Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2019: Round 2: Wild Turkey 101 vs. Bulleit and Evan Williams Bottled in Bond vs. Old Forester Signature

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.

This is it. Tonight we find out who will the final two spots of our semifinals round. Round 2 of the 2019 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets continues with Division 2 Number 1 seed Wild Turkey 101 versus the advancing Number 5 seed Bulleit Bourbon. 

We’ve already met Bulleit, but to recap, it it is a sourced bourbon from Diageo. It used to be made of Four Roses juice but it is getting less and less likely that there is any left in the bottle since it has been five or six years since they were cut off. The other competitor is Wild Turkey 101. It is a product of Campari’s Wild Turkey distillery. And it is one of my favorite “everyday” bourbons. Let’s see who comes out on top.

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

Wild Turkey 101

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 liter bottle, Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50.5% ABV.

Nose: Caramel, vanilla custard, cinnamon and a hint of mint.

Mouth: Sweet and spicy with mint and cinnamon.

Finish: Medium length, warm and sweet. Lingering cinnamon and vanilla custard.

Bulleit Bourbon

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

Details: 45% ABV.

Nose: Spearmint, toffee, cherry, cinnamon red hots.

Mouth: Spicy and sweet (though less sweet than number one) baking spice, toffee, and cherry.

Finish: Medium length. Lingering toffee and baking spice.

Pre-reveal Thoughts: Two very good whiskeys in this one but whiskey one wins this round. The spice is spicier. The sweet is sweeter It has more well-defined flavors. And it has a warmer and longer finish. Whiskey one is tastes like they took whiskey two and cranked up the volume.

Post Reveal Thoughts: Not shocked that Wild Turkey 101 won this round. The proof difference could easily explain the difference in “volume.”

Round 2 of the 2019 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets concludes with Division 2 Number 2 seed Evan Williams Bottled in Bond versus the advancing Number 6 seed Old Forester Signature 100 proof.  

Old Forester Signature 100 proof is the plucky underdog here. Or is it? Though it was once a staple on my bourbon shelf, I’ve been passing on Evan Williams Bottled in Bond more and more lately. It has just started tasting too young to me. More grain-forward than I’d like. Especially when I can get the same size bottle of Wild Turkey 101 for just a dollar or two more.

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

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof

Purchase Info: $24.99 for a 750 mL bottle, Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV.

Nose: Honey, caramel, wintergreen, almond.

Mouth: Caramel, black tea, vanilla, clove and cinnamon.

Finish: Medium length and warm. Lingering caramel, apple, cinnamon and oak.

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond

Purchase Info: $17.99 for a 750 mL bottle, Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 50% ABV.

Nose: Brown sugar, mint and vanilla.

Mouth: Caramel, mint and dried grain.

Finish: Medium length with lingering caramel, dried grains and cinnamon.

Pre-reveal Thoughts: Whiskey one wins this one hands-down. In my mind there is no contest. Whiskey two is way too grain forward by comparison.

Post Reveal Thoughts: No surprises here. Old Forester is a nice complex bourbon. It’s everything that I look for in a decently priced bourbon. By way of comparison, Evan Williams Bottled in Bond just isn’t as good as it used to be. I’ve noticed that about a lot of the Heaven Hill Bonded bourbons lately. Good, but not as good as they used to be. (Possibly because Heaven hill seems more interested in putting out new $100+ “prestige” bourbons like the new Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond than they are the lower-priced offerings that helped build their reputation.) Anyway EWBiB will work great in cocktails, but that is what this contest is about. Old Forester Signature advances.

And so the Championship Rounds are set! Old Grand-Dad Bonded versus Larceny and Wild Turkey 101 versus Old Forester Signature.


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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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Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey plus an interview with Bobby Finan of Tommyrotter Distilling

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 Bobby Finan and Tommyrotter Distilling for providing this sample to me with no strings attached.

A few months ago, Bobby Finan of Tommyrotter Distillery in Buffalo, NY reached out to me to see if I would like to receive a sample of their products. Because I rarely say no to the opportunity to try something that I cannot get at home, I gladly accepted the offer. And because I’m a curious fellow who enjoys talking with people who are passionate about what they do, I decided to ask him some questions in return. He was gracious enough to answer them.

That’s right, I got free whiskey and then got him to write half of this post to boot.


Eric: So, Bobby, tell me a little about yourself and Tommyrotter distillery. We live in the age of superheroes on the big screen so what is the origin story of Tommyrotter?

Bobby Finan: I’m a born and raised Buffalonian and own Tommyrotter with my business partner. We’ve been at it for 4 years and are expanding our footprint throughout the Northeast and outward to other key markets in the US. I got turned onto distilling while living in NYC interning at an investment bank. I learned pretty quickly cubicle life was not for me and happened upon the distilleries that were popping up in Brooklyn. I was infatuated with them. After I completed college, I worked at a Central NY craft distillery that was moving towards opening and got to experience the start up phase of launching a distillery. I soon moved back to my hometown of Buffalo, where I met my business partner and we launched what would become Tommyrotter Distillery. In attempting to come up with a name we dove into old stories about our city - we wanted a name that alluded to “craft production,” “quality,” tied into Buffalo and was totally unique. We came across the story of the Tommyrotter’s Club, a group of rebellious artisans who worked on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, NY (the rural suburb that I grew up in just south of Buffalo) back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Roycroft was the birthplace of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, a kind of counterculture to the Industrial Revolution, where artists and craftspeople lived, worked and made their high end goods by hand. The Campus is still functioning today and is a pillar of the Western New York arts community. We dug the Tommyrotter name because these guys kind of bucked the rules - they we’re known for sneaking out of work to go adventure seeking, create for creation’s sake and maybe enjoy a couple drinks while doing it.

