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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2016: The Brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

Its that time of year again. The time of year when in the spirit of the season, America pretends to enjoy college basketball. The time when intraoffice gambling on the backs of unpaid athletes is not only condoned, but practically expected. The time when paper or online brackets are filled, mostly with guesses because what normal person really knows what the hell a Gonzaga is anyway. 

I’m not immune to the lure. But instead of trying to figure out whether a Holy Cross can beat a Southern University, I’d rather spend my time figuring out if I like Evan Williams 1783 or Wild Turkey 81 proof better. Because honestly I really don’t like basketball. Plus I work out of my home so I have no coworkers with whom to pretend that I care whether an FGCU wins or not.

Because I am a frugal person, this annual competition started out as a way to find new inexpensive bourbons with which to drown my sorrows as I waited for winter to end. But with both winters and inexpensive bourbons that I haven’t tried are becoming increasingly rare, I actually was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find enough bourbons to qualify this year. 

But there is good news frugal fans of bourbon! Minnesota is smack dab in the middle of the Total Wine effect. Items that didn’t qualify in years past are now priced within reach due to the increased price competition and items that were intended to be store exclusives are now being stocked on store shelves across the Metro. Prices are dropping and selection is rising. And this makes this year’s brackets a little more interesting than normal.

As it has been a year since we did this last, 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 am hoping to try new things so when possible, I looked for things I hadn’t reviewed before.

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

  1. Previous Winners. JW Dant Bottled in Bond won two years ago and Fighting Cock won last year year so they get 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 and punish bad 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 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 Heaven Hill and two are originally from Sazerac, it's a guideline, not a hard rule, and is overridden by the above guidelines.

So who are the contestants? Well, as mentioned above, Fighting Cock and JW Dant are our return winners so they get the number one seeds in each division. There were no age stated bottles this year so that one has been set aside, though I did knock Very Old Barton down a notch for their misleading “6.” So the next two highest proof bottles are Evan Williams 1783 and Very Old Barton 6 are both 86 proof and they become the number 2 seeds. After that the newly renamed Wild Turkey bourbon is 81 proof so it becomes our first 3 seed. The last three were dropped in what I thought might be an order to provide the most interesting match ups with Jim Beam White becoming the last 3 three seed going against Barton while Buckhorn (a Total Wine “exclusive” from Buffalo Trace) and Heaven Hill’s Blue State picking up the slack as 4 seeds.

Due to the Total Wine effect, this was an interesting year. Stay tuned.


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