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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017: Round 1: Jim Beam Bonded vs. Jim Beam Black

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1c of the 2017 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Division 1 Number 2 seed Jim Beam Bonded versus Number 3 seed Jim Beam Black. 

Both of these bourbons are products of Beam-Suntory, produced at one of the two Jim Beam distilleries in either Clermont or Boston, Kentucky. Both of these products are non-age stated bourbons, meaning they are at least four years old. It's probable that Beam Black is in the six- to eight-year-old range but as of 2015 is now officially NAS. Beam Bonded came out about the same time that Beam Black lost its age statement and is Bottled-in-Bond, meaning that it is the product of one distillery (DSP-KY-230 according to reports), one distilling season and is bottled at 100 proof.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Jim Beam Bonded

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 Liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Jim Beam Distillery (Beam-Suntory)

Nose: Sweet vanilla sugar, light fruit and oak.

Mouth: Cinnamon, Vanilla, oak, and peanut. 

Finish: Warm and peppery with cocoa and peanut notes. On the longer side of medium.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Richer and sweeter than the other. This also has a thicker mouthfeel. There is almost a malty note going on.

Jim Beam Black

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 Liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 43% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Jim Beam Distillery (Beam-Suntory)

Nose: Peanut, oak and dried grass.

Mouth: Fruity and sweet with nutmeg, vanilla and black pepper.

Finish: Medium length with lingering vanilla, cocoa and light grain notes. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Light and sweet with baking spice. Trends grainier than the other. 

Who wins?

Two bottles from the same producer. One at a lower proof, but probably older. One probably younger, but at a higher proof. Who wins? It was close, but higher proof leads to higher seeding for a reason and it bears out here. Jim Beam Bonded advances to the second round.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the generosity of our patrons and by the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to become a patron visit patreon.com/arok or if you'd like to shop for bourbon goods, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017: Round 1: Wild Turkey 101 vs. Cabin Still

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1b of the 2017 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Division 2 Number 1 seed Wild Turkey 101 versus Number 4 seed Cabin Still. 

Wild Turkey 101 is a product of Grupo Campari. It is produced by the father-son team of Jimmy and Eddie Russell at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. The product has no age statement but is rumored to be from 6-8 years old. Since this is the highest proof bourbon in this year’s competition, it gets the second number one seed. 

Cabin Still is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. It is a three-year-old, 80 proof straight bourbon. It has an old and venerable name, having once been the product of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. These days, Heaven Hill barely acknowledges the brand. It isn't even on their website.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Wild Turkey 101

Purchase Info: $29.99 for a 1.75 L bottle at Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 50.5% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Wild Turkey Distillery (Campari)

Nose: Fruity sweetness, cinnamon red hots, and tobacco.

Mouth: Peppery and warm with brown sugar, baking spices, and bubblegum. 

Finish: Long and warm with lingering bubblegum and chocolate covered coconut.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Heat, sweet and richness. This is a good one.

Cabin Still

Purchase Info: $10.99 for a 1-liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV, 36 month age statement

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Buttered popcorn, grain, and honey.

Mouth: Sweet and velvety with buttered popcorn, faint baking spices and the tiniest hint of soap.

Finish: Short and sweet with more buttered popcorn.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: If this were on its own, I wouldn't mind it. Compared to something else, though, it feels a bit one-note.

Who wins?

Two brands, each with a long and storied history. One that is still a flagship brand, and another that isn't even acknowledged on its current owner's website. One has Matthew McConaughey as its spokesperson, and the other doesn't advertise. It should come as no surprise that the winner here is Wild Turkey 101. It will face the winner of the matchup of Jim Beam Devil's Cut and Jim Beam Double Oak in Round 2.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the generosity of our patrons and by the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to become a patron visit patreon.com/arok or if you'd like to shop for bourbon goods, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017: Round 1: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond vs. Kentucky Tavern

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1a of the 2017 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 1 overall seed Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond versus Number 4 seed Kentucky Tavern. 

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond is a product of, wait for it, Heaven Hill Brands. Since this is the only age-stated bourbon in this year’s competition, this six-year-old product gets the top seed. This brand is virtually a Kentucky-only product. I have heard rumors of it being sold in other markets, but they are few and far between. Being a bottled-in-bond product, this is 100 proof. 

Kentucky Tavern is a product of the Sazerac company. It is a three-year-old, 80 proof straight bourbon. From what I gather, this is produced at the 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky even though the label says that it is produced by Glenmore (another dba that Sazerac uses). 

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Kentucky Tavern

Purchase Info: $17.99 for a 1.75 L bottle at Chicone’s Liquor Mart, Hudson, WI

Details: 40% ABV, 36 month age statement.

Produced by: Glenmore Distillery (Sazerac)

Nose: Delicate with dried grass, light cinnamon, and faint vanilla.

Mouth: Light and effervescent. Sweet grains, cinnamon, and light citrus. 

Finish: Short. Muted and grainy with some cinnamon.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is an ok bourbon. Not anything a connoisseur would want but might be a nice introductory bourbon for the novice due to a lack of strong or off-putting flavors and lack of burn.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond

Purchase Info: $10.99 for a 750 mL bottle at The Party Source, Bellevue, KY

Details: 50% ABV, 6 year age statement

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Brown sugar, vanilla, cherry, and tobacco.

