Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Other people's brackets

So one of the things I did this year to shake things up was to introduce more judges to this project. In the past, it has been just my wife and I and if we disagreed, I'd overrule her due to the fact that I do all the writing. Now I was not able to get everyone together in time to get started on these so I was unable to use their input in the initial rounds. 

And now that I think about that, I think this is a good thing. This is a blog that is run by my wife and I and it reflects our palates. Plus, as you will see, everyone so far has chosen a different winner. But, there are a few commonalities in the results that I think you will find interesting. So let's begin.

This is the bracket of my friend Dave. He was the inspiration for this experiment because he asked if he could be a part of it. He knows almost nothing about whiskey that I haven't taught him but he is an enthusiastic amateur. I did the pouring for Dave's bracket. So one interesting thing that I think you will see is that Old Overholt was Dave's winner. I've described Old Overholt as one of the gentlest rye whiskeys that I'd found. And I think that it makes sense that an inexperienced whiskey drinker would like a whiskey that wasn't overly hot and aggressive. In fact, you'll notice that most of the whiskeys that made it to his last four were fairly nonaggressive whiskeys. A corn whiskey beat a rye, a low proof beat a high proof on a couple of occasions, and then there is Old Forester where he had a hard time choosing between the two.

This is the bracket of one of my dog sitting clients, Jeff. Jeff is a guy who likes whiskey but mostly sticks to the brands he knows. Jeff administered his own test which is why everything is labeled with a letter instead of a name, all the seeds are in the same location though. In this case, Old Grand-Dad beat Old Overholt, Two Stars beat Hirsch Corn, Ezra Brooks Rye beat Mellow Corn and Old Forester beat Four Roses. I haven't finished my bracket yet, but so far mine matches this one. And if you were to ask me how I thought my bracket might finish out, I can see similarities between his and mine. I'm a bit shocked that Two Stars beat out Old Grand-Dad, but hey Barton/Sazerac makes some pretty good juice. Oh, and for Jeff, Old Forester won. 

This is my wife's bracket. She and I disagreed on whether Mellow Corn should beat Ezra Brooks Rye so I had her finish her bracket based on her scenario. Once again I administered the contest for her. As you will see, there are some similarities between the previous three, Everyone likes Two Stars more than the Hirsch Corn whiskey and Everyone liked Old Forester better than Four Roses. In fact, Old Forester was in the championship for every one of these three. It sort of makes me wonder if my bracket will follow suit? I guess we will see next Tuesday.

Now, this last one is from Pat, one of my wife's coworkers. Pat also administered his own test. And Pat went a different way than anyone else. Unbeknownst to Pat, he seems to be a fan of rye whiskey. And he found this fascinating since he hadn't had very much rye before. From what I understand, he is going to be remedying that in the future. Even so, I can see the Ezra Brooks Rye winning this. It is a good and flavorful whiskey that even at two years old, brings a lot of flavor to the party. 

So I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. I liked seeing the trends among people. All of us liked Old Forester over Four Roses, which I didn't expect from me much less anyone else. It was split evenly between those who preferred Mellow Corn and those who preferred Ezra Brooks Rye. Only one person thought that the Hirsch Corn was better than Two Stars. And yet even with that, they all chose a different winner. I'm very curious now to know which one will win on my bracket. 


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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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Neat: The Story of Bourbon and Blanton's Straight From the Barrel

Last night, I settled in with my glass of Wild Turkey Rare Breed to watch Neat: The Story of Bourbon, a documentary about bourbon. I rented it off of Amazon, but it sounds others have it as well. 

I don't really have much to say about it. It heavily features Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Denny Potter of Heaven Hill, Marianne Barnes of Castle and Key, Brent Elliot of Four Roses, Freddie Johnson of Buffalo Trace and bourbon historians Chet Zoeller and Mike Veach. There were also segments on various bartenders, a farmer, a team of archeologists, and a few other Master Distillers. Oh, and there was a segment about a guy and his wife who have a bar in their basement. They hold parties. The segment also followed him to a store where he goes and buys bourbon that doesn't make it to the shelf.

Oh and Marshall, Minnesota native: Steve Zahn. He, um, lightened the mood?

So here's the thing. This wasn't a bad documentary by any stretch of the imagination. I loved seeing the passion that Marianne Barnes spoke with. I could listen to Jimmy Russell read the phone book and be happy. And Freddie Johnson is a national treasure. I was confused by the addition of Steve Zahn. The movie was beautifully shot and had a serious tone until his segments hit and then it abruptly switched to goofy. The tonal switch was jarring. The couple with the bar in the basement was filler that could have easily been cut since it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the narrative. 

But overall, it was worth the $6 I paid to rent it.

