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Discovering Bourbon

Starting a journey into bourbon's; though process is neat or with a splash.
Looking for suggestions as which brands to begin with, which to progress thru, and which I want to end up with.
Thinking this will evolve into a lifelong passion.

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  1. I would start with a mild, accessible bourbon to set a baseline for your tastes. A wheated bourbon like Maker's Mark is not too expensive, widely available, and a standard that by which you can compare others.

    If sku answers, listen to him. He is wise in whiskey matters.

    www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

    3 Replies
    1. re: EvergreenDan

      What Dan said about sku. I know quite a bit about spirits in general and a lot of specifics and I'm a certified master spirits professional. Heck I'm a distiller. But when it comes to American whiskey, sku is a master. I listen to him, Chuck Cowdery, Jim Murray, and John Hansell when it comes to whiskey.

      1. re: JMF

        Wow, thanks JMF. I am flattered to be in that company, including yours.

        1. re: sku

          You are the only one of those that I haven't sat down and tossed back a few whiskey's with. Looking forward to doing it with you one day. I've seen how you have fine tuned your palate over the past decade and been much impressed. Mucho Kuddos. I wish I could spend the time to focus like you, but I have had to be a general specialist.

    2. I'm also relatively new to Bourbon and Rye. From the UK so limited availability of brands. My first foray was Makers Mark or Woodsford Reserve in Old Fashioneds.

      My sipping Bourbon has been Elijah Craig - always neat.

      On a recent trip I started to build up a collection. I now have the following

      Wild Turkey 101 - great for potent cocktails
      Templeton Rye

      Looking to build collection with whiskeys that will differ from above and introduce me to other styles

      2 Replies
      1. re: ASingh

        I'm primarily a scotch or martini drinker, and Elijah Craig is the only one I drink.

        1. re: Bigjim68

          Ironically being from the UK, I have never been much of a Scotch fan. It was yamazaki, and other Japanese whiskies that got me interested first, then I discovered I much prefer US whiskeys.

          Forgot to mention I also picked up a bottle of Leopold Bros Georgia Peach Whiskey. Great after dinner drink

      2. I'm sure this bourbon post will elicit 250 replies as all bourbon post do:). First off, what where you drinking before? Unless your 20ish, you must have been in the dark ages of the bourbon renaissance. Or your palate is evolving as you age and what you liked befor will help other hounds tailor a bourbon to your tastes. Makers is a good choice as a baseline in the whetted bourbon(read as non spicy). On the other side, Buffalo Trace is a good choice as it is a great value, easily available, and the Buffalo Trace Distillary make a great line of products, offering you a baseline for their tastes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: DrinkinLife

          I'm sure this bourbon post will elicit 250 replies as all bourbon post do:)

          more precisely will be about 50 relevant posts, then 50 posts arguing about bourbon versus Tennessee whiskey

          Then there will be 150 posts that resurrect the thread every few months by 1st time posters who register just to drop a bomb and who are never to be seen again

        2. Lots of great responses here. Here is a short list of bourbons to start you off:

          Elijah Craig 12
          W.L. Weller 12
          Eagle Rare 10
          George Dickel 12

          You also might want to a sample a rye. I'd suggest Rittenhouse or Bulleit.

          23 Replies
          1. re: sku

            Sku, can you compare WL Weller with Weller Antique 107 and regular Weller? I've had those two, but never the 12.

            1. re: curseofleisure

              Sure, the whole Weller line is good. The 12 is, of course, the oldest of those three. It's not as punchy as the Antique since it's lower proof but it has more wood influence and a bit more complexity.

              The regular Weller (Weller Special Reserve) is okay, but the other two are much better and not much more expensive.

              1. re: sku

                Yeah, I tried the WSR once since I had liked the 107 so much. It was fine, but I decided the 107 was well worth the few extra bucks. Thanks for the comparison, sku. Will have to try the 12 soon.

