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Bourbon Whisky Tasting and Ranking Results... also Bourbon & Coke taste ratings

Having a little extra time on my hands over the holidays I conducted an impromptu Bourbon Whisky tasting event this weekend. 12 popular and widely-available American bourbons were sampled. The tasting focused on the following characteristics: 1) Aroma 2) First taste impressions 3) Lingering aftertastes and 4) How suitable the bourbon was for making the perfect "bourbon and coke".

The glasses were labeled in a manner that made identifying the whiskies impossible until the tasting notes and rankings were in. Results follow in order from worst to best:

12th place: Jim Beam regular.Very faint or "no nose". A listeriney-taste. Poor.

11th place: Jim Beam Black 8 year old. Very faint nose. Extremely smooth mild taste, smoother than Jack Daniels Gentleman, but less taste.

10th place: Early Times. Pleasant medium nose. "Flattish" taste. Belongs in the softer category. Flavor just not as developed as Jack Daniels Black.

9th place: Jack Daniels Black. Faintly sweet nose. Fair amount of "burn", but unimpressive taste. Belongs in the "softer" category. Flavors not as impressive as Jack Daniels Gentleman.

8th place: Knob Creek. Fair if you have nothing else to drink. Just no compelling flavor. A "musty" flavor note was mentioned on several tastings. Pleasant nose.

The whiskies above (8 through 12) were judged just to mediocre to be very interesting.

7th place: Jack Daniels Single Barrel. Overall fairly good but the imposing "strong" flavor detracts somewhat. Somewhat "medicinal" nose and backnotes. The word "strong" appears several times in the notes. Flavor development is lacking.

The following 6 whiskies are all above a threshold where they can be recommended as overall quite impressive and pleasant products. Notes alongside these 5 read "all really great"... They are divided into 5 "bold" style, and 1 "smoother" style bourbons.

THE 5 TOP "Bold Style" BOURBONS in this tasting:

5th place: Old Charter 10 Year Old. Very pleasant sweet nose without overpowering alcohol notes. Simple, uncomplicated flavor. The lack of taste complexity has it towards the back of the "recommended" bourbons but otherwise quite impressive.

The 4 bold bourbons below were all noted as "sumptuous":

4th place: Wild Turkey 101. Sweet nose. Very lingering warming flavors. Was tasted blind after the Knob Creek and notes read "like it much more than previous". Head-to-head comparison notes continuous refer to "impressive taste".

The 3 bold bourbons below were all noted as "gorgeous"

3rd place: Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Pleasant sweet nose. The "best of the bold noses". Very diverse and intriguing tastes. Lingering. Head to head with other top bourbons the notes continuous read that this was the "boldest" of them all, but not necessarily the "best" nose or flavor.

The 2 bold bourbons below both have the notes "Flavor!!"

1st Place (tie): Makers Mark. First tasted blind right after JD Single Barrel. Notes read: "fainter nose than previous whisky". Lingering mellow flavors. Further notes read: "nice nose"... "delicious lingering aftertaste"... "lovely lingering soft taste"... "kind of a 'candy' flavor"...

1st Place (tie): W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7 Year Old. Appealing nose. "Interesting taste", "not as dramatic as Wild Turkey Rare Breed", "similarities to Old Charter 10 Year Old"... "plesant uncomplicated flavors"... performed well consistently head-to-head for "pleasantness" and "uncomplicated flavor".


From the tastings, about 4 of the whiskies exhibited distinctly "softer" aromas and flavors. Only one was strikingly impressive though... The following whisky was judged the best of this "softer class"

1st place (softer style): "Gentleman" Jack Daniels. Faint floral nose. "mildest yet". "very soft pleasant nose... mild". Sweeter nose and less "burny" than Jack Daniels Black. "More interesting" than Early Times.

*************** THE BEST BOURBON AND COKE *****************8
For those of us who love a great bourbon & coke, the Top Whiskys above were then tasted with an equal amount of Coca Cola regular and one ice cube. Tasting impressions follow:

1st Place: Makers Mark and Coke. "Sweet", "dramatic", "nice"... "the best"

2nd Place: W.L. Weller and Coke. Nearly as good as Makers. "nice rich flavor with coke.

3rd Place: Jack Daniels Gentleman and Coke. Soft. Less pronounced flavors with coke. Smooth. Not really recommended for a great bourbon and coke

4th Place: Wild Turkey Rare Breed and Coke. "Dramatic". "Shivvering". "So-So". "A bigger taste than Wild Turkey 101 and coke" "not as interesting a flavor combo as Makers and Coke". Not really recommended for a great bourbon and coke.