I did make a mistake though. My wife chose Rare Breed to watch with it because we knew that Jimmy Russell was featured in the documentary. I completely forgot to tell her that Freddie Johnson was in it too. If I had, we could have enjoyed the subject of tonight's other review while listening to Freddie tell the story of how his father and grandfather had a hand in its creation. If you've been on one of his tours, you may have heard the story, but if not I'll leave you with a teaser to either watch the movie or go on one of his tours. It's a good story, and I don't want to steal it.

Blanton's Straight from the Barrel

Purchase Info: £70.79 for a 700 mL bottle from MasterOfMalt.com ($98.78 US at today's exchange rate).

Details: 63.8% ABV. Barrel 885, dumped 7-13-17, aged in warehouse H, rick 14.

Nose: Caramel, wet rocks, cinnamon, nutmeg and just the tiniest hint of chocolate.

Mouth: Oily mouthfeel. Sweet and spicy with butterscotch and nutmeg.

Finish: Long and spicy. Dry and floral. 

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Thoughts: Even at $100 plus shipping, I am already planning to buy a second bottle. I love this one. 
 


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Blanton's Gold Edition

Does anyone know what bourbon goes best with a microwavable frozen chicken sandwich? Asking for a friend.

My wife is away at a work meeting tonight and so I am left on my own for supper. And while I thought, briefly, that this was a good excuse to skip supper and move straight to the tv and a drink, alas, I am too much of a responsible adult for that. So instead I proved just how much of a responsible adult I am by skipping anything healthy that I might have in the house and eating out of a gas station freezer section.

It really is a good thing I don't write for a food site. I value convenience in my meals way more than I should. Yep, luckily for you, I write about bourbon.

When it comes to bourbon, convenience is not an issue. Sure, I will happily pay a few dollars more per bottle at my corner store in order to avoid a trip across town. But, I will also happily place an order from across an ocean if they have one I'd like to try. Maybe one like tonight's subject.

Blanton's Gold Edition is a 103° proof bourbon produced for Age International, Inc. at the Buffalo Trace Distillery for sale in international markets. Why can't we get it here? No idea. I'm sure it makes a lot of sense to someone that makes way more money than me.

Blanton's Gold Edition

Purchase Info: £6.03 for a 3 cl bottle at MasterofMalt.com ($8.44 for a roughly one-ounce bottle at today's conversion rate. A full bottle sells for about $77.)

Details: 51.5% ABV.

Nose: Caramel, brown sugar, mint, baking spice and wet rock.

Mouth:  Thick and chewy mouthfeel. Lightly floral with spicy heat. Mint and caramel. 

Finish: Medium length with lingering cinnamon and dark chocolate.

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Thoughts: This is a beautiful whiskey if you like spice, which I do. Thick, chewy mouthfeel with a lot of spice backed up by floral mint. This stuff is really good. At roughly $75 US, this would be a something to seek out if it were available here. As it is, I'm making plans to get a full bottle the next time I place an order.


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Mr. Boston Drinks website

I don't make a lot of cocktails. Wait, check that. I make a ton of cocktails, they just all happen to be a variation of the Manhattan. And over the course of the last couple years, I've been trying to expand my horizons. Which is why last year when Sazerac launched the Mr. Boston site, I bookmarked it.

And then waited a year to remember that I had done so.

Last week, I was cleaning up my bookmarks when I remembered it was there. Of course, this seemed like a great excuse to put it through its paces and see if I could find anything interesting. 

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Boston was started as a distillery in, you guessed it, Boston in 1933. Within a few years, they were publishing their Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide to help promote their products. For the next 77 years, the company and its various owners published the book with the last edition being published in 2012. In 2009, Sazerac bought the brand and its guide as part of their purchase of the Barton Distillery and brands. According to the company, they immediately started working on bringing the venerable old publication into the modern age by putting it online. 

And this is the part that I find pretty cool. They have digitized the records of every edition they could lay their hands on. That means, if a drink was in multiple editions, you can swap back and forth between the editions to see how the recipe has changed over time. I find that pretty cool and is a step that many companies wouldn't have bothered to take since it probably took a lot of extra time and money to accomplish.

So is the site any good? Yeah. I love it. It's designed with a cool Art Deco feel that is very appropriate for a site that celebrates a history that goes back to when Art Deco was cool the first time. It is easy to use both on the desktop and on your phone. The directions come with an image of the glass you might want to use and a difficulty level so that you know what you are getting into. You can search for recipes by ingredient or name or you can use a "Discover" option that allows you to find recipes based on an event or occasion. If you log in, using Facebook or Google, you can save your favorites and even add your own recipes. 

While doing research over the last week or so, I decided to try as many new cocktails as I could find. I have limited ingredients in the house and even so, I was able to find more than I had time to drink. I even learned that my homemade cranberry juice goes well with bourbon. I have a feeling that I am going to be keeping this particular bookmark and trying a lot of new options.


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