Round 1a of the Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 1 seed Old Charter 8 year old versus Number 4 seed Virginia Gentleman.
Old Charter was brought to my attention in a twitter thread. The chatter was about good, cheap bourbons. This one kept coming up again and again. Not being available in Minnesota, I just sort of stuck that in the back of my head until I was driving through Kentucky on the way back from Virginia and saw a 750 mL on the shelf for $14.35. That price put it in the range for this contest and so I picked it up. This was the number 1 seed and number 1 choice overall as it is one of two bottles with an age statement (and the only one older than 4 years) meaning that, with the way marketing departments work, it is almost certainly the oldest bourbon of the bunch.
Virginia Gentleman was initially brought to my attention when I was first getting interested in bourbon. I was online looking up something along the lines of “best bourbon under $25.” I was as cheap then, as I am now. I was especially so considering I wasn’t sure yet what I liked and wasn’t sure what I’d be willing to spend to find out. The expression listed was a 90 proof version that is no longer produced and which, sadly, I never got to try. But it put the name in my mind and when I visited Virginia in February I happened to pick up a couple of minis to include in this tasting. This is the number 4 seed.
Old Charter 8 year old
Purchase Info: Liquor World, Bardstown, KY. $14.35 for a 750 mL.
Stated Age: 8 years
Produced by: Buffalo Trace (Sazerac)
Nose: Brown sugar and hints of pickle juice mingled with intermittent cherry.
Mouth: Spice cake and cordial cherries.
Finish: Gentle, as might be expected at 40% ABV, yet complex enough to hold interest. Sweet at first and like a mouthful of cloves, this is both numbing and drying. Transitions to lingering bitterness.
Thoughts: I hesitate to say this, but I think this is better than it’s sub $15 price tag would suggest. I could see this becoming a regular on the shelf if it were distributed near me.
Purchase Info: VABC store, Richmond, VA. (I bought 2 minis for about a buck each, but the VABC price list lists a 750mL for $12.45 or 1L for $14.95)
Stated Age: NAS
Produced by: A. Smith Bowman (Sazerac)
Nose: Light and sweet. Apple candy.
Mouth: Delicate. A light, but not watery, mouthfeel. Lightly fruity with some cinnamon.
Finish: Gentle with a lingering sour grain or silage flavor.
Thoughts: The finish kills this one. That silage/grain aftertaste makes me not want another sip. It might mix ok though.
Winner: Old Charter 8 Year advances to the next round. It’s a bourbon I’ll be keeping an eye out for next time I travel. It also makes me interested in it’s sibling, Charter 101 (NAS). Might have to keep an eye out for both, providing the price stays right. The Virginia Gentleman seems to have deserved it’s seeding. The finish is...not good. Upon giving it another shot as I type this, I’m getting less silage, but more apple mixed with an odd chemical note. Different, but not better.