5th Place: Wild Turkey 101 and Coke. "Not as interesting as Makers Mark which has a delicious lingering aftertaste". Not recommended for a great B&C.

So there you have it. And I don't recommend doing this the evening before you need your mental faculties!

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  1. I agrre with the Makers. Not only is it the finest rep of bourbon but the price is right on for it. Look for Bulliet if you can find it.

    1. I do not mean this to be mean spirited. You talk of flavors but you do not name what the flavors were in the different whiskys. Could it be that the vanilla and caramel of the Coca Cola were the flavors you were tasting and it really does not matter what bourbon whisky you used? Maybe it just a matter of how high a proof you use and how fast you want to get there.

      2 Replies
      1. re: 1 wiener hound

        Somehow a reply to this was deleted...

        I do alot of wine tastings and find that listing all the specific flavor and aroma impressions get a bit tedious, and run the risk of describing the trees and not the forest.

        All the aroma and flavor comments here are meant to be overall impressions. I would say that the dominant scent and flavor of the most impressive whiskies was floral and caramel and a distinct absence of a medicinal/straight alcohol note.

        Also... all of the flavor comments PRIOR to the B&C tastings were straight whisky only. The only time coke was combined with the whisky was during the very final stage and all those impressions are recorded under the B&C tasting results.

        1. re: Chicago Mike

          Chicago Mike
          Thanks for the reply and excuse my purist upbringing. My uncle was even worse than I, his adage was why build a fire on a cold night and throw ice and water on it.
          1 wiener hound

      2. Very intersting post Chicago Mike. Just another example of the old "horses for courses" adage, or different strokes for different folks.

        I love Knob Creek and no one I've recommended it to hasn't loved it. On the other hand, I think Gentleman Jack is good for cleaning battery terminals. I do agree with you in re the Makers Mark. If you see Eagle Rare 10 y.o., snag it.

        I wish I had been at your tasting over Turkey Day instead of the mutant-fest that was my family gathering. Marshmallows of ANY size in stuffing can only fail. At many levels.



        3 Replies
        1. re: KOK

          Kev, it was an eye-opener for me too...

          I used to think I liked Beam Black and JD Black too... it was quite a surprise to turn the "loser" glasses over early in the tasting and find them there.

          Thanks for the Eagle Rare tip, haven't tried it in quite awhile so it will be in the next tasting flight.

          1. re: KOK

            "Marshmallows of ANY size in stuffing can only fail. At many levels."

            You have burned a priceless image into my mind. I am sorry that this experience consumed a day off work for you.

            1. re: KOK

              "Marshmallows of ANY size in stuffing can only fail. At many levels."

              QUOTE OF THE YEAR!!!!

            2. I might...a very qualified "might", mix a blended whiskey with Coca Cola. But a bourbon? No. I'm not an elitist but I was impressed, very long ago, to sip bourbon straight to enjoy how a specific distillry creates a unique taste. The concentration is on the action, sip.

              1. Jack Daniels isn't Bourbon, it's Tennessee whiskey.

                8 Replies
                1. re: JMF

                  While this is technically true, I find the differences to be minimal. In general I personally find the Tennessee whiskies to be a bit "drier" than their Kentucky counterparts, thats about it, and when mixed with coke they have quite a similar flavor to my palate.

                  When ordering a "house brand" I tell the bartender "bourbon and coke" as opposed to "whisky and coke".

                  Ordering a "whisky and coke" raises the question whether you're interested in Canadian whisky, some "blended" whisky, or a straight kentucky or tennessee whiskey.

                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                    Maybe I am a purist bourbon snob but I think that the taste is quite different, and less refined in JD vs alot of bourbon's. I think it has more rye and lacks some of the honey smoothness that bourbons aspire to. Especially Bourbon's like Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Jefferson Reserve, etc....

                    Also a little history about Maker's Mark - the Samuels family used to Make a bourbon called ... I think it was TW Samuels. It was pretty nasty swill, and they sold it to a big company back in the 50's (don't quote me on the dates) and William Samuels decided to start making a bourbon for his friends in the Lexington Horse crowd that would be "very drinkable". Because it takes several years for a bourbon to age, he decided that to try a few different recipes he would bake the ingredients into loaves of bread and choose the recipe that he liked best as a bread. The recipe he chose was devoid of rye and it ended up being one of the smoothest drinking bourbon's on the market.

