.  The first thing you get when you take a sip is the extremely thick mouthfeel which just makes me so happy.  The uncut/unfiltered texture is a delight and everything about the taste is interesting, complex and it goes on and on.  The first sip I had months ago was very good, but the last sip was the best.  Maybe it is because there is more charcoal in the final pour or maybe it’s because I’ve already had a few drinks tonight.  All I know is that I wished I kept my trumpet from high school, because this moment deserves someone playing Taps.  This was a great drink and I’m sad to see it finished, but there are many more bottles that need drinking, and I know I’m the man to do it.  97/100.

 

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