Mouth: Warm and peppery with leather, cherry, chocolate and oak.

Finish: Long and warm with lingering leather and oak.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is a bourbon-lover’s bourbon. Very tasty and complex enough to drink neat.

Who wins?

This was an unfair matchup to begin with. These bourbons are not even targeted at the same market. That said they both meet all the qualifications that I set for “bottom-shelf” back when I started this annual competition. So, as you might have guessed, the seeding worked. Number 1 seed overall, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond is the winner and advances to round two where it will compete against the winner of the matchup between Beam Bonded and Beam Black.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the generosity of our patrons and by the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to become a patron visit patreon.com/arok or if you'd like to shop for bourbon goods, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017

Posted on by Eric Burke

As it is March, it is probably time for brackets of one sort or another. And even though my beloved Minnesota Gophers are looking like they will actually make an appearance in a basketball tournament this year...I still don't really care. I mean, I'm happy to hear they are doing well, but it isn't going to ruin my day should they not beat a random team that I've barely heard of. 

No, once again it is time to get our fill of competitive bracketing by finding inexpensive bourbons and pitting them against each other head-to-head to see if there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. To see if I can satisfy my inherent Midwestern frugalness and find an overlooked diamond in the rough.

I say this every year, but once again I really didn't think that I was going to be able to fill out an eight bourbon bracket this year. I really wasn't sure that there would be enough bourbon on shelves that met my stringent requirements to make the tournament. What are those very stringent requirements you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

  1. It must be straight bourbon and it must be labeled as such. Too many brands are getting rid of this very basic statement of quality and I refuse to reward that.
  2. It has to sell for two cents per milliliter or less. Now, this might seem like a weird arbitrary number, but it just works out to $15 per 750, $20 per liter or (in true bottom shelf fashion) $35 for a 1.75 L handle. 
  3. Unless it was a previous year's winner, it must have never been in the tournament before

After the bottles were purchased here are the guidelines I used to seed them. 

Previous Winners. There are no previous winners this year. In previous years I've allowed the top seed to go to the winners of the previous two year's contests. This year the winner of the 2015 contest has had the price increase such that it no longer qualifies (Naughty naughty Fighting Cock, raising your price) and the winner of the 2016 contest is currently out of stock due to internet hoarding (WTF internet? Hoarding Very Old Barton 86 proof???). As such, this is the first contest since the first where we have an entirely new batch of contestants.  

Stated (or assumed age). Straight bourbon has to be at least two years old. But unless it is under four years old you don’t have to put an age on it. So if someone does it’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I like to reward good things and punish bad things.

Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.

Minimize corporate cousins. I figured I could introduce a little more difference into each initial pairing if they didn’t come off the same still, or at the very least wasn’t sold by the same company. Since four of these are from Jim Beam, it's a guideline used for breaking seeding ties and not a hard rule. It is overridden by the above guidelines.

So who are the contestants? Well, as mentioned above, there are no previous winners available to defend their titles this year. I've chosen Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond because it meets all the requirements and happened to be in the house. As an age stated six-year-old it gets the first number one seed. The second number one seed goes to Wild Turkey 101 which sells at my local store for $29.99 for a handle and is the highest proof of the non-age-stated selections. After that 100 proof Jim Beam Bonded and 90 proof Jim Beam Devil's Cut fill the number two seeds. Number three seeds are 86 proof Jim Beam Black and Jim Beam Double Oak. The bracket is rounded out with a pair of 80 proof three-year-olds, Cabin Still from Heaven Hill and Kentucky Tavern from Sazerac.

It should be an interesting year. Prices have fallen on more than a couple of "big names" such that if you buy in quantities of a liter or more, they fall into the required price range. 

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My, how the time flies!

Posted on by Eric Burke

Before the next post hits, BourbonGuy.com will have reached its 5th birthday. On March 13th, 2012, I wrote the first post on my newly registered and designed site. I was pretty proud of it. It was the first site I'd ever wrote the CSS for, I drew all the images used in the design, and I took all the photos for the articles. A year later, almost to the day, I decided to "get serious" about the site. I tweaked the review style, I decided on a consistent photo treatment and committed myself to posting twice per week. It's a schedule I've mostly kept for the past four years. Much to my surprise. 

Over the years, a few things have changed. The average price of bourbon on a store shelf has become more expensive. The age statements, with a few exceptions, have pretty much gone away on anything below $75. There are more distilleries than there were five years ago. Some of them even make whiskey now. And on a personal note, I hope that my writing has gotten better. Especially since people now pay me to write. Both patrons on this site and, on occasion, people who run other sites. 

In the face of all the negativity out there, one thing that hasn't changed is the whimsical nature of the site. I refuse to take myself seriously. I'm just some guy who loves American Whiskey and isn't afraid to be a fanboy on occasion. I tell stories from my own life because I like telling stories. I review with smiles, hearts and frowns because they are fun and I think whiskey should be fun. Life's too short to take something that is meant to be enjoyed so seriously. I really hope you folks are having as much fun as I am. Let's raise a glass to another five years when we will look back at today and marvel that a bottle of "good" bourbon only cost $40-$70.

I'm kidding...I hope. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the generosity of our patrons and by the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to become a patron visit patreon.com/arok or if you'd like to shop for bourbon goods, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

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