                    If I am out and about and want a glass of bourbon with friends, I will get a Maker's on the rocks with a splash of water. If I want to sip a bourbon one on one and have one of those great "old friend" conversations, I tend to go with a more cerebral bourbon like Jefferson Reserve, Blanton's or even Knob Creek.

                    Thats my 2 cents

                    1. re: Chicago Mike

                      Geez -- I'd hoped the 'bread baking' story had long since passed into oblivion! It ain't so -- Bill Samuels Sr. got the recipe still used today to make Maker's Mark from Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, who used a wheated recipe to make his famed Old Fitzgerald bottlings from Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Sharing in the bourbon/distillery industry is a common and traditional practice. See Sally Van Winkle Campbell's (Pappy's granddaughter) "...But Always Fine Bourbon" for the story. Also, if you can corner Bill Samuels Jr. and ask him directly, he'll acknowledge the truth.
                      Maker's, at c. 6 years old, is overpriced by about $5 per bottle for what it is -- young whiskey. It's good young whiskey, but there are better values out there. But, they want to compete with Jack Daniel's (another young whiskey -- 4-6 years old when bottled) in the 'premium' category, so peg their price to JD.

                      For more than you ever thought you wanted to know about bourbon, go to:

                      1. re: TNbourbon

                        I know this is a very old post, but somehow I missed this retort.

                        Actually the bread story is true. I for a fact got the story from someone who knows the Samuel's family well and was one of the people responsible for developing the Maker's Mark Ambassador program. He also was involved in developing many of the marketing and advertising programs over the last decade or so. Fine, maybe it is marketing fiction, but it is the official line about the creation of Makers Mark.

                        Also, Sally Van Winkle Campbell's story is definitely tinged by jealousy - but I do admit that I haven't had Old Fitzgerald for a long long time, but I do have some fond memories of it.

                        1. re: centrejack

                          No, actually the bread-baking story is NOT TRUE -- at least as it relates to using a wheated recipe in Maker's Mark. If you get Bill Jr. in private and ask him the question directly, he'll acknowledge that fact. I've no doubt break-baking took place in the Samuels household -- it just didn't lead to any whiskey decisions.

                      2. re: Chicago Mike

                        If you can't tell the difference between Bourbon and Tennessee sour mash, then you're not qualified to rate Bourbon. And for crying out loud, if you are gonna put Coke in Rare Breed or Makers, then please don't let me catch you at the bar, or your gonna pay my tab if you wanna leave in one piece.

                        1. re: beanbagchickenwing

                          yeah, that's certainly something to fight about.
                          What's it to you, it's not your bourbon, jeez.

                    2. Definitely agree with Makers mark. Another to try is Whiskey River. It is Willie Nelson's signature Whiskey, and some of the smoothest available (esp. for the price of about $22) For those who like sipping on the rocks as opposed to mixing with coke, Blanton's is the way to go ( a bit pricey, but nice for the holidays!)

                      1. When I'm out, I always order Maker's Mark. I'm not a fan of Jim or Jack, and that's the typical house brand of the places I go. At home, I tend to keep Evan Williams on hand. Found out through someone else's taste test many years ago that it's a very pleasant bourbon for the price point.

                        1. There are some really great bourbon tasting links at the Bourbon Enthusiast below:

                          I waded through alot of their postings and find the following to be frequently mentioned for reasonably priced great 'everyday whiskey':

                          Evan Williams 1783
                          Ancient Ancient Age 10 year
                          Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond
                          Weller 12 year old
                          Weller Antique
                          Old Charter 12 year
                          Eagle Rare 10 year

                          I'm going to put some of these together and try them against the "benchmarks" of the tasting results of this thread: Makers Mark, WL Weller Special Reserve, and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

                          1. I love W.L. Weller Special Reserve. and talk about undervalued!!! I can get a 1.75 L for $ 21.99 !!! I live in Cordova, TN (Memphis) You should try the W. L. Weller 12 year old. A 5th is $19.99 - $24.99 here. It is slightly more mellow than the 7 yr. old with more, deeper flavors. Alc. % the same tho. It almost seeks "thicker" than most. It clings to the ice. Wonderful afternotes. I use ice and a little water (if I'm in a hurry)for a perfect drink.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ret103

                              I'm glad to hear someone speak about this WL Weller Special 7 year... what a sleeper that took 2nd in this tasting. I don't find it many places though.