                1. re: sku

                  And there are those of us who like basic Weller white among the Weller lineup the best... it's a palate issue.

              2. re: sku

                Thanks to all for the responses.
                Definetely not in my 20's, planning on 100% retirement within 5 years.
                Primarily a wine/rum fan
                Semi-pro competitiveBBQ'r
                Time to mature into a dark sippin drink
                Many thanks again

                1. re: ocpitmaster

                  Not to complicate things further but I would recommend broadening your search for a dark sipping spirit to include cognac and quality aged rums.

                  I can't give much guidance on cognac as I am just starting that journey, but rums such as those by el dorado or plantation are universally acclaimed and much kinder on the wallet than bourbon of the same age and quality. I would start by looking at spirits aged at least 8 years

                  1. re: quazi

                    Even my favorite El Dorado is a blend of rums and who knows what else. Flavorings, caramel coloring and glycerin are all common additives to rum. A straight bourbon is uncut except with water to adjust the proof.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      El Dorado doesn't go heavy with the flavorings and color. The style of rum is so flavorful that they don't need to. Actually I don't think they play with it at all.

                    2. re: quazi

                      Thanks for the recommendation.
                      Have been into aged sipping rums for awhile; really enjoy 10 Cane.
                      Dad was a Cognac & rye connoisseur; want to go in a different/similar direction

                      1. re: ocpitmaster

                        Ever tried the older Rhum JM varieties? Extraordinary!

                  2. re: sku

                    "You also might want to a sample a rye. I'd suggest Rittenhouse or Bulleit."
                    +1. I actually prefer Bulleit rye to their bourbon. Good whiskey. Haven't had the pleasure of trying Rittenhouse though.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      Rittenhouse is a power player, and very good, and very distinctive. Especially for the price, although hard to find. I like it more than Bulleit, Beam, Old Overholt, and many others.

                      1. re: JMF

                        JMF - when you say "especially for the price", what price are you referring to? A friend can get it from the Atlanta area for $18, and when I heard it was hard to find in many areas and priced around $30, I stocked up with several more bottles. (I wish I had done so with Wild Turkey 101 rye at $18 a couple years back.)

                        I like Ritt 100 but in the $30 range I prefer Sazerac 6 yr.

                        1. re: ncyankee101

                          Around here in NYC and 'burbs it's $17-21.

                          1. re: JMF

                            JMF -
                            I'm in the NYC burbs. Where are you seeing Rittenhouse for $17-21? $24.99 is the best price I can find around here.

                            1. re: jaba

                              Last times were in lower Westchester at Stew Leonards Yonkers, Fairway Pelham, and Westchester Wine Warehouse White Plains.

                          2. re: ncyankee101

                            All good advice
                            Don't want to sound ostentatious; and there are limits, but cost isn't as important as quality.
                            If I'm going to drink, I'm drinking well. Acknowledging that a higher retail doesn't always equal higher quality & I'd rather not pay for a pretty label. That's why I'm replying on the experts at chow.com
                            Thanks guys

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Agreed -- I, to, prefer Bulleit's Rye to their Bourbon . . .

                          2. re: sku

                            I'm certainly not as knowledgeable as some of the other folks here, but IMHO Dickel makes a pretty good rye too, in fact I prefer it to Bulleit (I'm talking only about the ryes, not the bourbons). Of course, I drink my brown liquor mainly in Manhattans, so perhaps that makes a difference.

                            1. re: medrite

                              Interestingly, Bulleit Rye and Dickel rye are both made by the same distillery, Midwest Grain Products in Indiana, from the same ingredient mix (a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% balrey) for the same company (Diageo - which owns both Bulleit and Dickel).

                              That being said, the two do seem to have some flavor differences; I think the Bulleit rye is aged longer than the Dickel, and the Dickel is sugar maple filtered (the Lincoln County Process). Personally, I prefer the Bulleit, but they are pretty similar.

                            2. re: sku

                              Why not Bulleit 10 year old?

