Bourbon: “Hunt” Less, Enjoy More
The American Whiskey Craze has moved on to full blown insanity. As a serious enthusiast for nearly 20 years, As a serious enthusiast for nearly 20 years, I never dreamed whiskey would reach this level of popularity.
Yet the category continues to eclipse five percent growth each year with no signs of slowing. Growth is great for an industry, but presents challenges to consumers.
Fifteen years ago, you might have visited Three or four liquor stores before being rewarded with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. That is if you knew what it was. Snagging a William Larue Weller or George T. Stagg was an even easier undertaking. Not today! Limited release whiskeys are so sought after that secondary seller marketplaces are rampant (which I hate). It’s clear that whiskey enthusiasts will pay almost any price and go to any length for rare bottles.
The “pink elephant” whiskeys aren’t the only products impacted by a more informed whiskey consumers Mainstay bourbons like Buffalo Trace have become allocated in recent years (i.e. limited distribution). Once readily available products like Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond have had to halt production temporarily to build up supply (it’s about to be re-released). Most all whiskey lovers have had to watch a favorite bourbon increase in price, or worse - disappear from shelves!
None of that is good news. However, let’s keep in mind that bourbon is still one of the most affordable luxuries on the market, and there’s a ton of great whiskey to discover (or rediscover). Personally, I’ve adopted a “hunt less, enjoy more” philosophy when it comes to bourbon. My collection is not as sexy as it once was, but this approach has major pluses. Namely, I’m better able to appreciate what I can find and worry less about what I cannot. Constraints aren’t always a bad thing.
On that note, I’d like to share some whiskeys that deliver tremendous value and flavor at solid price points. I’m not calling this a “favorite” list because that’s just too subjective, but each one occupies valuable space in my liquor cabinet right now, and you can find them at your local store today!
Bourbon Tasting Notes and Information:
Four Rose’s Small Batch Bourbon (45% ABV, 90 Proof, $30)
Tasting Notes: The nose is vibrant and full of dry spice– anise, cinnamon, orange rind, and hints of honey, maple syrup, and red berries. The sweetness is restrained and never cloying on the palate. Burnt sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and clove lead to a fruity finish with mild sweetness and oak.
Overview: Four Roses Small Batch is a lighter style but has presence and complexity. It is a fantastic neat on its own, but stands up so well in bourbon-focused cocktails.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon (47% ABV, 94 Proof, $30)
Tasting Notes: Nose and palate reveal caramel, maple sugars, and vanilla cream enlivened with healthy wafts of clove and nutmeg. The finish is moderately long with a lingering caramel sweetness and a touch of heat and oak.
Overview: Elijah Craig Small Batch has been a constant for bourbon lovers. It’s always dependable and satisfying. For me, Elijah Craig is even better today than it was at the previous 12-year age statement.
Four Rose’s Single Barrel Bourbon (50% ABV, 100 Proof, $40)
Tasting Notes: The nose is so complex with spice and herbal character (mint, anise, cinnamon, coconut) anchored with honey, caramel, vanilla, red berry fruit, red apple, cigar box, and cedar. The palate is nicely structured and evolves slowly with each sip – mint, clove and cinnamon wrapped around a core of spiced honey, caramel, vanilla fudge, crushed pineapple and red berry fruit. The whiskey finishes with that same lovely spiced fruit quality and a mild bite of chili heat.
Overview: Of Four Rose’s three mainstay bourbons, Single Barrel brings added depth, complexity, and sweetness while still aligning with the brands hallmark fruit and spice-forward flavor profile. This is always a stunner that brings elegance, complexity, and an underlying power.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon (108-114 Proof, $60)
Tasting Notes: Huge nose of caramel, sorghum, and vanilla with graham cracker and sour dough. The palate is similar with rich caramel sweetness, vanilla, and this cornbread and sorghum thing going on. All that sweetness is balanced with some baking spice back notes and light char bitterness. The finish is caramel and sorghum tang.
Overview: Maker’s Cask Strength is not that much older (if at all) than standard Maker’s but the concentration of flavor is so much greater at the higher proof. This is a great bourbon for the person that just can’t get fin dweller Antique (and is tired of waiting). Between you and me, this one is better.
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Whiskey (Bourbon, 57.5% ABV, 115 Proof, $60)
Tasting Notes: Intense, rich, and concentrated aromas and flavors of caramel, berry jam, almond toffee, nougat, and accents of cocoa and oaky grip on the palate. The finish lingers with caramel, fruit, and toasty oak.
Overview: “candy shop” bourbon of rich flavors and aromas that sips a little easier than the high proof might suggest (due to the sweetness). Feel free to dial back the alcohol with a splash of water. At $60 it’s not cheap but delivers the complex flavors for which many rare and limited releases are known.
Bio: Jason Pyle is a Franklin resident and President of Latitude 36, Inc. (www.lat36.com), an Information Technology Staffing and Consulting firm headquartered in the area. For nearly 10 years Jason ran a blog called Sour Mash Manifesto (www.sourmashmanifesto.com). Jason has a library of video reviews posted on YouTube under “Jason Pyle” and was a contributing author and reviewer for “1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die” (American Whiskey Section).