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Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2015: The Championship Rounds

Posted on by Eric Burke

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

Once again, I am struck by just how good the competition has been. There were plenty of matchups where I actually liked both of the bourbons involved. Obviously one more than the other, but still. There was only one I would absolutely rule out ever buying again and that is the Old Crow. I doubt that I’ll get the OGD 80 again just because its higher proof brothers are still inexpensive and much better. Benchmark, I’d grab this for a cheap everyday whisky on occasion. It’s pleasant enough. And Henry McKenna was a pretty good card-playing bourbon.

Of course now that we are down to four, it is interesting to note that all four are from Heaven Hill and that three of the four are 100 proof or greater. I’d say this means that when it comes to putting out bourbons that both taste good and are good values, Heaven Hill knows what they are doing. It’s interesting to note that they also won last year’s competition.

So here we go. These were tasted blind again. And remember as with last year, these were not formal tasting notes, just impressions to let us decide which one we liked better.

Round 2: Down to Four

Division 1: Fighting Cock vs Evan Williams (Black)

Nose A: Fruity and sweet

Nose B: More vegetal, but otherwise similar

Mouth A: Sweet and spicy with a hint of fruit

Mouth B: Sweet with baking spices but with a vegetal undercurrent

Finish A: Warm and long. nice and spicy

Finish B: Hints of baking spices and oak

Thoughts: A is a much nicer bourbon. It has hints of fruit that really tie it together. B was showing a bit too vegetal in comparison. 

Winner: A wins this one hands down. It is Fighting Cock. It really is amazing to me that what I interpreted as oak in Evan Williams last round is showing as vegetal today. That says more about me than the bourbon, but it is still interesting.

Division 2: JW Dant Bottled in Bond vs Evan Williams Bottled in Bond

Nose A: Caramel, hint of spice, slightly fruitier

Nose B: Caramel, hint of spice, slightly drier

Mouth A: Sweet, baking spices, oak

Mouth B: Drier than A, but otherwise very similar.

Finish A: Spicy, baking spices

Finish B: Slightly more oak, but otherwise similar

Thoughts: When you consider that these are both the same distillate, more than likely aged to about the same amount of time and bottled at the same strength, it isn’t too surprising to find out that they are very, very similar.  

Winner: Today, the winner is Evan Williams Bottled in Bond. Tomorrow it might be the Dant, it is that close. These will both be on my shelf again. When it comes to buying, I will probably just go with which one the store I’m at carries and which is cheaper if it has both.

Fancy Shelf Championship

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond vs Fighting Cock

Nose A: Fruity and sweet with hints of oak

Nose B: Exactly the same. I can’t tell the difference.

Mouth A: Spicy, sweet and hot. 

Mouth B: Spicy, sweet, hot with a little tannic bitterness.

Finish A: Spicy and sweet

Finish B: Spicy and sweet with some lingering oak.

Thoughts: Once again, there is no surprise that these are very similar. Same juice put into the barrel. One aged for an assumed 4+ years, the other for a stated 6 years. One 100 proof, one 103. Very, very similar. And which is better, that will depend on who you ask. Like a touch more wood? Go with B. Like a touch less? Go with A.  

Winner: That said, I enjoyed having just a touch more oak so the Fancy Shelf Champion is: B, Fighting Cock.


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