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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017

Posted on by Eric Burke

As it is March, it is probably time for brackets of one sort or another. And even though my beloved Minnesota Gophers are looking like they will actually make an appearance in a basketball tournament this year...I still don't really care. I mean, I'm happy to hear they are doing well, but it isn't going to ruin my day should they not beat a random team that I've barely heard of. 

No, once again it is time to get our fill of competitive bracketing by finding inexpensive bourbons and pitting them against each other head-to-head to see if there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. To see if I can satisfy my inherent Midwestern frugalness and find an overlooked diamond in the rough.

I say this every year, but once again I really didn't think that I was going to be able to fill out an eight bourbon bracket this year. I really wasn't sure that there would be enough bourbon on shelves that met my stringent requirements to make the tournament. What are those very stringent requirements you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

  1. It must be straight bourbon and it must be labeled as such. Too many brands are getting rid of this very basic statement of quality and I refuse to reward that.
  2. It has to sell for two cents per milliliter or less. Now, this might seem like a weird arbitrary number, but it just works out to $15 per 750, $20 per liter or (in true bottom shelf fashion) $35 for a 1.75 L handle. 
  3. Unless it was a previous year's winner, it must have never been in the tournament before

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

Previous Winners. There are no previous winners this year. In previous years I've allowed the top seed to go to the winners of the previous two year's contests. This year the winner of the 2015 contest has had the price increase such that it no longer qualifies (Naughty naughty Fighting Cock, raising your price) and the winner of the 2016 contest is currently out of stock due to internet hoarding (WTF internet? Hoarding Very Old Barton 86 proof???). As such, this is the first contest since the first where we have an entirely new batch of contestants.  

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.

Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.

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 Jim Beam, it's a guideline used for breaking seeding ties and not a hard rule. It is overridden by the above guidelines.

So who are the contestants? Well, as mentioned above, there are no previous winners available to defend their titles this year. I've chosen Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond because it meets all the requirements and happened to be in the house. As an age stated six-year-old it gets the first number one seed. The second number one seed goes to Wild Turkey 101 which sells at my local store for $29.99 for a handle and is the highest proof of the non-age-stated selections. After that 100 proof Jim Beam Bonded and 90 proof Jim Beam Devil's Cut fill the number two seeds. Number three seeds are 86 proof Jim Beam Black and Jim Beam Double Oak. The bracket is rounded out with a pair of 80 proof three-year-olds, Cabin Still from Heaven Hill and Kentucky Tavern from Sazerac.

It should be an interesting year. Prices have fallen on more than a couple of "big names" such that if you buy in quantities of a liter or more, they fall into the required price range. 

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