                            3. #1 piece of advice: Sample the whiskies blind, side-by-side. There's no faster or more reliable way to determine your real palate preferences.

                              A tremendous forum for tasting notes, picks and pans, etc. is boubon enthusiast:


                              As to which brands to begin with... for my tastes: Weller white, Makers, Buffalo Trace, and Eagle Rare is a real nice progression keeping under $30 per bottle. But that's my palate, I've gone through dozens of blind-tasted whiskies to get there...

                              But the key is tasting them blind... you may really think you like something until you taste it against another, not knowing which is which... then all predjudices are gone and the only variable is your true palate.

                              Report back often!

                              1. Full disclosure, the author is a good friend, but... NYT editor and writer Clay Risen just put out an excellent book on American Whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye. You can find it easily through Amazon. Over 200 reviews with full color photos, and a very good intro to the history of bourbon. To top it all off, it's a damn good looking book as well. If you're getting into bourbon and feel it's something you may be developing a passion for, you can't ask for a better introductory book on the subject.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: The Big Crunch

                                  Second Clay Risen's excellent book. It's the best book on American Whiskey that's come out in a decade.

                                  1. re: sku

                                    I was thinking about getting it but now I am sold. Thanks.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      I have to say, I honestly wasn't really impressed with the book or the reviews. I found it light and not approaching the depth and breadth I expected.

                                    2. re: sku

                                      I got this book for Valentine's day. The historical part of the book is quite interesting and informative, but it took a little while to get used to his rating scale, where 2/4 stars is actually a good rating while 3 or more is reserved for only a few.

                                      Most of his ratings / reviews are pretty well in line with my experience, with a few glaring exceptions. He gives a "not recommended" rating to Old Grand dad 114, which I - and most people on here - like quite a bit. Also, he gives Weller Special Reserve a 3 star rating and a rave review, higher than the 12 yr and Antique 107. I find this odd as in my opinion the special reserve is rather ordinary, and the author is the first person I have seen say otherwise, while most people give excellent marks to the 12 and Antique. Also he gives a 3 star to Maker's mark, while many other Bourbons I find far superior are given two, such as the entire High West lineup and Elmer T Lee.

                                      1. re: ncyankee101

                                        I should ask him about that last one. It's odd because I've always known Clay to be quite fond of High West stuff, but then again, sometimes when you sit down and really critically think about a whiskey, you can find it isn't as great as you've generally thought, or, conversely, it was far better than you recalled it being. Makers Mark is actually a good example for me - it wasn't until about a month ago that I sat down and really focused on a pour of Makers mark, and I was surprised how much I liked it. It's not that I didn't like it before, but more that it has been sort of a fall back whiskey for me for years and years and years, usually something I casually order at a bar, or sip over ice at parties, and don't really think much about. Obviously I like the stuff, but I'd never really thought about it critically, more as something that was good and almost always available at a party or bar.

                                        1. re: ncyankee101

                                          ncyankee101- I totally agree with every point you just covered.

                                    3. I disagree with the advice to start with a wheated bourbon. I would recommend starting with a reasonably good-quality standard recipe bourbon. If you want to go vertical, you can do Evan Williams and Evan Williams Single Barrel without breaking the bank; or EJ Craig, which comes in 2 standard proof ages and a barrel strength offering as well. One could develop an understanding of bourbon from these standard versions without up-leveling to expensive labels (let's not forget Old Grand-dad in standard, bonded, and 114 versions, either). And it avoids the wheated bourbons (which I consider to be a snare and a delusion anyway, no matter what Julian Van Winkle may think).

                                      If you need something softer or sweeter than a standard recipe or high-rye bourbon, I recommend that you have it in an Old-fashioned.

                                      I resort to MGP rye products sometimes but I can't understand why someone who wants to learn about whiskey would start with a non-distiller label.

                                      1. Ridgemont Reserve's 1792 is a mellow bourbon to try ...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                          Just had that last night. Very nice.