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Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2015, Round 1: JW Dant Bottled in Bond vs Old Crow

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1c of the 2015 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 1 seed, and last year’s winner JW Dant Bottled in bond versus Number 4 seed Old Crow. 

JW Dant Bottled in Bond is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. It was initially chosen as a part of last year’s competition where it eked out a split decision victory over Sazerac’s Old Charter (8 year old). This year it is back to defend it’s crown against new competition. Can it become a two time winner?

Old Crow is a product of BeamSuntory and, like it’s Beam stable-mate Old Grand-Dad, was once a label produced by National Distillers. Unlike Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow was converted over to the standard Beam recipe and has languished there ever since. It normally lives a full and uneventful life as many a bar’s well whiskey, being mixed into drinks that no one cares enough about to specify a brand or being shot by frat boys who are “tougher” than those who just want Fireball.

These were tasted blind in the following order.

JW Dant Bottled in Bond

Purchase Info: Blue Max Liquors, Burnsville, MN. $15.99 for a 1 liter bottle

Stated Age: NAS (Assumed 4+ years)

ABV: 50%

Produced by: Heaven Hill

Nose: Fruity, cinnamon and cocoa powder to start. Followed by a strong caramel candy note.

Mouth: Sweet and hot with caramel, cocoa and sharp oak tannins..

Finish: Warm and sweet with nice length and lingering oak.

Thoughts: The nose on this one is fabulous. The rest was fine, but a bit of a let down after the show the nose put on for us.

Old Crow

Purchase Info: Blue Max Liquors, Burnsville, MN. $10.94 for a 1 liter bottle

Stated Age: Aged “for a full 3 years”

ABV: 40%

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Initially: barn. After that passed, grain, mint and baking spices. 

Mouth: Silage, baking spices and a hint of mint. But mostly silage. 

Finish: Mild warmth, black pepper and more silage.

Thoughts: My first nose of the glass was: “Holy shit! That smells like a barn. Not an old barn, but one currently holding cattle.” Luckily it faded quickly. Water helps this one, but only because it dilutes the silage. You might want to stick to mixing this one…maybe on the rocks…nah, skip the intermediary and just dump it out. In the toilet. It really is too bad that Beam let this fall on such hard times. It might have been kinder to put it out of its misery.

Winner: JW Dant Bottled in Bond wins this one hands down. And not by default. It actually had things going for it as opposed to just being not-Old-Crow. The nose was fantastic. The rest was ok too. For Old Crow…yeah I have nothing nice to say. When it starts with barn and goes downhill? Yeah. just pass on this one. At just north of $10 per liter this is actually overpriced. When we revealed which was which neither of us were surprised to see which was Dant and which was Old Crow.

Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2015, Round 1: Evan Williams vs. Old Grand-Dad (80 proof)

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1b of the 2015 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 2 seed Evan Williams versus Number 3 seed Old Grand-Dad (80 proof). 

Evan Williams is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. You’ve probably seen it. It’s available almost everywhere. It’s the third-best selling American Whiskey. It also tends to look more than a little like the first best-selling American Whiskey: Jack Daniels so you will be forgiven if you didn’t notice it hiding down on the lower shelves. But unlike Jack Daniels, this is one bottle worth paying attention to. Though uninteresting, it is tasty and can be had for south of $15 per liter here in Minnesota.

Old Grand-Dad is produced by BeamSuntory. Though it’s part of Jim Beam, it has a higher rye content in it’s mashbill than the standard Beam recipe because of it’s heritage as part of the former National Distillers group of labels. There are 4 labels produced using this juice. Old Grand-Dad 114 proof, Old Grand-Dad Bonded, Old Grand-Dad 80 proof and Basil Hayden. Basil Hayden is also 80 proof. I’ve had the other three. I’ve liked them all. I’ve never had OGD 80 proof and have been looking forward to this round so that I could try it.

These were tasted blind in the following order.

Old Grand-Dad (80 proof)

Purchase Info: Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN. $13.99 750 mL

Stated Age: NAS (Assumed 4+ years)

ABV: 40%

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Dried Grain/silage, cinnamon gum, oak and a hint of leather.

Mouth: Sweeter than I expected from the nose, but very hot as well. The cinnamon gum is there from the nose as well as the silage.

Finish: Hot and sweet with lingering oak and more silage.

