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Dec 29, 2009 11:55 AM

Buffalo Trace Bourbon Overblown

Well, tried another of the nouveau old-timey American whiskeys, Buffalo Trace. Distillery has been around forever, but this bottling born out of whole cloth in 1999.

Like many of these new bottlings I find it overblown, over-flavored, over-oaked and too, too sweet.

I feel if you had served someone a bottle of this, like the Rittenhouse 100 Rye I tried recently, in an old west saloon (that they are trying so desperately to emulate with these faux-old-timey overdone bottlings) they would have whacked you on the head for trying to serve them sasparilla or some such other confounded sweet girlie drink.

Booze should taste like booze, not caramel, not too much like a barrel, perhaps a little taste of the grain used to make it, and booze, did I mention booze.

On that note I will return to my Jim Beam white label, my Wild Turkey, my Old Overholt, etc.

Been meaning to track down some of the Wild Turkey Rye, but it is a bit hard to find in Boston...

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  1. The bigger Kappy's stores have Wild Turkey Rye, but I doubt you're going to like it. Loads of flavor. Might I suggest a bottle of Romanoff vodka? Cheap and tastes like alcohol with no sweetness--booze, plain and simple!

    4 Replies
    1. re: davis_sq_pro

      One of my all around favorite whiskeys is actually Lagavullin, somehow that has a flavor that really holds together even if it is a monster and these days an expensive one at that. But I find I only want a few small sips on a cold winter day, more then that is just too much to chew on.

      My preference is not about cost. I probably have at least dozen whiskeys at home right now at various price points from reasonable to very pricey. I just tend to prefer the leaner ones these days. I don't object to flavor in whiskey, but I do feel that all of the new old-timey whiskeys essentially taste the same: big, sweet, messy, over-oaked catering to the same taste that wants monster cabernets but wouldn't know a subtle Burgundy if it whispered in your ear.

      Don't mistake lean for flavorless. I am overdue for a retasting of George Dickel, another old school whiskey that does not scream in your palate.

      Oh, and don't mistake pricey for good, certainly the explosion of super-premium mostly crappy tequilas that any self respecting Mexican would just laugh at is evidence of that. The new old-timey whiskeys are really quite the same. I can just see the conversation at the distillery: "hey bob, can you get it any sweeter and can you get a bit more barrel in there to boot?" As the distiller himself sips on his basic bottling. "The trendy set up North just love the barrel."

      If you want something with some real character and flavor that won't flatten your palate, try some of the products from Tuthilltown Distillery in New York State. Not so easy to find in MA, but lean, flavorful, and genuinely old style whiskeys.

      Just to educate you a bit further, in the comments section of this thread folks are talking about leaner smoother traditional styles like Pikesville and the Tuthilltown products.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Trendy northerners, or--more likely--different styles for different tastes?

        Pikesville is, FYI, made by the same distillery that puts out Rittenhouse. Check out the Heaven Hill web site sometime; the two whiskeys are clearly labeled as being different styles of rye (Maryland vs Pennsylvania, respectively). I suspect that both styles would have been perfectly acceptable before prohibition. Just like today, different people had different preferences.

        I don't expect every product to taste the same and if it did, life would be pretty boring. It's quite a feat that Heaven Hill has managed to produce such a wide range of products, appealing to a wide range of tastes and consumer preferences.

        By the way, Buffalo Trace has a similar range in its products. Blanton's and the eponymous bourbon are both on the lighter and drier end of its spectrum, with other products like Eagle Rare and Sazerac on the heavier and sweeter end.

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          One small comment, though Pikesville is made by a big distillery now, it is made from the original, leaner, in my mind more balanced, old school recipe.

          I obviously disagree that the big, sweet, woody whiskeys of the nouveau-old-timey brands would have found favor in the old days. None of the holdover brands that have actually existed continuously (though some changed distillers but not recipes) have that "punch you in the palate" style.

          If you like your whiskey on steroids, as many seem to, à chacun son goût.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            I don't believe that to be true of Pikesville. As far as I know, Heaven Hill has only one mash bill for rye whiskey. Pikesville and Rittenhouse are, therefore, made from the same recipe. That doesn't mean they taste exactly the same. The differences would be in things like ageing, barrel placement and just general taste. The distillery likely samples different barrels to determine which will go into Pikesville and which to Rittenhouse, but they aren't all that different. Both are quite subtle and balanced ryes.

