1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

Ever talked to a person that likes wheated bourbons? You'd know it if you had because if the subject turns to bourbon, they will invariably tell you that they prefer "wheaters." There are entire swaths of the whiskey internet singing the praises of wheated bourbons as if they were the second coming of sliced bread.

Typical bourbon is made from a mash of at least 51% corn with a combination of rye and malted barley making up the remainder. So what is a "wheated" bourbon? Quite simply it is a bourbon made where they substitute wheat for the rye. 

I'm going to let you in on a little secret though: I don't usually like a bourbon just because it has wheat in the recipe. In fact, it is quite often just the opposite. I find that most wheated bourbons have a slightly dusty bitter note on the finish that I just don't prefer. It can be subtle or quite noticeable depending on the age of the bourbon in question. 

In the end, though, it is all personal preference. There are plenty of wheated bourbons that hit my shelf. I tend to leave them for my wife because she loves wheaters while I am mostly indifferent to them. 

1792 Sweet Wheat

Purchase Info: $31.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 45.6% ABV

Nose: Caramel, melon, mint and a light spice.

Mouth: Cinnamon spice, caramel, and mint.

Finish: Warm and dry with nice cinnamon notes. As with most wheated bourbons, I'm finding a slight dusty bitterness to the finish.

 IMAGE: a hand drawn smiley face

Thoughts: I like this one. That said, it's probably my least favorite of the 1792 limited edition releases. But that says more about how good the others were than it does about the quality of this one. Still, I'll probably leave the rest of the bottle for my wife. I'm a nice guy that way.


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1792 Bottled in Bond

I've been reading a lot of old 1950s and 1960s magazines lately. I'm reading them for the history but, as I create ads for a living, I can't help but be struck by the advertisements as well. And of course, these particular magazines have a lot of booze ads in them. 

Knowing that the bourbon crash was only a few years away, I am struck by the differences between the bourbon ads and the ads for clear spirits. The bourbon ads highlight luxury and impressing those you entertain. They are full of photos of men in tuxedos and women in fancy dresses. They look really old-fashioned. By contrast, the ads for clear spirits are fun. Even half a decade later, they still have a freshness about them. It isn't hard to see why bourbon lost the war for the 1960s and 70s drinker. 

I did find it interesting though that bourbon was advertising itself as a luxury item for the ultra-rich and swanky. When I first started drinking alcohol, you could barely give bourbon away. When I first started drinking bourbon, it was an affordable luxury. You could get something old and really delicious for $30-40. Of course, these days the pendulum has swung back again. I saw an article touting an 11-year old bourbon from a major producer for $110 today. $10 per year of age, from the big guys, seems a bit ludicrous to me, but then there is a reason I'm the guy who runs the "Bottom-Shelf Brackets."

Luckily for those of us who drink on a budget, there is one producer who seems to have found their niche producing affordable limited edition bourbons. Sazerac's Barton distillery has been quietly putting out delicious, affordable bourbon after delicious, affordable bourbon in the 1792 line. Tonight I have a glass of the 1792 Bottled-in-Bond. Let's see how it tastes. 

1792 Bottled-in-Bond

Purchase info: $39.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV. Distilled and bottled at DSP-KY-12. Non-age stated though the bottle says "well-aged."

Nose: Almond, Caramel, and cinnamon.

Mouth: Good heat with cinnamon and nutmeg followed by brown sugar and mint. 

Finish: Spicy and long with a heat that sort of creeps back up on you right in the middle of the chest.

 Image: a hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: This is a tasty bourbon. Spicy and warm, it doesn't have the almost overwhelming heat of the 1792 Full Proof. Instead, it feels like a warm blanket straight from the dryer: pure comfort. It won't knock your socks off, but then you won't need to mortgage the house to afford it either. It sums up what brought me to bourbon in the first place: a tasty, affordable, luxury. 
 


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1b: Hirsch Selection Straight Corn vs. Two Stars

Round 1b of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets features number 2 seed Hirsch Selection Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey versus Number 3 seed Two Stars Bourbon. 

Hirsch Selection Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey is a Limited Edition straight corn whiskey. But wait? Why would a Limited Edition be in the Bottom Shelf Brackets? Well, mostly because the price was right. I found it on a shelf in Minneapolis for $16.99. I haven't seen it anywhere else, so I'm going to guess this is an inexpensive shelf turd from a few years ago. So, now you know. This has no age statement so it is at least 4 years old. It states it was aged in used barrels. 