                              BTW, do you find the 7 year old to be kind of straightforward without alot of extraneous complexity ? Just wondering how good my palate is for this.

                            2. If you want to taste & rank Bourbons, you shoud stick with Bourbon & not mix blended whiskey, wheat whiskey & rye whiskey into you tasting. They are not made the same, should not taste the same & it's not a true reflection of the facts. Any Jack (No.7, Gentleman or single barrell) is a Tennessee blended whiskey (not Bourbon), Old Charter is a rye whiskey (not Bourbon), WL Weller is a wheat whiskey (not Bourbon). Jim Beam, Early Times, Knob Creek, Wild Turkey & Makers Mark - are BOURBON. Remember bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskeys can be a bourbon.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: JCourt

                                I agree with your point to stick to bourbons, but something needs to be clarified:

                                As you point out, Jack Daniels is a Tennessee whiskey, a breed somewhat different (by law) from a bourbon. But, Old Charter IS a Bourbon, as is the Weller--Old Charter has a significant portion of rye in its mashbill, and Weller has a good deal of wheat, but both have a minimum of 51 percent corn in their mashbill, and are aged for a minimum of four years in new, charred-oak barrels. As defined by federal law, that makes both of them bourbons, along with Jim Beam, Makers Mark and the others.

                                To be a rye (again, as defined by federal statute), the whiskey must have a minimum of 51 percent rye in its mashbill--this is where Old Overholt, Van Winkle Family Reserve, Michter's, and other straight rye whiskies fall.

                                There is only one wheat whiskey on the market (meaning at least 51 percent wheat in the mashbill), and that's Bernheim. Bourbons such as Maker's Mark, Weller and Pappy Van Winkle all have a good deal of wheat in them, but they're still bourbons.

                                I agree with your point that if you're going to do a bourbon tasting, stick to bourbons and don't start bringing in the Tennessee whiskies and the ryes. Just make sure you know what a bourbon actually is.

                              2. Yes, if truth is told, the taste differentials are miniscule here.... The Bourbon Enthusiast boards routinely lump all these whiskies together in their tastings so I don't mind doing it either....

                                1. I honestly can't understand all the hubbub about Makers Mark, and I can't believe that Woodford Reserve was not included in this review. In my book, Woodford Reserve and Wellers 12-year old bourbons are the finest on the market for their price. I paid $29.00 for Woodford Reserve and $20.00 for Wellers 12-year old and found them to be far superior in their aroma and taste to Makers, Knob Creek, and Wild Turkey. Wild Turkey would be my 3rd choice if I had to make one. But Woodford and Wellers both have an exceptionally smooth, yet "firey" bite to my palate, and, to me, are virtually indistinguishable. The Woodford fire is a little longer, sweeter, and satisfying to my taste buds. For the price, I don't need anything better than Woodford or Wellers. Both are exceptional bourbons. They don't call them Kentucky "Straight" Bourbons for nothing. Mixing either of them with anything should be a punishable crime. (One more note: Jack Daniels is a Tennessee Whiskey, not a bourbon!!)

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: kjpargolf

                                    I was wondering when someone would mention Woodford Reserve. It's not just a great bourbon for the price, it's a great bourbon period. Your description kjpargolf is right on!

                                    DC ScotchChick

                                    1. re: dcscotchchick

                                      amen....the truth has been spoken, everyone take note. I too was (and still am to a degree) a makers mark follower, but I must say my latest go-to bourbon bottle is woodford reserve. Excellent, complex, smooth, yet strong enough that you can be sure its bad for ya!....I've received positive reactions from non-bourbon drinkers caught off guard by its great nose and finish....in my opinion, no true burboun tasting would be complete without woodford.

                                      1. re: uws griffin

                                        Maker's Mark is my crutch for places that dont have a liquor menu. I lose patience asking, having the server not know what kind of bourbon they carry, then having to get back to me. Youre pretty much guaranteed a place has Maker's.

                                        I agree though, uws griffin, that Woodford has been my go-to bourbon lately. However, that is only if Im at a place where they dont serve Basil Hayden. If you like Woodford, I strongly recommend Basil Hayden. At 80 proof, its got a very smooth flavor without sacrificing taste. Also more affordable at the liquor store.

