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: 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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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1c: Ezra Brooks Rye vs. Mellow Corn

Round 1c of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets features number 1 seed Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond Corn Whiskey versus Number 4 seed Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Mellow Corn is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. It is a bottled-in-bond product, meaning it is the product of one distilling season, bottled at exactly 100 proof and was aged for at least 4 years. As this is corn whiskey, it is made from at least 80 percent corn in the mash recipe and was aged in either uncharred or used barrels. It is a number one seed due to its high proof.

Ezra Brooks Rye is a product of Luxco. It is a sourced whiskey that is assumed to have been distilled at the MGPi distillery in Indiana. It is a two-year-old rye. It is the youngest whiskey in the contest and as such is a number four seed. 

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

Mellow Corn

Purchase Info: $11.88 for a 1L bottle at Blue Max Liquor, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Buttery popcorn, spearmint, a touch of cinnamon, and after a while strawberry oatmeal. 

Mouth: Warm and spicy. Cinnamon and honey. 

Finish: Medium and warm. Lingering dried grain notes. A touch of bitterness. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Nice and warm. Good spice. Only slight knock on it is a slightly dried grain note on the finish that doesn't agree with me.

Ezra Brooks Rye

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

Details: 45% ABV.

Produced by: Luxco (Assumed MGPi)

Nose: Strong mint and ginger ale. 

Mouth: Thinner in the mouth than the last one. Mint and ginger spice.

Finish: Flavorful finish. A "Blossom" of flavor after swallowing. Mint, cinnamon, and ginger. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Just the opposite of the last one. This has a pretty mild mouth, but a fun finish. 

Who wins?

So, Mellow Corn is sweet baked good on the nose while Ezra Brooks Rye is a spicy soda. This is a draw on the nose. Mellow Corn has a nicer mouthfeel while Ezra Brooks Rye has a more pleasantly flavorful finish. This is the hardest matchup in the contest. These are both good and to be honest my wife and I both chose a different winner. After sitting on this for most of a week I have to declare a winner based soley on the finish. Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1a: Old Grand-Dad Bonded vs. Old Overholt

Round 1a of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets features a pair of Old Guys from Beam Suntory. Number 1 seed Old Grand-Dad Bonded versus Number 4 seed Old Overholt Rye. There are a few similarities that make this an interesting matchup. Both are very old brands, dating back to the mid-1800s or before. Both were popular brands when owned by National Distillers and both were mostly neglected after they were sold to Beam before both recently received a renewed marketing push. Old Grand Dad got a packaging update and Old Overholt got a brand extension. Old Grand-Dad is a high rye bourbon and Old Overholt is a barely legal rye. And though it has no impact on the flavor, both feature the fanciful, grizzled visage of their namesake. 

Old Grand-Dad Bonded is a high-rye bourbon from Jim Beam. Since this is one of two bonded whiskeys in the competition, this 100 proofer gets one of the top seeds. This old guy is a frequent guest in the BourbonGuy household as we love a good value. 

Old Overholt is a barely-legal, 80 proof rye whiskey from Jim Beam. At only three years old, this gentle rye earns one of two number four seeds. And in a fun twist, is also the first-ever non-bourbon in the contest. 

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

Old Grand Dad Bonded

Purchase Info: $22.99 for a 1 L bottle at Blue Max Liquor, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Dusty wood, cooked cereals, and honey.

Mouth: Follows the nose with cooked cereals and honey. Fairly dry. Nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Finish: Nice and warm. On the longer side of medium. Lingering baking spices.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Spicy and warm. This is tasty.

Old Overholt

Purchase Info: $12.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 40% ABV, 36 month age statement

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Mint, ginger and citrus.

Mouth: Thin in the mouth with ginger and mint.

Finish: On the shorter side of medium with lingering dry, dusty grains.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is a little bitter compared to the other one, though I much prefer the nose here. Unfortunately, the mouth disappointed compared to the nose.

Who wins?

One of these is gentle and thin with a fun nose. The other is a warm and spicy, yet kinda grainy whiskey. There are certain family similarities between these two that I had never noticed before. I found that fun and interesting. At the end of the day though, proof wins out and Old Grand-Dad is the winner. Based on this, I might have to go back and compare OGD Bonded to the Old Overholt Bonded on my own time. 


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Old Overholt Bonded

Old Overholt Bonded. It's a year older and 20° proof higher than the standard Old Overholt that has been around for years. It's got a suggested retail price of $24.99 for a 750 mL. I've found it for as low as $22.99 for a 750 and $27.99 for a liter locally. 

Since this is the third affordable rye in Jim Beam's line-up so I though that it might be interesting to see how they match up to one another in a blind tasting. So I did. Blind pours of Jim Beam Rye non-age stated at 90° proof (16.99 for a 750ml bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN), Old Overholt 3 years at 80° proof (12.99 for a 750ml bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN), and the new Old Overholt Bonded 4 years old at 100° proof (28.99 for a Liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN). 

Whiskey 1

Nose: Mint, almond, a hint of oak, cardamom, ginger and fleeting hints of dill.

Mouth: Tingly spice with black pepper, mint, lemon oil and dusty oak. 

Finish: Warm and medium length. Lingering black pepper ginger and dusty oak.

Thoughts: This is fine. Very much not my favorite of the three, but not the worst either. 

Whiskey 2

Nose: Sweet with almond, cardamom, and a hint of mint.

Mouth:  Easy going with hints of spice. Clove and almond.

Finish: Gentle with lingering spice. 

Thoughts: Not much here. Delicate and sweet with minimal spice when compared to the last one. 

Whiskey 3

Nose: Warm, dried grain. Brown sugar, dusty old lumber, and black tea. 

Mouth: Sweet with tingly spice. Black pepper, mint, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Finish: Medium length and warm. The spices from the mouth continue to linger into the finish.

Thoughts: I'm kinda liking this one. It drinks more like a high rye bourbon than a rye. 

Reveal:

Whiskey 1 was Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye. Whiskey 2 was Old Overholt 80. Whiskey 3 was Old Overholt Bonded. All of these shared a strong family resemblance. The proof seems to be the biggest factor in how enjoyable they are to sip on. The highest proof is also the most enjoyable and the lowest proof is the least enjoyable.

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A few further notes on the Old Overholt Bonded. I'm not as high on this one in cocktails as others are. I feel like it is getting lost in cocktails meant for Rye. On the other hand, I'm enjoying it quite a bit in a rocks glass in front of the tv. Like I noted in the blind notes, it drinks more like a high-rye bourbon than a Straight Rye, but since it is barely legal at 51%, that is to be expected. Overall I'd say that the added proof and extra year of age is worth the cost over the standard Old Overholt. Whether it is worth the cost compared to the Jim Beam Rye will be up to you. I enjoyed it more so I'd be likely to say yes for me. Still not my favorite rye, but if I pretend it is a bourbon I am more than content with it.


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