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Bourbon tasting

My friends and I got our passports stamped to have a boys weekend at my friends cabin. I was thinking about having a bourbon tasting while we suck on some stogies. I have the following bourbons on hand:
Makers Mark
Elija Craig 12 year
Wild Turkey - Rare Bread
Eagle Rare - single barrel

I was thinking about picking up two more bottles. Any suggestions and tasting notes?

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  1. Blanton's
    Woodford Reserve
    Booker Noe
    Knob Creek

    Your list is good, but we consider the above four much better. The flavors are each different, and you must decide which you like. DH drinks with good grade ice. I drink neat with water on the side. Which means we are drinking different flavors out of the same bottle.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Janet

      If you're going to buy Booker's then I'd skip the Knob Creek. They are both made from essentially the same recipe by the same people in the same place. Booker's is the more authentic, straight from the barrel version. Jim Beam makes them. They also make Basil Hayden's and Bakers, which have more variety in the recipes, either one of those would be a better choice than Knob Creek if you want to experience a spectrum.

      1. re: sgwood415

        While I agree with your conclusion I disagree with your reasoning. Bookers and Knob Creek taste entirely different.

        1. re: jpschust

          Yes, I didn't really say they taste the same. I mean they are closely related and it's more interesting to try a wider variety. But that's just my opinion for sure. I think Knob Creek is good, but the others offer more interesting tastes to me.

      2. re: Janet

        Black Maple Hill
        Jim Beam Black
        JTS Brown
        Maker's Mark

        I either sip 'em slowly out of a stemless fat Riedel crystal goblet or on the rocks with assistance from a tipping jigger to cool down the spirits.

      3. I would add Bulliet to the above (scratch Woodford and put a question mark next to Knob Creek). I highly recommend Bookers as well.

        How nice are you looking to go? A good bottle of bourbon will last you awhile, so it's an investment--you can get something fairly good for $10-25 more than those you list. As much as I like an occasional shot of Wild Turkey or Makers, you can get those any time. You're on vacation--treat yourself to something special.

        1. I'd include Evan Williams Single Barrel. And I've been drinking rye a lot lately- I like Old Overholt (and it's cheap). The younger Sazerac rye has an odd grassy aroma to me. Also recently finished the dregs of a handle of the bonded Old Forester that I've had for many years and had forgotten how much I like it. Their boutique attempt with the "Birthday Bourbon" wasn't worth it to me, though.

          And I'll contribute to the Booker's chorus. Need to find some excuse to travel to the Caribbean to get it for $20 a bottle again.

          4 Replies
          1. re: ted

            I would go for the Evan Williams. Old Overholt is something ebst used as nail polish remover or mixed with a bunch of stuff to hide the flavor. A good rye would be a Van Winkle.

            1. re: Captain

              Wow, I respectfully beg to differ. Of the ryes I've had in the past year, including Beam, Wild Turkey, and the younger Sazerac, the Old Overholt holds its own very well. I've yet to grab a Van Winkle, mainly b/c I'm uncertain which to buy, and then they're relatively expensive (cheapest, as far as I can tell, is at least 2X the price of Overholt).

              Describing it as "nail polish remover" is a bit hyperbolic. Is it a good, cheap mixer? Yes. But I also have enjoyed it straight up on the rocks? I'll reserve my nail polish remover/rubbing alcohol comments for stuff where that's accurate.

            2. re: ted

              I am an Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage fan. Lovely vanilla nose. Made a batch of bourbon balls with it today, see Home Cooking for the recipe. Just waiting for them to age a bit but they are favorites at Cchristmas.

              1. re: Candy

                I was pretty psyched to find a '94 bottling lurking in a liquor store in FL over the holiday. Always interesting to try a couple of years side by side.

            3. Sounds like a great tasting. If you can get George T. Stagg, add it and have people drink it last; it's a powerhouse. If you want to get creative, I would throw in a rye whiskey: Sazerac Rye or Old Potrero are good picks. If you're looking for cheaper, I also agree that Woodford Reserve is a good pick.

              Personally, I don't like the Jim Beam small batch collection (Knob Creek, Bookers, Basil Haden, Bakers ) that much, but many swear by them.