Thoughts: Hot as this is, don’t try adding water. Water destroys this one. To be honest, I’m shocked by how little I like this one considering how much I like its higher proof brothers.

Evan Williams

Purchase Info: MGM Wine & Spirits, Burnsville, MN $12.47 for a 1L

Stated Age: NAS (Assumed 4+ years)

ABV: 43%

Produced by: Heaven Hill

Nose: Caramel corn, dusty old wood, baking spices. 

Mouth: Sweet and soft. Baking spices, molasses and oak tannins. 

Finish: There is a little heat, but it fades quickly. Lingering oak. Beyond that there isn’t much here.

Thoughts: In the past, I’ve described this as a “card-playing bourbon.” Tasty, but not very interesting. I stand by that here. Also, adding water seems to have little effect on this one.

Winner: Of the two, the Old Grand-Dad was certainly more interesting. There isn’t much going on with Evan Williams. That said, OGD does have a very unappealing silage flavor that is hard to get past. For a “tasting” in a Glencairn, I’d rather have interesting Old Grand-Dad, but as I will be merely “drinking” these from this point on, I have to give the win to Evan Williams.

Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2015, Round 1: Fighting Cock vs. Benchmark

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1a of the 2015 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 1 seed Fighting Cock versus Number 4 seed Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand. 

Fighting Cock is one of those bourbons that I passed over based solely on it’s frat boy name. I’ve read that it was supposed to be a competitor for Wild Turkey (the kickin’ chicken) with its a high proof and 6 year age. I have no doubt that’s the case, but I still can’t say the name without snickering. Which says more about me than the name, I guess. In any case this was a bourbon that was recommended to me numerous times last year when I called for entries, but it was always just outside the price range. Increased competition in this market has made it available in the contest’s price range, so here it is as a number one sed based on both stated age and proof.

Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. If I told you this was a Sazerac product, would it surprise you that it used to be Benchmark 8 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey? Well, it is. And it was. I’m sure some people out there haven’t noticed the 5 year drop in age. People like the store I bought it from that still calls it “Benchmark 8YR” on the sales receipt. This looks to be one of the first bottles to receive Sazerac’s now infamous “Number Treatment.” It seems to have lost it’s age statement and gained it’s 8 in 2004. Strangely, it did gain an age statement of sorts in 2013-2014 by becoming young enough to drop below the 4 year old minimum for being truly NAS. In any case It was recommended last year and met the criteria so here it is as the number 4 seed based on that new age statement.

Fighting Cock

Purchase Info: Total Wine & More, Burnsville, MN $14.99 for a 750 mL

Stated Age: 6 years

ABV: 51.5%

Produced by: Heaven Hill

Nose: Green Apple, cinnamon, caramel, anise, bubble gum and vanilla.

Mouth: Hot and fruity with apple, cinnamon candy and a good hit of oak.

Finish: Hot and long. Mint, oak and cinnamon candy.

Thoughts: This is a much more complex bourbon than I was expecting. It deserves it’s name. This thing wants to fight. It’s hot and spicy, but that is balanced by a nice fruitiness. Adding water destroys it though as it becomes all about the dried corn.

Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand

Purchase Info: MGM Wine & Spirits, Burnsville, MN $13.49 for a 1L

Stated Age: At least 36 months

ABV: 40%

Produced by: Buffalo Trace

Nose: Toffee, dried fruit, a vitamin tablet, corn and faint cinnamon. 

Mouth: Velvety. Hot. Mint, corn, oak and brown sugar.

Finish: Residual heat and mint. Nothing to write home about.

Thoughts: This was a surprise. Nice heat. A good complexity. It may only be three years old, but there is nothing to keep this from being a nice card playing bourbon. Adding water amps up the sweetness and turns it into a butterscotch bomb.

Winner: Fighting Cock. But this was a match-up primed for an upset. Benchmark was a real surprise. We were tasting blind and it was the first one we tasted. Based on its heat and a decent complexity, I honestly thought it had to be the Fighting Cock. It wasn’t, obviously. After tasting both whiskeys we agreed that, out of a Glencairn, the Fighting Cock was much better. But for the way my wife drinks whiskey (with a cube or two of ice) she actually thinks that the Benchmark is more her style. It's the better of the two after dilution. Personally I’ll stick with the Fighting Cock, but don’t be too surprised to see either of these in the stash in the future.

Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2015: The Brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

It's that time of year again. The time when everyone in the US pretends to be of Irish decent so they can spend an evening making bad choices. I'm pretty sure that if I was actually Irish, I'd be some level of offended that folks over here are using some made-up, cartoon version of my country as the excuse to drink horrible beer with dye in it.

But it's not only St. Patrick's Day season (it seems it may be a week long this year). It's also Bracket season. It's a lovely time of year. The snow is melting. The birds are returning. Office gambling meets up with pretend basketball interest to make everyone a lot of money off of amateur athletes. Really a lovely thing for all involved.

Except me. 

I feel no need to pretend to like basketball and honestly, I can make poor decisions on my own without an excuse. So what to do? Here's a thought: let's bring back the Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets! Competition is the spirit of the season and I'm not immune from the lure of it.

As a reminder, the point of this is to make me try new things that I can buy in Minnesota without spending an arm and a leg on it. Best case scenario I know things to avoid. Best case, I find something I actually like. It's been a year since we last did this, so let's go over the guidelines for selection:

  1. I'm defining Bottom-Shelf as under $20 per liter or $15 per 750 mL bottle.
  2. It must be Straight Bourbon
  3. It must be available in Minnesota
  4. I was hoping to try new things, so five of the eight of these are new to me. JW Dant Bottled in Bond was last year's champ so it is back to see how it fares against other competition.

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

  1. Last Year's Winner. JW Dant Bottled in Bond won last year so it get's an automatic #1 seed.
  2. 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.
  3. Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.
  4. Minimize corporate cousins. I figured I could introduce a little more difference into each pairing if they didn’t come off the same still, or at the very least wasn’t sold by the same company. Since five of these are from Heaven Hill, it's a guideline, not a hard rule, and is overridden by the above guidelines.

Stay tuned.

Don't Know What You Got: Jim Beam Rye

Posted on by Eric Burke

For a while after moving to Minnesota, I worked as a camera salesman at Circuit City, a big box electronic store. I worked there part-time for a little extra money during the fall and into the holidays. It was an ok job as part-time retail jobs go, but once I was offered a full-time position as a designer at a local ad agency, I left that job behind as quickly as I could.

Being a dedicated Amazon shopper, I didn’t really think about Circuit City again until I heard it was closing a few years later. By this point, I had moved on to yet another design job, but still sort of fondly remembered the time I spent there helping people to pick out gifts for their kids or parents. So I decided to stop in one more time before they were gone for good. The store was having a liquidation sale by this point, selling everything off the shelves for deep discounts and then selling the shelves. In a wonderful example of Minnesotan passive-aggressiveness, the store’s music system was playing Cinderella’s Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) on an endless loop. 

I was a little sad to see it go, until I realized that the reason it was leaving was that it really wasn’t very good. Nobody went there anymore because there really was no reason to do so. Even the deeply discounted items were more expensive than Amazon’s regular price. So after spending a few minutes looking around, I left. I go to that building all the time now. It’s a Trader Joe’s and a Total Wine and it’s a block from where I work.

Recently it was announced that Jim Beam Rye (the yellow labeled one) was being discontinued. It was going to be replaced by Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye. According to BeamSuntory PR, this is basically a new label and a higher proof. 

Now, I never thought much about Jim Beam Rye. It was always there, in it’s faded looking yellow bottle. But I never really thought much about picking up a bottle. Once in a while I’d order it at a bar, but only if there wasn’t anything better. 

It was relatively cheap. I liked other stuff better. And there we stood…until the discontinuation announcement. Suddenly I wanted to buy a bottle “for old times’ sake.” I drank that first pour and then I remembered why I never really wanted to buy it. It wasn’t very good. My guess is there weren’t a lot of people buying it because there was no reason to do so. People who knew better, knew better and those that didn’t wanted something that cost more and and came in a pretty bottle. 

So don’t be sad that it's going away. Be happy that the repackaging comes with a proof bump, a name change and even a prettier bottle.

Jim Beam Rye (yellow label)

Purchase Info: $17.99, 750 mL, Total Wine & More, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV

Nose: pencil shavings, spearmint leaves, chamomile

Mouth: Thin. Grassy. Chamomile and mint with just a hint of a burn.

Finish: Slight lingering tingle in the mouth that fades quickly to be replaced by chamomile and a slight bitterness.

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Thoughts: Meh. Just meh. It isn’t bad. In fact, if you love chamomile tea, you may love this. But much like chamomile, it isn’t very interesting and might even help you to sleep.