Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2019: Round 1: Four Roses vs. Bulleit and Jim Beam Bonded vs. Old Grand-Dad Bonded

In light of recent allegations made by the daughter of Tom Bulleit of his homophobia and mental and physical abuse toward her, I have made the decision that BourbonGuy.com can no longer endorse products bearing the Bulleit name. If I had known of these allegations previous to this article, I would have not included their bourbon in the competition.

Round 1 of the 2019 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets continues with Division 2 Number 4 seed Four Roses “Beige Label” Bourbon versus Number 5 seed Bulleit Bourbon. 

This is an interesting battle. For the longest time it was an open secret that Four Roses produced whiskey made up all or most of the bourbon in a bottle of Bulleit. But about five or six years ago, that all changed. Four Roses cancelled their contract to supply Diageo with bourbon and Bulleit began the slow transition to filling their bottles with bourbon from other manufacturers. So now that enough time has passed for Bulleit to have gotten most of the Four Roses juice through their pipeline, how does the entry-level Four Roses product compare to Bulleit now that these two companies have gone their separate ways.

These were tasted blind in the following order. Tasting notes are from before the reveal.

Bulleit Bourbon

Purchase Info: $18.99 for a 750 mL bottle, Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 45% ABV.

Nose: Oak, Toffee, Vanilla, cinnamon red hots.

Mouth: Spicy cinnamon, sweet vanilla, creme brûlée and a little oak

Finish: Medium length. Lingering cinnamon, oak and chocolate.

Four Roses Bourbon

Purchase Info: $21.99 for a 750 mL bottle, Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 40% ABV.

Nose: Cinnamon, oak, black tea and a little mint.

Mouth: Thin mouthfeel. Cinnamon, black pepper and a hint of vanilla.

Finish: Very gentle. Lingering vanilla, mint, black pepper and Juicyfruit gum.

Pre-reveal Thoughts: This one is tough. The bourbons are of a very similar quality level so there isn’t a hands-down winner on the quality front. They both taste good. And honestly, I think one could be forgiven for choosing either of these as you personal winner. For me though, in this head to head matchup? I think Whiskey 1 edges its way to the winner’s circle.

Post Reveal Thoughts: Higher proof can often lend itself to higher complexity and a nicer mouthfeel. It does so in this case as the higher proof Bulleit Bourbon wins the chance to meetup with Wild Turkey 101 in Round 2.

And once again, in order to finish this competition sometime before summer, we are doing two in each post. So moving on to our second 4v5 matchup, we have Division 1 Number 4 seed Jim Beam Bonded versus Number 5 seed (and corporate cousin) Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

This is also a super interesting matchup. It features the Bottled in Bond version of both of Jim Beam’s main bourbon recipes. Jim Beam and Old Grand-Dad are both BeamSuntory brands. Both are produced by Jim Beam at one of their two big distilleries in either Clermont or Boston, Kentucky. Old Grand-Dad is often touted as using Beam’s “High Rye” recipe. How much higher is it than the standard Beam recipe? Well the good folks over at ModernThirst.com have a handy, and sortable, table of all the known, assumed, and estimated bourbon mash bills. According to that Old Grand-Dad clocks in at 63% corn, 27% rye and 10% malted barley compared to Jim Beam’s 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley. So let’s see who wins head-to-head, shall we?

These were tasted blind in the following order. Tasting notes are from before the reveal.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Purchase Info: $23.99 for a 1 liter bottle, Blue Max, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV. DSP-KY-230.

Nose: Mint, toasted grains, caramel, oak, green tea.

Mouth: Mint, spicy cinnamon, oak and green tea.

Finish: On the longer side of medium and warm. Lingering mint, green tea and oak.

Jim Beam Bonded

Purchase Info: $21.49 for a 1 liter bottle, Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV. DSP-KY-230.

Nose: Vanilla, cinnamon, corn, almond, and toffee.

Mouth: Oak, a generic “fruitiness,” cinnamon candies and caramel.

Finish: Medium length and warm. Lingering mint, corn, cinnamon candies and a hint of peanut.