              I've heard great things about Black Maple Hill but haven't tried it yet...I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sku

                Uhh, a little late to the thread, and a dollar short as well. I'm just here to talk about Black Maple Hill -- I just drank a bottle of the fourteen-year, and I gotta say: I didn't offer any to friends or visitors; I didn't swill it down fast; I didn't consider making a Manhattan; I poured two fingers over a single ice cube, sat on the couch by myself, turned off the TV and the stereo, and...well, you get the picture. No, I don't work for them.

              2. I have both Woodford and Knob Creek in my liquor cabinet. I smoke stogies and have glass fairly often.

                If you're not married to bourbon, I'd suggest a bottle of Gentleman Jack (Still whiskey). It's perfect with cigars. It's got a much better flavour as well.


                1. I really, really like Woodfords and Blantons.

                  If you want something different, try Pogue which has a coconut/caramel tone to it or Buffalo Trace which has a hint of a mint taste, both are very good and show how drastically good bourbons can differ. Also both go well with my favv cigar, the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos line, of which the best is the double robusto.

                  I feel Bulliet is sometimes a bit rough and hars,h almost like a sour mash such as Jack Daniels (which I dislike) but it has an interesting flavor and opens up well with a splash of water.

                  The Evan Williams Single barrel can be excellent, but each batch has different tastes and tones, just like with any single barrel or small batch vs. a blend.

                  I agree with everything sku says 100%.

                  I always try a new spirit that I haven't heard about before, especially if they are inexpensive. Many times I have found a great spirit and stashed away a few bottles and then the price has doubles or more. I had this happen with several gins such as Tanqueray Mallaca where I got a case for $8 per 1 Liter bottle and Plymouth gin for $15 per bottle. Then the Plymouth doubled in price and the Mallaca is now unavailable and bars that have any left are selling it for $15 a glass.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: JMF

                    Thanks for the suggestions. After doing a little research I thought it would be fun to have two small batch bourbons, two single barrel bourbons, and two barrel proof bourbons. Thus, I'm looking for a good barrel proof and a good single barrel. Does this change anyones recomendations?

                    1. re: Atticus Fresh

                      The most incredible Van Winkle product I have had is the Family Reserve Rye. I think Rye could be a category to itself for you. On the less expensive side, Rittenhouse Rye is a revelation. I think it has some distribution outside Kentucky. I have the Rittenhouse straight rye, best $10 bottle of booze I have ever had, I'll definitely stock up next time I'm in Kentucky since it's not sold in California. It's not complex, it's just yummy. For about $15/bottle they have Bottled-In-Bond Rye which won Whiskey of the year in SF this year--I haven't tried it yet.

                      Single Barrel, Four Roses is a straight-up delight. Nothing stands out so much as it's bourbon-ness. Unfortunately, it's not distributed outside Kentucky yet. Bulleit is also distilled by Four Roses, and is a good example of their craft.

                      Another Single Barrel that I really like is Rowan's Creek. Very smooth for a Single Barrel, almost the anti-George T. Stagg. If you include Stagg, which is not a bad idea, just remember to be open to adding as much as water to individual taste as necessary to reduce the heat since it is not watered down to get to a reasonable proof--much like Baker's (or Booker's--one of the Jim Beam brands).

                      1. re: j_b

                        The Van Winkle 15 yr. Family Reserve is amazing, and the 20 yr. will blow you away with its oakiness.

                  2. My current faves are Noah's Mill + Thetford. Both have nice body and great round mouthfeel.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MOREKASHA

                      I love Noah's Mill too! It is almost armagnac-like!

                    2. I liked Eagle Rare single barrel but it didn't have enough meat to it for me. I've currently got a bottle of 1792 and it's got a broader mouth feel, but still lacking in the structure I like in Basil Hayden or Buffalo Trace.

