Just a little over a year ago, I noticed that of the many bourbons on my shelf, very few were in the sub-$30 range. It wasn’t that I was feeling super-snobbish or extra-sophisticated, but rather that Fall Bourbon Release Season was just wrapping up. Premium, Rare and Super Rare bourbons were all anyone wanted to talk about and I was caught up in the excitement along with everyone else.
It was at about this time that the idea for the Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets popped into my head. I was sick of talking about whiskies that most of us can’t get and thought it was about time to look to the other end of the spectrum. There is a lot of good bourbon in the sub-$20 range, but there is also a lot of crap. I took it upon myself to find those things I’d want on my shelf.
One of the finalists in the competition was Old Charter 8 year. Due to it’s age it was seeded number one in it’s division and ended up coming in second overall. It was just after the competition concluded that I was informed by a reader that the age statement had been removed. It was now just “Old Charter 8.”
To say I was pissed was an understatement. I almost vowed to not buy anymore Sazerac products, but that would have been rash and hard to maintain. I did decide that I wasn’t going to be fooled anymore and that if at all possible I was going to make a more informed decision about which NAS products I was going to spend my money on.
To that end, I explored Very Old Barton 6 year and “6” a few weeks ago in Sazerac, Just Remove the Damn Numbers (part 1). I was pleasantly surprised when I preferred the NAS version. Though the naming still made me upset.
And since we had mistakenly purchased a handle of Old Charter “8” in Louisiana thinking it was the 8 year and had then found a bottle of the 8 year this fall in Kentucky, it was decided that we needed to do another comparison. See if I should still be upset at the change.
Old Charter 8 (NAS)
Purchase info: Less than $25 for a 1.75 Liter at the Wal-Mart in Hammond, LA (my wife picked it up and didn’t save the receipt).
Details: NAS, 40% ABV
Nose: Green pea pods and JuicyFruit gum. There’s a cotton candy sweetness if you can push past the overwhelming pea pods.
Mouth: Uncomplicated. Sweet with cinnamon and cayenne spices. Feels a bit thin in the mouth.
Finish: Bitter and vegetal, though with a warmth that lasts a surprisingly long length of time.
Thoughts: This is definitely definitely definitely of those you don’t want to drink out of a nosing glass. Concentrating those pea pod odors doesn’t make you want to take the sip. It’s better out of a rocks glass, but even then, I’m not a fan. Water doesn’t help, just accenting the undesirable parts and muting the admittedly nice spice and warmth.
Old Charter 8 year old
Purchase info: ~$18 for a 750 mL at Keystone Liquors, Bardstown, KY
Details: Aged 8 years, 40% ABV
Nose: dried corn, ripe fruit, caramel and hints of dried wood.
Mouth: Classic bourbon notes of caramel/vanilla along with some baking spices and a hint of cayenne.
Finish: Tannic bitterness and oak linger
Thoughts: I liked this one. It’s not an outstanding bourbon, but for the price it works well enough.
Unlike it’s corporate cousin Very Old Barton, for Old Charter 8 the NAS release was strikingly inferior to the age-stated product. That pea pod on the nose just made me not want to drink it. If it were a higher proof, I could see it working ok in a cocktail, but as it stands, it just sort of gets pushed around by the other ingredients.
Here’s the verdict. Don’t buy the NAS version. If you happen across the 8 year for a reasonable price? Sure, feel free. Just remember, neither of these are good enough to go hunting for. So don’t go crazy.