Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2016, Round 1: Fighting Cock vs. Buckhorn

Round 1a of the 2016 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 1 seed, and last year’s winner Fighting Cock versus Number 4 seed Buckhorn. 

Fighting Cock is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. It was initially chosen as a part of last year’s competition where it eked out a narrow victory over Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Bottled in Bond. Of course when it competed last year, it had an age statement of 6 years old. This year, when it comes back to defend it’s crown against new competition, it is sporting no age statement. Can it become a two time winner even with that handicap?

Buckhorn is a Total Wine exclusive.* It is sold to them by the Clear Spring Distilling company, an assumed name that Sazerac uses to make house brands. It is 80 proof and carries no age statement so it is at least 4 years of age. I was leery about including it in the competition since you’ll need to be near a Total Wine to get one, but I’m going assume that if you substitute another NAS house brand made by Sazerac under the Clear Spring name, you might get fairly similar results.

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

Fighting Cock

Purchase Info: $14.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 51.5% ABV, No age statement

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Bubble gum, mint, cooked cereal

Mouth: Hot and grainy. Hints of caramel and a touch of oak underneath.

Finish: Hot and grainy with a lingering dried corn bitterness

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: “If this is the fighting Cock, it took a huge dip when it went NAS last year.”


Purchase Info: $12.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN*

Details: 40% ABV, No Age Statement

Produced by: Clear Spring Distilling Company (Sazerac)

Nose: Herbal. Brown sugar, mint and oak.

Mouth: it basically follows the nose. Herbal, brown sugar, mint and delicate oak notes.

Finish: Middling finish with a bit of heat but not much length. Lingering herbal notes.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: “Nothing offensive on this one, I’d take a glass if offered.”

Who wins?

The finish on Fighting Cock is better heat wise but falls way short on flavor. I’m not a fan of really grain forward finishes. In the mouth it’s the same. Fighting Cock is hot but Buckhorn is more flavorful in the ways I like my whiskey. If Buckhorn had some of Fighting Cock’s heat, this contest would be a no brainer. As it is, I’m leaning Buckhorn but could understand why others with different tastes would go the other way. But I’m the judge so it looks like we’ve just had the first upset in the history of the Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets because 4 seed Buckhorn just knocked off last year’s champ. 

Well a non-age stated version of last year's champ. Apparently after removing the age from the product, Heaven Hill was hoping that the high proof would cover the degradation of the aged flavors. They were wrong. Last year I advised not to add water to it as it minimized the oak and the heat and left you with just grain flavors. Now you can get that without adding water. It's too bad. This used to be a hidden gem as little as a year ago. 

*Not so exclusive. By a quirk of Minnesota law, liquor stores are prohibited from carrying exclusive products. This means many local stores buy the exclusives and then undercut Total Wine’s price. Which is nice since these products tend to have the highest markup at Total Wine. Everyone wins…well except the massive megaretailer. As an example, I bought this one at Ace Spirits. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!