                      I've also got a bottle of Jim Beam black label, aged 7yrs. Remember when you were a kid and would use a magnifying glass to burn your name into a piece of wood? Imagine that someone has burned the word, "bourbon" on a large piece of wood, and that you are then thudded in the back of the head with that piece of wood. That's roughly how the Jim Beam black label tastes.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: joypirate

                        Fantastic description of the Jim Beam Black. Considering the blandness of Jim Beam White, and the overkill of the Jim Beam small batch brands, the Jim Beam Black is a great product that should be a good bridge to the good stuff from the Wild Turkey crowd. The Eagle Rare is growing on me, I think if I'm in a better mood it tastes better.

                      2. Knob Creek remains my favorite "all around" bourbon. It is pretty widely available and i really enjoy the buttery finish it has. The other Evan Williams small batches kind of leave me flat. Bulliet is sort of a blunt object but not without merit. Sazerac is great , if you like rye. I have been using Bulliet and Knob Creek in Bourbon Presses at my bar. They are 1 and 1/2 shots of bourbon, fresh lemonade and 1/2 shot of good peach liquor like Marie Brizzard or other (non-Bols) stuff. Serve over ice, the patrons love it. Between Woodfords and Blantons i would take Blantons, has some of the charateristics of Knob Creek in the smoky, rich finish.

                        George Dickel White label is an underrated gem.

                        1. pappy van winkle 15 year old family reserve. evan williams single barrel.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: beer786

                            Gotta agree w/ you on Pappy. Pricey, but good. I also like Rock Hill Farms.

                            1. re: ricepad

                              15 yr old Rip Van Winkle is an incredible bourbon for it's price, I agree.

                              For a truly transcendant experience, treat yourself to a bottle of the 20 yr old Pappy's Family Reserve.

                          2. who makes rock hill farms, i have never seen it? i have also heard of but never seen buffalo trace in person. how do they taste

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: beer786

                              Somehow I missed your question...Rock Hill Farms comes out of Buffalo Trace Distillery, which also produces the Elmer T. Lee line, and Eagle Rare.

                            2. Buffalo Trace has hints of vanilla and molasses, with an overall essence of mint. Very unusual and good.

                              1. You can buy buffalo Trace at meijer it costs a little under $17 I really enjoy bookers and woddford reserve. Basil Hayden tastes almost watered down to me but that might be because the last botle I baught was bookers

                                1. My husband and I hosted a bourbon tasting with the following bourbons, picked for variety and quality. We did it blind:

                                  ~Blantons--single barrel(the most well-liked)
                                  ~Pappy's Family Reserve(15 or 20 year)(amazing)
                                  ~George T. Stagg--small batch. (aka in our group as firewater)
                                  ~Jim Beam (the "household" pick)
                                  ~Black Maple Hill (single barrel)

                                  Bakers, Bookers, and Basil Hayden are also good ones.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cherie

                                    Wow, that is quite a tasting! Do you have any tasting notes or other info. to share? You say Blanton's was the most well liked, how did the others stack up?

                                    1. re: sku

                                      Blantons was definitely the crowd pleaser--balanced and creamy.

                                      Pappy's 20 year is amazing, and the one those most adept in bourbon picked as their favorite. Smooth, caramel and vanilla.

                                      Only one person picked the Jim Beam, and he's strictly a scotch drinker. His second favorite was Blantons.

                                      The George T. Stagg was wayyyy too harsh for everyone, at 131.8 proof. We picked it for variety. Must put water in that one.

                                      I don't remember where the Black Maple Hill fell...except that it was a 21 year limited edition, and I remember thinking it was chocolately.

                                      For this tasting, we supplied the bourbon, bbq ribs, and a chocolate chunk tray, and everyone else brought a dish to compliment as well as some Champagne and beer for some of those not interested in the bourbon. We ended up with ribs, chocolate, smoked salmon, bacon-wrapped scallops, cocktail weenies, baked beans, stuffed cabage, cheeses and breads, salad, and fruit tarts.

                                      The way we conducted the blind tasting was as follows. We poured the generous tastes in short glasses--all five next to each other for each participant. They were marked with little animal stickers I happened to have (cat, pig, rabbit, etc.), which corresponded with the bourbons. We tasted them together, went back to the others, compared, guessed...and nothing got mixed up since the stickers were on the glasses. We had the bottles on the table, but the Jim Beam was in a paper bag as the "mystery bottle" because we wanted to see how this mainstream bourbon stacked up to the otheres. Then we looked at the answer key as well at as some info and tasting notes I had pulled from the web in advance. It was really fun and the little stickers added kind of a fun, silly quality as we all compared the "cat" to the "pig", etc...