Pre-reveal Thoughts: Whiskey 2 is a lot sweeter than whiskey 1. So this basically comes down to if you like your bourbon on the sweet and spicy side or the dry and spicy side of the equation. That’ll be a personal preference issue. For me, I choose whiskey 1 to advance. My wife went back and forth before agreeing with me.

Post Reveal Thoughts: This was much closer than I expected it to be. Going into the matchup, I expected that Old Grand-Dad would win this one hands down with no contest. It turns out that Old Grand-Dad did win, but it really close. And now they will face Fighting Cock in Round 2.


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Cooper's Craft Bourbon and Coopers' Craft Barrel Reserve Bourbon

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. I’d like to thank Punch Media and Brown-Forman for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts are just my opinion and should be taken as just that.

Way back in 2016, Brown-Forman released themselves a new bourbon brand. They called it Coopers’ Craft. It might seem to be a bit of an odd name, until you remember that Brown-Forman is the only major American Whiskey producer that also owns it’s own cooperage. I’d tell you that a cooperage is the place where barrels are made, but I’m sure you already knew that. I’m guessing that you also know that the men and women who make the barrels are called coopers too. So I’m not going to bother telling you that either.

So they named the bourbon Cooper’s Craft as a way to honor the people making their barrels. I thought it was a nice gesture and gladly accepted a sample of that initial release to review on the site. I liked it, but I was hoping for a bit more punch for the initial $29 price tag. It was more than a bit too gentle for my tastes. I’m guessing that comes, at least in part, from the “beech and birch charcoal filter finishing process” that the aged bourbon is put through.

For that reason, I was happy to see that the newest release in the Cooper’s Craft lineup, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve, was being bottled at a respectable 100° proof. I was even happier to see that even though the juice starts out the same, the company was trying something different with the barrels that whiskey was being aged in. It makes sense that a bourbon honoring barrel-makers would play with the barrel a little bit. In the press release they say: “Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve is aged in a unique chiseled and charred American White Oak barrel that allows the whiskey to interact more deeply with the wood, creating a robust and more complex flavor profile.” That sounds like just what I was looking for: more proof and a more complex flavor.

And in more good news, the original Coopers’ Craft has come down in price since that initial release. It isn’t sold in my market so I hadn’t been keeping track of the price. The SRP is now around $22-24 for a 750 mL bottle. And that totally changes my feelings about the brand. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s remind ourselves how that original Cooper’s Craft tastes, shall we?

Coopers’ Craft Bourbon

Purchase info: This sample was graciously provided by the company for review purposes. The suggested retail price is between $21.99 and $23.99.

Details: 41.1% ABV. Uses a “beech and birch charcoal filter finishing process” according to the press release.

Nose: Wintergreen, almond, and vanilla pudding.

Mouth: A bit of a thin mouthfeel. The taste follows the nose with vanilla pudding, wintergreen, almond and a gentle baking spice.

Finish: Gentle with vanilla pudding, baking spice and hints of apple.

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Thoughts: The marketing materials for Coopers’ Craft use the headline “Building a Gentler Bourbon" and they aren’t lying. This is a super gentle bourbon. I think the combination of price and flavor profile make this a great bourbon for someone just starting their bourbon journey. It has good flavor, but not so much heat that they start choking and sputtering because they aren’t used to the proof. That said, I like a bit more heat so while there is nothing wrong with this bourbon, it isn’t for me.

Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve Bourbon

Purchase info: This sample was graciously provided by the company for review purposes. The suggested retail price is between $29.99 and $32.99.

Details: 50% ABV. Uses a “chiseled and charred American White Oak barrel” according to the press release.

Nose: Oak, caramel, ginger and vanilla.

Mouth: Cinnamon candy, oak, ginger, caramel and vanilla.

Finish: Warm and of medium length. Lingering ginger, caramel and oak.

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Thoughts: This is a damn fine bourbon. I like this one a lot. While the original may be better suited to the new bourbon drinker, this is much more aligned to my palate when consumed neat. It is spicy without being too hot and has a nice underlying sweetness to support the spice. Basically what I’m saying is that they next time I travel to Kentucky, a couple bottles of this will be coming home in my bags.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. And if you are an iOS user, look for Bourbon Guy in Apple News. Thanks!