Eric: After looking at your website, I know that you produce a couple of whiskies and you sent over a sample of a gin, What else do you produce? And what would you consider your “specialty?”

Bobby: We distill a vodka, one type of gin (and barrel it for a second product) and we blend and finish whiskeys Our specialty is definitely gin, our American Gin is our top selling product and our Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin gets a lot of press, awards and cocktail menu placement due to how unique and delicious it is. The American Gin has developed a really loyal following due to the botanicals we use. We infuse 12 botanicals through vapor distillation and utilize a lot of baking spice (think nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon) and balance it out with citrus and juniper. In Buffalo, NY, our hometown, we’ve got Hendricks on the ropes in most local liquor stores and have a lot of people who say, “Tommyrotter is the only gin I’ll drink.” The Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin is the exact same gin as our American Gin, just thrown into a brand new white American oaks #3 char barrel for about a year and bottled at 122 Proof. It’s a one-of-a-kind spirit, a real category bender and is one of the most complex spirits on the market in my opinion (but the critics say so too!).

Eric: Tonight I’ll be reviewing the Tommyrotter American Whiskey. You labeled it “Triple Barrel.” Tell us the story behind that. What is a Triple Barrel American Whiskey at Tommyrotter?

Bobby: “Triple Barrel” really has two meanings or two points of significance as they pertain to the product and name. Our American Whiskey is a blend of two mash bills of bourbon and a Tennessee whiskey - three types of whiskey or three barrels. That blend is then finished in French oak that previously housed red wine (we’re typically utilizing ex-Cab Sauv and ex-Cab Franc barrels). As you might assume, the two bourbons are aged in brand new white American charred oak. The Tennessee is aged in recharred next use American oak barrels that previously housed bourbon. In total, the whiskey we blend, finish and bottle is product of three types of barrel treatment…and so we again arrive at “Triple Barrel.” On a geekier note: One of the bourbon is a high corn mash bill and when we started rolling out whiskey was a little north of 1 year old, that input is now regularly 2+ years old, the second bourbon is 5-6 year old high wheat mash bill, the Tennessee is 7 years old and also has a pretty high corn level in the MB. The weighted average of the mash bills by function of blend ratio balances out at 81% Corn / 9% Wheat / 5% Rye / 6% Barley.

Eric: I notice that the sample you sent me says that it was distilled in Tennessee and Indiana. I have a good guess as to what those distilleries might be, but can you confirm?

Bobby: One of the distilleries doesn’t like us mentioning their name, the other doesn’t care. For the sake of enjoying a good wink and nod opportunity, I’d say if you made a quarter-way educated guess, you’d likely be right.

Eric: As a follow-up, since this is a barrel-finished whiskey, you obviously have access to barrels. Are you buying fully matured whiskey from your suppliers or do you buy new-make and age in in-house?

Bobby: The answer to that “or” question is: Yes. Building a whiskey program takes a lot of planning. You’re buying older/matured whiskey to finish and package now. You’re buying slightly less old whiskey to bottle next year and so on and so on. Simultaneously, you’re buying new-fill whiskey and aging in house or in contracted bonded-warehouses due to scale to be of age when you hit the bottom of your less aged product that is coming to age every year. I was trying to description the shape of the curve you follow on purchasing, but it’s really a three dimensional curve and the variable where getting overly wordy to explain. In summation, there is a decent amount of algebra based on projections and an understanding that you may be offloading excess or scrambling for supplementary barrels until you really dial in demand and growth.

Eric: Are there plans to transition your whiskey to ones made from your own distillate in the future? If so, how far along that process are you? Can you give us any hints about what to keep an eye out for?

Bobby: We’d like to build a new facility and actively moving in that direction - may be two years out or so - but at the new facility we’d have full whiskey production capability and eventually moving towards our own juice. It takes a long time to fully make that transition.

Eric: Finally, where can an interested reader learn more about Tommyrotter and your products?

Bobby: Give us a follow on Instagram or Facebook - we come out with a limited release whiskey product each fall and are making a concerted effort to expand our single barrel program for our Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin beyond upstate NY. The single barrels of our CSBBG are awesome. Just really, really awesome.

Eric: Thanks for answering a few questions for me. I, and the readers, appreciate it.

Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey

Purchase Info: This sample was graciously provided for review purposes by the distillery. This product can be found for $35 for a 750 mL bottle.

Details: 46% ABV. Age stated at 1 year old.

Nose: Sweet with buttered popcorn, spearmint and caramel.

Mouth: Cornpops cereal, cinnamon and black pepper

Finish: On the shorter side of medium. Lingering spearmint.

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Thoughts: This is a very grain forward whiskey but I wouldn’t necessarily say it tastes “young” as there are no rough edges at all. I tasted this neat and it reminds me of a good quality corn whiskey. I also made a small old fashioned with it and it performed well. I liked how the sweetness of the whiskey played with the spice of the aromatic bitters I chose. Overall, I’d recommend this to people who like sweet, grain forward whiskies.


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!