Our dear correspondant Johannes is diving deeeep into Bourbon right now and was splitting more than we could digest in years (of Bourbon, that is). Alas, I participated in the first two sets and Johannes and me are going to give you our opinions on the WhiskEys. I do hope that he will continue with the rest, of course. In this first session, we include Bourbons up to 50% abv. Next time, we shall go higher.
For today, let’s have a look at the legal requirements on top of the first round of Bourbons as well.
The legal definition varies somewhat from country to country, but many trade agreements require that the name “bourbon” be reserved for products made in the United States. The U.S. regulations for labeling and advertising bourbon apply only to products made for consumption within the United States; they do not apply to distilled spirits made for export. Canadian law requires products labeled bourbon to be made in the United States and also to conform to the requirements that apply within the United States. But in countries other than the United States and Canada, products labeled bourbon may not adhere to the same standards. For example, in the European Union, products labeled as bourbon are not required to conform to all the regulations that apply within the United States, although they still must be made in the U.S.
For Bourbons made for U.S. consumption, the following requirements have to be met. It has to be
- produced in the United States,
- made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn,
- aged in new, charred oak containers,
- distilled to no more than 80% abv,
- entered into the container for aging at no more than 62.5% abv and
- bottled at 40% abv or more.
Does that sound good to you, my rum friends??? Well… Bourbon that meets these requirements (otherwise it wouldn’t be Bourbon, right!?), has been aged for a minimum of two years, that comes from only one state and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may be called straight Bourbon.
- Bourbon that has been aged under four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
- Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest Whiskey in the bottle (Hallelujah!).
- Straight Bourbon that has been aged for at least four years, that is bottled at exactly 50%, comes from a single distilling season, from a single distillery and a single distiller, may be called “Bottled-in-Bond”.
Bourbon that is labeled blended (or as a blend) may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits, such as un-aged neutral grain spirits, but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon.
Buffalo Trace (Buffalo Trace, 45%): It probably won’t get more standard than this so let’s have it as a starter. The Bourbon doesn’t have an age statement but Buffalo Trace claims that it is at least eight years old. Nose: Very simple and fruity with oranges/ tangerine, orange bitters, quite some glue and very sugar-y caramel. Palate: Fresh and caramlised oranges, hints of tonka, some toffee and greek yoghurt. Finish: Short and merely an extension of the palate, but we do have to add vanilla. A very lady-like, likeable, easy-going Bourbon that will suit all palates. That’s its biggest strength and weakness at the same time. C+
Johannes: Very Borbon-ish. However, nothing really sticks out. It’s possible to drink it neat, but I guess I prefer it in an Old Fashioned or some other cocktail. D+
Eagle Rare 10YO (Buffalo Trace, 45%): Same distillery, age and similar abv as the Buffalo Trace but a different mashbill I guess. It is said that they use less than 10% rye for this one. By the way, this is even more tacky than the already ultra tacky Buffalo Trace. Eagle Rare, really!? Bless America! Nose: Still very simple but spicier and less fruity than the Buffalo Trace. The oranges are there but the Bourbon is more oak-forward all in all. Then roasted marshmellows and related campfire notes. Palate: More of the roasted marshmellows, stick bread, peanuts and caramel. Finish: Apricot, mango, vanilla and oak stick with me for quite some time. Just as likeable and easygoing as the Buffalo Trace but a bit spicer and more interesting. Quality-wise, it plays in the same league though and it comes down to personal preference. I’d go with this one. B-
Johannes: A truly easy sipping, sweet Bourbon. Nothing overly complex though. Great for board game nights with friends. C+
Evan Williams 2010 8YO (#1097) (Heaven Hill, 43,3%): I think we are moving closer to what I have in mind when thinking about Bourbon. Nose: Very corn-y and spicy with pepper, nutmeg and plenty of cinnamon. I am not sure what to think of this one yet. Palate: Slightly sharp and heavy on the spices from the nose. On top of that some oak, brown bread and fruit bead. Finish: Very short and flat with spices, wood and the fruit bread. It’s solid, but nothing special. My main points of criticism are that it is too alcoholic and that it fades away too quickly. C-
