So, this past Sunday my Twitter feed filled up with people complaining about the format of a show that announced whether their favorite team of college basketball players did or didn't make the cut to play in a basketball tournament. It reminded me, among other things, that I'm not much of a college basketball fan. It just never caught my interest. But just because I don't have a passion for college basketball, does that mean I want to miss out on all that competitive March bracketing?
No. No, it does not.
And for the last four years, I've been getting my fill of competitive bracketing by finding inexpensive bourbons and pitting them against each other head-to-head to see if there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I mostly do this to have fun, but I also have a desire to find out if I can satisfy my inherent Midwestern frugalness and yet find an overlooked diamond in the rough.
But this is the fifth year of the Bottom-Shelf Brackets and I've been forced to shake things up a little bit. First, I've removed the word "Bourbon" from the name and opened the proceedings up to other forms of Straight American Whiskey. Second, I've been forced to redefine my definition of "Bottom-Shelf" to a slightly higher price point. Both of these have the same cause: I just couldn't find enough bourbons that met the price qualification that hadn't been in the tournament before. Even some of the previous winners have moved out of range.
The third thing is the most exciting for me though. I've included a couple more judges this year. Some of these people are complete novices. I did this mostly because one of my non-whiskey drinking friends asked if he could be a part of it and I thought it might be fun to get outside perspectives on the results.
Now that the changes are out of the way, just what are these qualifications that I spoke of earlier?
- It must be straight American Whiskey, and it must be labeled as such. Too many brands are getting rid of this very basic statement of quality and I refuse to reward that. This means that Jack Daniel's Black label would not qualify for the tournament, but that Jim Beam White label would.
- It has to sell for 2.4 cents per milliliter or less. Now, this might seem like a weird arbitrary number, but it works out to $18 per 750, $24 per liter or (in true bottom shelf fashion) $40 for a 1.75 L handle. And yes, I know that the math is wrong on that last one, but since you normally get a price break by buying in that large of quantity, I worked that into the equation. I raised it from $15, $20 and $35 this year, which had been the price since the initial year. In that time, just following the inflation rate would get us to over $21 for a liter so I decided to future proof a little.
- The final guideline is that it must have never been in the tournament before. It would get pretty boring to see if I liked the same whiskeys year after year.
After I purchased the whiskeys here are the rules I used to seed them.
- Stated (or assumed) age. Straight whiskey has to be at least two years old. But unless it is under four years old, you don’t have to put an age on it. So if someone does, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I like to reward good things and punish bad things.
- Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.
So who are the contestants? The top six seeds were all non-age stated, and so I am assuming the 4-year minimum on them. The two number one seed in each of the divisions are Old Grand-Dad Bonded and Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond, both at 100° proof. Behind them at 90° proof is a Straight Corn Whiskey from Hirsch Selections. I found this one on sale, so it is a bit of a cheat but also figured that sale prices count when the entire point is to be frugal. A pair of 86 proofers come next. Old Forester 86° proof is the second number two seed while the Barton produced, Total Wine exclusive, Two Stars nabs the first number three seed. The final number three seed is 80° proof Four Roses Yellow Label. After that, we get to a pair of ryes that clock in at under four years old. Old Overholt is three years old and gets the first number four seed with two-year-old Ezra Brooks Rye nabbing the final spot.
There are a lot of interesting matchups this year with multiple styles and multiple price points going head-to-head. I think this one is going to be a lot of fun.
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