                                  2. I am really excited to work my way through each of the bourbons mentioned here.

                                    However I must relate my experience tonight. There is a bar in NYC called Angel's Share, a Japanese bar, where cocktails are made with precision and accuracy. Therefore I chose this bar to try a Sazerac made with Old Overholt, outstanding. But wanting something drier, I ordered a perfect Manhattan with a twist, made with Woodford Reserve. The experience was nothing short of sublime, absolutely the most perfect (in both senses) Manhattan I have ever had. I hadn't tasted Woodford Reserve before, I don't know how different it is from Knob Creek, my more ususal bourbon, but my guess is it's a bit drier...however the perfection in the aroma and flavor might have also been due to some top-notch vermouth in play, I don't know what they used...and the undeniable mastery of the craft professed in this tiny East Village bar. The gold standard has been set.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: kenito799

                                      I am so envious. I've heard about Angel's Share forever from a good buddy of mine. He described it as "the ultimate Zen cocktail experience." The last time I was in NYC, which is way too long ago now, we couldn't get a seat and, therefore, couldn't stay to experience it. We did, however, spend time at a nearby sake bar and dba, which almost made up for missing Angel's Share.

                                      1. re: ted

                                        it's worth the wait...try it early on a weeknight. Also a great bar for conversation, not too loud, and now that there is no smoking it's perfect. The narrow, ornate back room always feels to me like you're on a train (the Orient Express?)

                                    2. A bit late in the post, but if you can find Whiskey River (Willie Nelson's bourbon) at you local liquor store (it might be only available in the south) I highly recommend it. Very smooth, and easy on the wallet. -about 23$ a bottle. I am a maker's Mark drinker, and Whiskey River has become my new favorite.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: bethd127

                                        There are a lot of bourbons in that price range that are excellent as well. Try Elmer T. Lee if you can get your hands on it.

                                        1. re: bethd127

                                          I've seen it in the Pennsylvania state stores. I grabbed a bottle. I also liked it, not the best, but very satisfying, and I think I paid $19.99 or so. I was skeptical of a 'celebrity' bourbon though perhaps Willie transcends such things.

                                        2. My faves are Maker's Mark (lower end) Knob Creek (next in line) then

                                          Woodford Reserve
                                          Jefferson Reserve - is my new favorite, I haven't seen it outside of my trips to Kentucky.

                                          I am not as fond of Evan Williams (any variety) or Booker's

                                          10 Replies
                                          1. re: centrejack

                                            I have bean wondering why does everyone enjoy wodford reserve so much it is ok but I would rate it with Maker's Mark. My favorite is buffalo Trace. If I have the money a good bottle of bookers is always a nice treat

                                            1. re: seanroge

                                              I like Woodford Reserve. I've only just begun exploring the better bourbons, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if I found many that I like more, but at $25'ish at BevMo, Woodford seems a good value to me. Much preferable to Maker's, certainly.

                                              I recently bought a bottle of Eagle Rare 10 and have been enjoying it too, but honestly I was expecting something "more" - I don't know that it's remarkably different than Woodford's, although I haven't tasted them side-by-side.

                                              On that note, I will be going to my local fine hootcherie today to pick up my single malt club bottle. Since I'll be there anyways, of the list at:

                                              can anyone recommend a bourbon that's under $40, and remarkable? Can't spring for Booker's on this visit, as the scotch club puts a bit of the old pinch on the wallet.


                                              1. re: adampaul

                                                There's a thread on here of a 12-bottle blind tasting we recently did. Tasted totally blind, tied for first place were Maker's Mark and W.L. Weller Special Reserve (7year old). In 3rd place was Wild Turkey Rare Breed. All very exceptional. Maker's is a more complex flavor and aroma, Weller more singular but very nice, and Wild Breed is just heavy on the caramel, floral notes, and overall quite dramatic.