Johannes: Again a bit weak but a good “every-day” sipper. Nothing in particular stands out for me. Great “entry level” Bourbon. C-
Old Forester Single Barrel (Brown-Forman, 45%): This one is said to be the longest, still running Bourbon brand. It should have a high rye share. Now we said Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare are kinda ridiculous names. This one is only a tad better if you ask me. Nose: Maple syrup, corn, glue, apricot-jam and something close to dates/ figs. I don’t think I would have been able to call out the high rye share to be honest. Palate: A very nice texture but here I have the impression that it should have been a bit more intense. Plenty of orange and apricot jam, pineapple puree and sublte notes from the cask (oak, cinnamon). Later some herbs (dill). Not too bad. Finish: Medium long with more of the same, really just an extension of the palate again. Another solid one, and even though it doesn’t feel like it at all when reading my notes, it doesn’t hit my personal palate, I am afraid. C+
Johannes: Pleasent but uninspiring. A bit of oak perhaps, some spices, something that reminds me of cooking. All in all a bit muted, probably due to the low proof. Still I enjoy this Bourbon but I will look for an expression at a higher proof. C-
Legent (Jim Beam, 47%): “Two true legends – one truly unique Bourbon” goes the marketing blabla for this (they are refering to Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s Master Distiller and Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory’s Chief Blender). They further claim that it has been partially finished in wine and sherry casks. Whatever “partially” means. Nose: I am not sure if I would have been able to pick out the barrel types blindly but this is indeed Bourbon with a vinerous touch. Essentially quality red wine that turned bad, a good Tempranillo that you forgot in the fridge. Then more corny with caramel and grilled marshmellows. Certainly interesting. Palate: It becomes evident that it has been finished and since I am not the biggest Bourbon fan out there, I don’t mind that at all. A mix of red fruits, wood and quality bubble gum; now closer to Syrah, Before I forget, I really dig the texture. Finish: Medium long and fruity. The finishes are most obvious here. It is good, different, but also a bit odd. Still unsure what to make out of it but it probably makes for a few killer drinks, that’s for sure. B-
Johannes: Sweet sherry notes, smooth, well-balanced finish. Guess one could even share it with friends who are not into Bourbon. C+
Four Roses Single Barrel (Four Roses, 50%): I am too lazy to look up what the differences in the labeling mean exactly but here we have Warehouse No. 99, Barrel no. 50-50. Great! Nose: Glue, wood and… well, not a lot more. It is intense juice, yes, but not very complex stuff. Definitely not my type of Bourbon. Palate: A bit better but beside what’s the typical Bourbon note for me (yes, it even hurts myself to read this), I don’t get much more. Corn, maple syrup and pancakes – very American. Unfortunately it is a bit too much on the alcoholic side. Finish: Short and forgettable with glue and cheap Bourbon (yeah…) Nah, nah. The first real disappointment. F+
Johannes: I really had to try this Bourbon several timess, but there is something to it I personally dont like, even though there are the “usual” Bourbon flavours like caramel, cinamon and a bit nutmeg. Nevertheless, something indescribable puts me off. Must be the barrel, I guess. D-
And to round things off, we have an IB. What is more, it is a Straight Corn Whiskey, thus no more than 20% grains have been added to the wash.
Berry Bros & Rudd Heaven Hill 2009 9YO (#3440935) (47,9%): Straight Corn Whisky. I am not a big fan of corn, by the way. Nose: Indeed, quite corny (oh dear…). Lots of corn, beet and maple syrup, glue, alcohol-soaked strawberries and something close to coconut perhaps. Weird stuff and I am not sure if I like it. Palate: Quite mellow and easy sipping but this pronounced corn note just isn’t to my liking. I know that some people are very fond of this but I am just not that guy. Perhaps you can make a cool drink with it. For me, it isn’t much more than a “mixer”, it’s like a spirit made from a “lesser” ingredient, even though that’s a stupid thing to say, of course. Finish: Short with corn, some wood and caramel. Nothing special. Nope, not my cup of tea, even though it is probably well made and well matured juice. D-
Johannes: Buttery sweetness, some popcorn, all mild and mellow. Great sipping but too expensive for what it is. B-