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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets: The Championship Rounds

Posted on by Eric Burke

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it featured two of my favorite value bourbons. Ones that I try to keep on my shelf at all times. I was extremely curious to see if they were toppled in a blind bracket or if my favorites won on their own merits. I was also interested to see how the various Jim Beam products would compare to one another. With this many by the same producer, I was curious how much difference there would really be between them. 

The last thing that made this year a little more exciting for me was that there were very few that I would truly call "bottom-shelf" this year (value yes, bottom-shelf no). Many years, I wonder what the heck I am going to do with the very large bottles of very meh bourbon I have left over. This year I had to pop some of the contestants back in the closet so I wouldn't finish them before the contest was over. I mean, yes, the number four seeds were ones that would have been at home in previous years of the competition, but the other six I enjoyed quite a bit. Some more than I anticipated.

To make sure there were no flukes sneaking through on an off-day, I did each of these blind and as best two out of three. Two were done in Glencairn with the final done in a rocks glass. Why a rocks glass? Because when I'm not doing a tasting, that is how I drink my bourbon and I thought it made a fitting variable.

Division 1, Round 2: Jim Beam Bonded (A) vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond (B)

Nose: The nose on these are very similar. No winner based on nose. 

Mouth: Winner is B sweeter and a little less "harsh" than A

Finish: Winner is B. Less grain and more "Bourbon" flavors. 

Thoughts: In a show of how your tastes can be off sometimes, this came down to a tie-breaker in best of three. One time Bourbon A won, one time Bourbon B one and the tiebreaker came down to the rocks glass. In this case, Bourbon B was Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. A respectable showing by both, though. (The impressions above are from the Glencairn tasting that reflected the final outcome.)

Division 2, Round 2: Wild Turkey 101 (A) vs Jim Beam Devil's Cut (B)

Nose: A has a richer nose than B. Winner A.

Mouth: A shows more wood, but also more tannins. B is sweeter and "smoother." No clear winner as I liked both. 

Finish: A is warmer and longer. B is sweeter and a bit more grainy. Winner A.

Thoughts: This one was very tough. It really did come down to the nose and finish as I like both of them in the mouth. The impressions above are from the Glencairn tasting that reflected the winner. The interesting thing was that the winner was much more apparent in the rocks glass. I really liked A that way, but in the Glencairn they were much closer. The winner was A, Wild Turkey 101.

Championship Round: Wild Turkey 101 vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond

Thoughts: I like both of these bourbons. A lot. And, even tasted blind and with two out of three, it was a hard choice. In the end, it seems there is a reason I keep a handle of Wild Turkey 101 on my shelf at almost all times. It was the unanimous winner in all three of the blind tastings. 

Lessons learned

I was really shocked by a few of the results this year. I fully expected an upset in both of the Jim Beam competitions. I've gone on record stating that Double Oak was the first Beam product I actually liked. Yet it lost to a product I reviewed as a "meh" in the past. Is proof really that big of a factor? Do my preconceptions color the reviews? Or has my palate changed to the point where I need to give more Beam products another chance? I'd say that last one will happen for sure. I'll know more about how I feel as I spend time with the rest of these bottles. How often I reach for them when I don't "have" to should provide a good idea if I like them outside of a blind tasting. 

The one thing that didn't shock me was the final matchup. When I decided on the final eight I was hesitant to include those two because I knew they were two of my favorites. What if they won? Would it be because they were truly better or because I've become accustomed to them? Even after the results were in, I still can't answer that question. The good news is that this whole thing is just a bit of fun and really only does reflect my tastes. And that is the reason I eventually landed on for including them in the competition. Besides, I've had upsets happen, and it would have been interesting to see if it happened here. 


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