            Different strokes for different folks. I love BT especially because it has a good rye kick to it, whereas I really don't care for much of anything made by Beam (including Overholt) as I think they are lacking in distinctive flavors. I like both Pikesville and Rittenhouse, though not as much as the BT ryes (Sazerac and Handy).

    2. Have you tried the George T Stagg or Sazerac made by Buffalo Trace?

      I think both are very good offerings.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Scott M

        I just finished a bottle of George T Stagg 15 year old, uncut unfilitered. Probably the best bourbon I have ever tasted. Great flavor and 142 proof to boot. Limited release in Fall each year. Worth every penny of the $65

      2. Striper, but I have to disagree with you. In the 1800's whiskey, mostly rye was available, had an enormously large flavor profile because of how it was distilled in pot stills. The lighter and less sweet whiskeys are the fault of Prohibition and that distillers lost a lot of knowledge and skill, and that folks lost their taste for the old style of spirits. Bourbon and whiskey as we know it as a style, only dates back to the 1950's. It is only in the past few years that whiskey is approaching the quality and style of what it was like in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

        14 Replies
        1. re: JMF

          Sounds similar to the Prohibition effect on beer. I think the only one that I like somewhat less than I did when it first came out is Knob Creek, which tasted overdone after not having it for several years. Most of the ones Striper prefers come across as thin and hot to me these days- cranked out with the minimum of aging to get the product to market.

          1. re: JMF

            Totally disagree.

            Most of the "flavor" in buffalo trace and the like is not from the distillation, but the aging after the fact.

            Pot still or otherwise all that sugar would not make it through a distillation.

            Prior to prohibition most Rye was not laid down in barrels to age for 5-10 year. It was distilled and drunk.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              StriperGuy, what's your source for that information, and what year are you referring to with that claim? According to Charles Cowdery ("Bourbon, Straight") bourbon aging was quite common as of the late 1800s (and perhaps earlier, but he doesn't state exact timelines on that topic). One can assume that the same was true for rye--unless you have a reference that says otherwise?

              Further reading of both Cowdery and William Grimes ("Straight Up or On the Rocks") indicates that the magical 1800s were not a good time to be drinking whiskey. Both authors mention that before the advent of bottles (early 1900s) the product was regularly adulterated with various chemicals, ranging from tobacco to sulfuric acid. So I'm not sure that seeking the "old west" flavor profile is going to yield very satisfactory results in any case.

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                I am sure that some small amount of whiskey was in fact treated with love and care, well-distilled, well-aged, consumed by gentlemen sipping whiskey on their verandas, front porches, in their barns, or even in their smoking rooms. That said, I can't imagine these fine spirits were as overdone, overoaked, overly sweet as Buffalo Trace and the other trendoid stuff is these days.

                I would like to think it was more like a smooth, well aged Cognac; Delmain Vespers comes to mind.

                Heck a home-brewed herbal liqueur that I was privileged to taste in Spain a LONG time ago, subtle, complex delicate and wonderful comes to mind.

                Per your very well researched quote DSP this whole idea that that in some old timey saloon you could wander in and get a snort of the good stuff is mostly wishful nostalgic thinking.

                I just don't think most of the new-old-fangled American whiskeys are very good. They are overblown, don't have the balance of a good single malt, good Irish whiskey, good cognac, or eau-de-vie. They are un-subtle and show-offy like most of the folks who buy them.

                Heck, on this very board I've heard folks talk about their grandfather's home-distilled spirits that were really world class. On a thread I posted on someone talked about their grandfather's home made whiskey and blackberry brandy. Let's find one of those grandpappys who has made the good stuff and give em a snort of that Buffalo Trace. My money says he spits out that fru fru unsubtle booze that tastes more like Sasparilla then whiskey.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Barrel aging started to play a big role starting in the early to mid 1800's, especially starting around 1835. By 1850 most spirits in the US were barrel aged to some extent, and all were aged by the 1870's. Barrels were bought and aged by middlemen, distributors, and shop owners who prided themselves on their whiskey and brandy.

                2. re: davis_sq_pro

                  DSP, I agree with you, and have had many discussions with Chuck in person at distilling conferences, and on the artisanal distillers discussion board which I am adminstrator for. Only thing to add is that the 'adulteration' took place more in the 'wild west' than it did in the east coast and mid-west. from Kentucky eastward the whiskey tended to be teated well and respected. not always, there were always crooks everywhere. but most folks knew who they bought from and developed a relationship with their spirits wholesaler.