                                        I have to say that the bourbons tasted in the Original Poster's message here were quite weak by my standards. Im not a fan of anything Wild Turkey really. The Rare Breed aint bad but I wouldnt choose it over even the most mainstream of bourbons like Maker's.

                                  2. I recommend you give Basil Hayden a try. Extremely smooth bourbon with a sweet, light, spice to it. Woodford is slightly similar with a more floral bouquet I feel, but still smooth. The prize of my collection at home is Pappy Van Winkle's 23yr. Blanton's is also another favorite and I just completed collecting all of the corks. Pretty cool. Others to look out for are Eagle Rare 10yr (17yr is incredible but also expensive), Corner Creek, and Rock Hill Farms. All can be found for around $29.99 on average and all are superb bourbons.

                                    Good to see other enthusiasts out there. I just got back from touring Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace (bourbon Mecca), and Woodford Reserve. I definitely recommend checking out Buffalo Trace if you really enjoy bourbon and want to learn more.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Blind Mind

                                      Read this thread and just had to post...

                                      Did the Makers Mark/Woodford Reserve/Heaven Hill tours last weekend. Plan on hitting the rest of the Bourbon Trail over the next couple of months. Makers Mark is still stating on their tour the bread story!

                                      Brought home a lot of small bottles of various bourbons to try.

                                      Makers Mark (our favorite) so far has beat out Basil Hayden, Wild Turkey, Woodford (another great bourbon) and Buffalo Trace.

                                      Still have bottles of Knob Creek, Bookers, Bulleit and Bakers to try....

                                      Will have to find some of the bourbons listed above to give them a try!

                                      1. re: Blind Mind

                                        Tell me about this Pappy Van Winkle's 23. I love Woodford for midrange and value, but Blanton's is my tried and true favorite. Also, I've been reading about a Bourbon called Bookers--quite powerful stuff from what a gather. Has anyone tried it? How does it stack up?

                                        1. re: cscott4313

                                          Bookers is one of few uncut/unfiltered/straight-from-the-barrel bourbons around. Weighing in at around 124 proof, it is indeed heavy on the alcohol. I usually dilute it with an ice cube or 2. I like Blanton's better.

                                          The PVW23 is a phenomenal bourbon and very flavorful. The aging mellows out the alcohol in the nose where notes of sweetness, wood, and a little nuttiness are displayed. The taste is a mix of vanilla and caramel at first then gives way to a nice spice and finishes with a smooth oak flavor that isn't dominant.

                                          In all honesty, as great as the 23yr is, the 20yr can be had for $120 at the most and offers a pretty similar experience. The 23yr price as suggested by Buffalo Trace where it is distilled nowadays is $225 but it's hard to find at that price. Cheapest I've seen in my area is $275 and most online are $350+

                                          1. re: Blind Mind

                                            would have to agree about the insignificant difference between the 20 & 23yr old Pappy van Winkle. I was given a bottle of the 23 yr old for the holidays and when the gift giver asked me how it compared to the 20 yr old I had to tell him I could not tell the difference. I can tell the difference between the 12 and 20 or 23 however. The 20 year old is my favorite bourbon although I have only tried around 18. I savor each pour because even the 20yr old is pricey.

                                      2. What about Elijah Craig. Any thoughts?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Dirty Lira

                                          My opinion of the 12 yo - not too sweet, fair amount of rye and citrus - I am fairly new to Bourbon, more of a Scotch fan, but this is one of the ones I have liked so far - along with Bulleit, Rare Breed and Woodford Reserve seasoned oak. .

                                          Also an excellent value at $18 on sale in NC this month.

                                          1. re: ncyankee101

                                            Are you sure you are talking about Elijah Craig 12yr? I find it to be on the sweeter side of bourbons with strong notes of vanilla, caramel, dried fruit, spices, and a touch of citrus. Definitely a great value bourbon, especially if you saw at $18. I've only seen as low as $25 in South Florida.

                                            1. re: Blind Mind

                                              I said it wasn't TOO sweet - would not call it nearly as sweet up front as some of the Bourbons/Whiskeys I have tried, such as Makers, Jim Beam Black, Wild Turkey 101 or Jack Daniels No 7. Not as spicy as Bulleit or a straight rye, kind of a happy medium.

                                        2. Evidently they didn't try Buffalo Trace. But then they actually ranked "The Best Bourbon and Coke"! How in the world could you even tell the difference if you had it with coke?! They don't call it Kentucky Straight Bourbon for nothing. Give Buffalo Trace a try. You won't be disappointed.