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Head to Head Review: Eagle Rare, Store Pick vs Regular Release

Posted on by Eric Burke

Store picks versus regular releases. It’s a topic I find myself thinking about more and more often as I realize that I’ve examined a lot of bourbon for the blog and tasted a lot more outside of it. As my local liquor stores realize that they need to do something in order to differentiate themselves from the competition, I run across more and more store picks of things like Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Russell’s Reserve, 1792 and others. Plus, the price is normally either the same as the regular release or even a little cheaper. As such I’ve found myself picking them more often on my shopping trips. 

I’ve had mixed results with store picks, some are amazing and some are…well…not. But I tend to buy them anyway. While I always like a good familiar bourbon, sometimes I like a slightly different take on that familiar flavor. I say slightly very purposefully. It is rare that a store pick will fall too far outside the accepted flavor profile for a given brand. It may be the the producer didn’t offer samples that strayed too far (it is their name on the bottle too after all) or it may be that the retailer didn’t want to surprise customers with something that didn’t match their expectations. So I tend to buy them when I see them. Not because they are totally different, but that sometimes I find it interesting how fairly slight differences can extremely noticeable when you taste things side by side. Of course sometimes I just buy it because it is on sale too.

Eagle Rare is a bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. It is dumped out of barrels that were filled with distillate made from Buffalo Trace’s Rye Bourbon Mash Bill Number 1 (though I have been told that very occasionally a mash bill number 2 barrel will hit the flavor profile and become Eagle Rare). This same distillate is also used to fill barrels that will become Old Charter, George T Stagg, Buffalo Trace and Benchmark. It is also a bourbon that I was positive that I had reviewed before. I buy it every so often when I go home to visit my family because it is readily available and tends to be pretty cheap in relation to the price I sometimes find it for in Minnesota, where it’s a different story completely. Here it is neither readily available or as cheap. I will often find it for almost $10 more per bottle. 

A local retailer peaked my interest when they sent out an email hinting that they’d solved the allocation problem by picking their own barrel. Even though I had a bottle open and on the shelf from my last trip home, I decided that the ability to taste these side by side was too tempting to pass up. 

So now I have two open bottles of Eagle Rare on the shelf.

Eagle Rare: Regular Release vs Store Pick

Regular Release:

Purchase Info: ~$27 for a 750 mL at Marketplace Foods, Hayward, WI.

Details: Single Barrel. 10 Year Age Stated, 45% ABV.

Nose: Oak, mint and a slight smokiness

Mouth: A nice viscous mouthfeel. Sweet caramel, herbal mint and anise, oak.

Finish: Of medium length with sweet and oak notes.

Ace Spirits Store Pick: 

Purchase Info: $34.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: Single Barrel. 10 Year Age Stated, 45% ABV. Barrel # 170.

Nose: Oak, mint and a slight smokiness with the addition of baking spices and a light fruitiness.

Mouth: Butterscotch, oak, anise and a light fruitless.

Finish: Nice and spicy and of medium to long length.

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Thoughts: Both of these are very good. Let’s just start there. I’m a big fan of both when I have them on their own. Together though, there is a definite standout. The regular release feels almost tired compared to the Ace Spirits pick. The addition of a light fruitiness to the oak and sweetness really livens up the pour. That isn’t to say that these are miles apart from a flavor standpoint. They both taste like Eagle Rare. One just tastes like a better version of Eagle Rare.


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