                3. re: StriperGuy

                  Striper, I guess we have to agree to disagree. But I speak from my experience both as an expert on historical distilling and present day artisanal distilling. I am a consultant to the American Distilling Institute, and a Distiller myself. As for the bulk of flavor coming from the barrel, that is untrue. The barrel gives character and flavor, but I have a bottle of Buffalo Trace White Dog right here in my hand and it has tons of flavor.

                  1. re: JMF

                    I have a bottle of Tuthilltown distillery Corn whiskey at home myself. Lots of delicate wonderful grain flavor (flowers, fresh corn, new mown grass) that would be obliterated by a barrel.

                    With regard to adulteration of food products I suggest you read "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair before stating that whiskey adulteration happened predominantly in the old West. If they were adulterating MILK fed to babies on a massive scale in Chicago and New York I have a very hard time believing that the whiskey was pristine.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Sure whiskey and other product adulteration happened. But people who wanted quality could get quality easily enough. Folks developed relationships with distributors/middlemen to buy their spirits. If you got your jug filled from a barrel in dive bar, then you got crap. In general I have noticed that you are painting the whole spirits scene with a very wide brush, and it's discolored with your own prejudices.

                    2. re: JMF

                      Somewhat off-topic for this thread, JMF, but how is the aged peach brandy coming along? (And somewhat on-topic, because I'm asking about an aged pre-prohibition style liquor.)

                      After cracking "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" I immediately headed over to your web site to buy some, only to discover that I couldn't buy any... Still waiting, and not very patiently at this point.

                      1. re: davis_sq_pro

                        I closed down my distillery in Maine due to partner issues, they decided they wanted all the benefits without doing any of the work. I am going to be making the peach brandy with the help of a friends distillery, and opening my own distillery in NY. I currently have around 150,000 peaches pureed and in deep freeze storage right now, waiting to be processed. I sure as hell want it to happen soon, I'm paying massive storage fees for the ingredients and my distilling equipment. I'm also working on prototypes of bitters and syrups for production to start in the spring.

                        1. re: JMF

                          Ah that's too bad about the original partnership dissolving, but great news that you're still planning to move forward. Please keep us apprised of the progress as you get the project going. How long does the brandy need to age? And, if you don't mind sharing some insight into the process, what kind of barrels will you use?

                          1. re: davis_sq_pro

                            Traditionally, as of the late 1800's charred barrels were used. I will do prototypes in both new charred and new toasted barrels to see which character I like better. But from prototypes of pear and apple brandies I like the unique character that new charred barrels lend to the product.

                            I will be using small, five gallon barrels to start and with a apx. 3 month aging. This is about the same as 4-5 years in a traditional 53 gallon whiskey barrel.

                          2. re: JMF

                            Very cool. Would love to try your product when it is available.

                            I started making my own bitters earlier this year. The first batch was a bit unbalanced, but I am learning. Made my own spiced/whiskey cocktail cherries earlier this year and they were amazing. Can't wait till cherry season this spring to make an even bigger batch.

                            Personally I am a business person. I don't say that everyone sold junk whiskey way back when. But my guess is that the average Joe on the street was not served good booze.

                            You really should read "The Jungle" if you are in the food beverage business, it was instrumental in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.

                  2. Even though I sometimes disagree with Striperguy's tastes, I appreciate his zealous advocacy on behalf of his palate.

                    I've tended to use Ritt bonded as my 'go-to' rye for some time now, but recently picked up a bottle of Old Overholt. Anyway, tonight I decided to match them head-to-head in a recipe. I made two Liberals (1.5 oz rye, .5 sweet vermouth .25 Amer Picon, orange bitters) using those ryes. My impression was that with the Overholt, the drink was more well-balanced, less spicy, and let the supporting ingredients shine. With the Ritt, it was more whisky-forward, alcoholic, with the modifiers tempering the rye's wallop a bit. Both were good, just different personalities.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: craigasaurus

                      You hit the nail on the head Craigasaurus. I am looking for a well balanced cocktail, with all the ingredients pulling together instead of a whiskey/wood/caramel bomb.

                      In fact lately I have even been drifting from my Jim Beam Manhattan's to the even slightly leaner taste of an Old Overholt Manhattan.

                      I mix up the bitters quite a bit with various ones I make myself. My current fav is a zingy, very citrusy bitter with some good bite at the end. Make a great Manhattan.