Two Stars bourbon is a Total Wine exclusive bourbon produced by the Clear Springs Distilling Co. Clear Springs is a dba used by Sazerac when they produce house brands for stores. Last I heard (2016) this one was a product of the Barton distillery, though it is possible that has changed by this point.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Hirsch Selection: Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

Purchase Info: $16.99 for a 750mL bottle at Surdyk's Liquor and Cheese Shop, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 45% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Preiss Imports

Nose: Delicate. Almost a white wine note and brown sugar. After sitting a bit a vinegar note flashes across the nose before disappearing again 

Mouth: Cooling and thin at first. As it sits in the mouth a sweet baking spice note develops. 

Finish: Starts almost nonexistent but a gentle burn develops after a little bit of time.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This could be a wonderful whiskey for a white wine drinker. I find it interesting, but not something I'd come back to.

Two Stars

Purchase Info: $17.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Eagan, MN.

Details: 43% ABV.

Produced by: Clear Springs Distilling Company (Sazerac)

Nose: Almond, brown sugar, nutmeg. 

Mouth: Gentle at first with more spice developing as it sits in the mouth. Almond and mint.

Finish: Warmer than the mouth. Lingering bitter almond, baking spice and mint.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is more to my tastes than whiskey #1.

Who wins?

I'm not sure either of these would have won if they had drawn a different matchup. They are both pretty meh. They are strangely similar. Both of these start very much the same, they are both gentle and both take time to develop in the mouth. But at the end the day, I like where Two Stars ends up better than Hirsch Corn. Winner: Two Stars.


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The 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom-Shelf Brackets

So, this past Sunday my Twitter feed filled up with people complaining about the format of a show that announced whether their favorite team of college basketball players did or didn't make the cut to play in a basketball tournament. It reminded me, among other things, that I'm not much of a college basketball fan. It just never caught my interest. But just because I don't have a passion for college basketball, does that mean I want to miss out on all that competitive March bracketing?

No. No, it does not. 

And for the last four years, I've been getting my 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. I mostly do this to have fun, but I also have a desire to find out if I can satisfy my inherent Midwestern frugalness and yet find an overlooked diamond in the rough.

But this is the fifth year of the Bottom-Shelf Brackets and I've been forced to shake things up a little bit. First, I've removed the word "Bourbon" from the name and opened the proceedings up to other forms of Straight American Whiskey. Second, I've been forced to redefine my definition of "Bottom-Shelf" to a slightly higher price point. Both of these have the same cause: I just couldn't find enough bourbons that met the price qualification that hadn't been in the tournament before. Even some of the previous winners have moved out of range. 

The third thing is the most exciting for me though. I've included a couple more judges this year. Some of these people are complete novices. I did this mostly because one of my non-whiskey drinking friends asked if he could be a part of it and I thought it might be fun to get outside perspectives on the results. 

Now that the changes are out of the way, just what are these qualifications that I spoke of earlier?

  1. It must be straight American Whiskey, 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. This means that Jack Daniel's Black label would not qualify for the tournament, but that Jim Beam White label would. 
  2. It has to sell for 2.4 cents per milliliter or less. Now, this might seem like a weird arbitrary number, but it works out to $18 per 750, $24 per liter or (in true bottom shelf fashion) $40 for a 1.75 L handle. And yes, I know that the math is wrong on that last one, but since you normally get a price break by buying in that large of quantity, I worked that into the equation. I raised it from $15, $20 and $35 this year, which had been the price since the initial year. In that time, just following the inflation rate would get us to over $21 for a liter so I decided to future proof a little. 
  3. The final guideline is that it must have never been in the tournament before. It would get pretty boring to see if I liked the same whiskeys year after year. 

After I purchased the whiskeys here are the rules I used to seed them. 

  1. Stated (or assumed) age. Straight whiskey 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.
  2. Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.

So who are the contestants? The top six seeds were all non-age stated, and so I am assuming the 4-year minimum on them. The two number one seed in each of the divisions are Old Grand-Dad Bonded and Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond, both at 100° proof. Behind them at 90° proof is a Straight Corn Whiskey from Hirsch Selections. I found this one on sale, so it is a bit of a cheat but also figured that sale prices count when the entire point is to be frugal. A pair of 86 proofers come next. Old Forester 86° proof is the second number two seed while the Barton produced, Total Wine exclusive, Two Stars nabs the first number three seed. The final number three seed is 80° proof Four Roses Yellow Label. After that, we get to a pair of ryes that clock in at under four years old. Old Overholt is three years old and gets the first number four seed with two-year-old Ezra Brooks Rye nabbing the final spot.

There are a lot of interesting matchups this year with multiple styles and multiple price points going head-to-head. I think this one is going to be a lot of fun. 


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