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Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets: The Championship Rounds

Posted on by Eric Burke

It’s here, Championship Monday. We’ve made it through the opening rounds and tonight we find out who graduates to the Fancy Shelf. 

At the beginning of this tournament, if you had asked me if I would have found a gem in the field, I would have guessed yes. I mean, that was kind of the point of the exercise. But, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised that out of the entire field, there was only one bourbon that I wouldn’t want to drink again. Some were certainly mediocre, but only one was downright bad. Heck, many of them I’d be happy with neat, or with an icecube or two. 

In the interest of not being influenced by my memories of the product from the opening rounds, I did the next two rounds using my typical double-blind format where I poured into glasses 1 and 2 and my wife moved them to spots A and B. I knew what bourbon was which number and my wife knew which number coresponded to which letter, but neither of us knew which bourbon coresponded to which letter. These were not formal tasting notes, just impressions to let us decide which one we liked better.

Round 2: Down to Four

Division 1: Old Charter 8 year vs Ezra Brooks

Nose A: Trends more vegetal or medicinal/chemical

Nose B: Caramel covered fruit

Mouth A: spicier and warmer, but still more vegetal

Mouth B: gentle, sweet and floral

Finish A: Nice, but unremarkable

Finish B: Perfumy and slightly offputting

Thoughts: A’s vegetalness made it less enjoyable head to head. Whereas B’s gentleness made it feel more watery in comparison. That said, I enjoyed both of these on their own during the past two weeks. 

Winner: B, but only just. The main thing it was missing was kick so it’s no surprise that B was the lower proof Old Charter 8 year old.

Division 2: Old Crow Reserve vs JW Dant Bottled in Bond

Nose A: A slightly medicinal Juicyfruit gum

Nose B: Fruitier, but with hints of cinnamon. Also more caramel sweetness

Mouth A: lots of caramel here

Mouth B: sharp, medicinal

Finish A: hot, but in a good way

Finish B: warm bitterness

Thoughts: B has a much nicer nose. More complex and it makes me anticipate a tasty dram. The problem is that once it get’s in the mouth it falls apart. It goes sharp and medicinal when compared with A. Classic overpromise, underdeliver. 

Winner: A wins this hands down. Honestly, it wasn’t even close after the nose. I was surprised Old Crow Reserve didn’t put up more of a fight after all the people I talk to that are enjoying it, but the clear winner is JW Dant Bottled in Bond.

Fancy Shelf Championship

Old Charter 8 year vs JW Dant Bottled in Bond

Nose A: Typical bourbonness, caramel sweetness with some spice

Nose B: A bit more burn. Almost chocolate chip cookie.

Mouth A: very sweet with just a hint of sharpness

Mouth B: Warm and not very sweet, kinda sharp

Finish A: gentle and sweet

Finish B: wow! great finish. Nice warmth that lasts.

Thoughts: This was a very close one. My wife and I both enjoyed each of these a lot. In fact, it was so close that we each picked a different winner. I chose B on the strength of it’s finish. My wife chose A. 

Winner: That said, it’s my blog so the Fancy Shelf Champion is: B, JW Dant Bottled in Bond.

It’s crazy to me that three of the top four are bourbons that I would be perfectly happy pouring for myself neat or with a bit of ice. Two weeks ago, my wife drove to New Orleans to visit a friend, I liked the Old Charter 8 year enough to have her grab me a handle of it on her way back since they don’t sell it in Minnesota. I do wish it had a little more proof and so I hope to check out the NAS Charter 101 next time I travel to a state it’s sold in. Ezra Brooks is nice for those days I want a little spicy kick, but don’t feel like having anything special. Card-playing bourbon I like to call that. Dant Bonded isn’t quite as good as it’s higher priced brother Evan Williams Bonded, but it’s almost there and it’s well under $20 per liter here in MN where EW is a little over that at my normal shop. Old Crow got a lucky draw in the first round. I’d put off deciding how I felt about it, but can say now that it’s mediocre at best. I’ll use it for mixing or cooking and be pleased with the purchase.