                                                1. re: adampaul

                                                  Second the Buffalo Trace recommendation, but it may be just because I have to leave the state to find it. And with Booker's being cask strength, it's like you're getting 1.5 bottles, which might ease the pain in your wallet. Saw it today at Costco for $43.

                                                  Of the D&M selection, nothing jumps out at me. Maybe you should trek to BevMo or somewhere else. And, dang, those San Fran prices are steep.

                                                  1. re: ted

                                                    Yeah, D&M is a mom-and-pop place, specializing in unusual single malts, brandies and champagne. Probably not the best place to be looking for bargains on bourbon, so I'll defer that until my next BevMo run.

                                                    The 1976 Longmorn speyside I picked up last time I was at D&M is _amazing_ however :)

                                                  2. re: adampaul

                                                    WL Weller Special Reserve (7-year) has been my house bourbon at $16. It may be replaced by Bulleit at $22. For something more remarkable, consider Old Pogue (some love it, some hate it) or Elmer T. Lee. If you are lucky and live in a state that sells Rittenhouse Rye, they have the best whiskey for the price, and Rye is a good complement to Bourbon in your cabinet.

                                                    1. re: j_b

                                                      Thanks for the tips - I'll keep an eye out for those next time I'm at BevMo.

                                                      I'm a rye newbie, but have been enjoying Mitchner's Rye of late. Better than Jim Beam Rye, the only other rye I've had.

                                                      They're in a whole different price range, but is anyone familiar with Anchor's spirits? They have both a bourbon & a rye for around $60 (ouch). I do like to support the local folk, and generally love everything else Anchor does (besides beer, their Junipero gin is lovely, and unlike their whiskeys, reasonable), but at that price, it would be nice to hear some opinions before splurging.

                                                      1. re: adampaul

                                                        Anchor's spirits as a whole are incredible- they still use old school techniques and make wonderful bourbon. I highly suggest trying it. $60.00 isn't unreasonable for microdistilled bourbon.

                                                        1. re: adampaul

                                                          Not a lot of Rye at BevMo in CA. I think they have Black Maple Hill 20+ year, which is expensive and tastes like it. The Rittenhouse was an impulse purchase at the Bourbon Festival because it was $10--and I had only had expensive Rye to that point. When I got it home and opened it, I was blown away. I'm definitely bringing bottles of that back when I visit family in KY for x-mas.

                                                          My favorite Rye so far is Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, there is only one source in CA -- http://www.hitimewine.net/. Maybe if they get enough requests, they will get two cases next year!

                                                    2. re: seanroge

                                                      Agree completly WRT Woodford Reserve. I always thought it tasted like paint thinner, and I rate Maker's Mark far more highly than WR.

                                                  3. For those of us who drink too much, the Jim Beam white is just about right.

                                                    1. Just tried Elmer T Lee last night. Wow. That's good stuff. Lots of sweet corn and direct depth. Not very woody, which actually I think it could use, just to make it a 'taste it in every corner of your mouth' sort of bourbon, which I like. I'm excited to have more of this bottle ($23.99 in Pennsylvania stores).

                                                      1. Pappy VanW. 20 y/o is my favorite, and I like Blanton's, Rock Hill Farm, Woodford and Booker's as well. I've not tried the Black Hill Farm, but will be on the lookout. When out in a bar that doesn't have premiums, I'll go for Maker's.

                                                        1. After being a Blanton's fan for some time now, I have recently switched to my new favorite, Four Roses single barrel. It's smooth and wonderful. We have so many good distilleries here in Kentucky that it's sometimes tough to pick even just a few. I would suggest:
                                                          Four Roses single barrel
                                                          Elmer T. Lee
                                                          Maker Mark (my husband's favorite but, dreadfully, he drinks it with Pepsi - yikes!)
                                                          Woodford Reserve
                                                          Also, be sure to have small pieces of ice available for your tasting party. Bourbon will take on a very different flavor when chilled. Serve each selection neat in shot glasses, take a sip at room temp, and then taste them again chilled after dropping in a small chip of ice. The ice brings out extra flavors - very nice.