Need some bottle advice for Thanksgiving? Whether you are trying to figure out what bourbon you will share with your closest friends and family or which bourbon will best help drown them out we have your covered. For each category I will give you my choice and some alternates. Also I am going to keep this list realistic. Of course we all want to close the evening with a flight of Pappy, but that just isn’t happening for most of us.
First Drink – You have just walked in you are saying your hellos, checking out the appetizer spread, and it is time for the first drink of the day. This is the perfect time to go with a bold choice. A good barrel proofer will wake up your taste buds and get you into the groove so to speak. Since this is turkey day my choice here is Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Other good options for the first drink include Maker’s Mark Barrel Strength, Booker’s, or if you can get your hands on a bottle Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
The Main Course – This is going to be the bourbon that you use for the better part of the day. You are going to want to go with something that is fairly affordable and is versatile. The choice here for me is Bulleit Bourbon. Bullet is among the most versatile bourbons you will find. It is a favorite of many bartenders for cocktails, and is a smooth sipper that won’t overpower your meal. Other options here are Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam Repeal Batch, and Evan Williams 1783.
The Nightcap – Here we are at the end of the evening, and it is time to move to something a little more significant to put the finishing touches on a great day. This is the time to pull out a bunker bottle if you have them if you don’t have those type of bottles to pull from my choice here is Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish. It takes an already above average bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s rum casks. It is a bourbon that you and those you choose to share it with won’t forget. Other choices here are Noah’s Mill, Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve, Blanton’s, George Dickel Bottled in Bond.
About – From the Jim Beam website “As a tribute to Jim B. Beam’s first batch of bourbon at his new distillery, Jim Beam Repeal Batch is non-chill filtered for a taste that harkens back to the big, robust flavor of post-Prohibition whiskey. ” Essentially this is your run of the mill Jim Beam White Label with a 3% abv increase and it has been non-chill filtered. Do those things make a difference? We shall see. Jim Beam Repeal Batch can be found everywhere for around $15, and is bottled at 86 proof.
Nose – Neat the first thing I am picking up is honey/caramel covered grain. Very dessert like with hints of sour apple. On ice the apple moves to forefront but even that is hard to pick up now.
Palate – Neat, apples with a lot of cinnamon and baking spice. This is a god damned apple pie. On the rocks the baking spice is huge. My best description is fall in a glass. Medium finish with a bit of bitter oak tannin lingering.
Score – B
Verdict – I am very pleasantly surprised with this one. I thought the slightly higher proof and non-chill filtering would have a negligible effect on the final product, and I was completely wrong. All in all this is a very serviceable bourbon and at the price point I am tempted to give it an even higher score. I would recommend immediately picking this up if you haven’t tried it already. I am going to pick up a few bottles to bunker myself. This is labeled as being available for a limited time, but has already been around for a good while, and doesn’t seem to be in short supply.
About – Blanton’s carries the distinction of being known as the original single barrel bourbon. From their website ” Single Barrel Bourbon started with Blanton’s in 1984. Nearing retirement, Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee was tasked with creating a bourbon of exceptionally high quality. With careful reflection, he recalled the earlier days of his career in the late 1940s when he worked under Colonel Albert B. Blanton. Colonel Blanton was the president of the distillery until 1952. Mr. Lee remembered that when Colonel Blanton would entertain dignitaries and other important guests he would handpick “honey barrels” from the center cut of Warehouse H and have that bourbon bottled one barrel at a time. As a tribute to Colonel Blanton’s old tradition, Elmer T. Lee decided to name this new bourbon Blanton’s Single Barrel. ” Blanton’s is produced by Buffalo Trace using their mashbill #2 and like many other Buffalo Trace releases can be hard to find at the moment, normal priced around $60 I have seen it priced as high as $99 recently. Blanton’s carries no age statement and is bottled at 92 proof.
Nose – Neat there is a bright unidentifiable citrus, honey covered grain, a bit of astringency (strange given the proof) and a touch of clove. On the rocks the sweetness really takes over lead by that honey soaked grain followed by vanilla, the oak finally coming through, and a hint of grapefruit.
Palate – Neat there is a citrus leaning towards grapefruit, sweet caramel, and baking spice. On the rocks the mouth feel has gotten thick and oily with caramel, vanilla, and some rye spice coming through.
Finish – Medium finish with a very pleasant cinnamon and a bit of oak tannin.
Score – B+
Verdict – Blanton’s is a single barrel bourbon, and with any single barrel bourbon your experience will vary from bottle to bottle. By no means am I saying this was a bad experience, but I have had bottles of Blanton’s that rank among my favorite bourbons of all time. Blanton’s is one of the most elegantly packaged bourbons on the market, and because of that has long been considered the premiere gifting bourbon. Normally with a price tag over $50 I would recommend trying most things at a bar before buying a bottle, but given the current market if you see Blanton’s on the shelf at a near retail price buy it.
About – It seems bottled in bond is having a moment right now, and Cascade Hollow Distillery has decided to get it on the trend. If you need a refresher on what bottle in bond is click here. The thing that sets this release apart from the competition in the segment is the incredible age statement (13 Years) and possibly even more incredible price (I paid 31.99 in TN, but it seems to be around $36 in the rest of the country. Over the past couple of years George Dickel has been working hard on marketing redesigning the label, changing the name of the distillery, and bringing in new master distiller Nicole Austin. This is the first real release under Austin. George Dickel Bottled in Bond shares the same mashbill as all other Dickel whiskies 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barley, is aged 13 years, and is bottled at 100 proof.
Nose – Neat the intial smell is a nutty caramel, overall it is fairly nut forward with marzapan and peanut shells as well. As you dig in you get some toffee. This has the smell of a quality well aged whisky. On the rocks it becomes a sugar bomb full of butterscotch and honey with just a hint of sawdust.
Palate – Neat it is far brighter than I expected with an interesting fruit in the apricot realm accompanied by cinnamon, baking spices, not as much oak as expected from the age. On the rocks there is an initial sweetness, but then you are smacked in the face with oak that lingers well into the finish.
Finish – Medium long finish with oak fading into a dark honey sweetness.
Score – A
Verdict – To put it simply Nicole Austin has hit a home run with this release. George Dickel Bottled in Bond elevates everything I love about the brand, and does it at a very affordable price point. If this is the future of the brand Dickel has a very bright future.
About – “Paying homage to Clyde May himself – a moonshine icon who made the best whiskey Alabama ever tasted – and his dedication to his craft, this non-chill filtered straight bourbon is a classic 5-year-old, easy drinking spirit. Using simple and traditional ingredients, the bourbon mash is patiently aged in heavily “alligator” charred new American oak barrels to produce exceptional flavors that feature a soft, sweet nose of brown sugar, baked apricot, wild strawberry and nutmeg. Its soft palate delivers complex aromas of barrel spice, fruit and oiled leather, while the finishes are robust, long and delicious. ” When you read this backstory and take a look at the beautiful label, you are lead to believe that this is an Alabama bourbon made from a recipe created by a legendary moonshiner, for Christ’s sake it is even the state spirit of Alabama, but this isn’t quite the story as I will touch on later. Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon retails for around $39.99 and is bottled at 92 proof.
Nose – Neat the initial smell is bright with a stinging alcohol. After that come toffee, a nice bit of oak, brown sugar somewhat green rye. On the rocks the sting and the hint of rye are gone leaving only brown sugar and a hint of apple.
Palate – Neat this is way too hot for the proof, a bit of orange and citrus citrus comes through with a bit of brown sugar and bitter oak, but mostly just hot. On the rocks you get a fairly pleasant blend of brown sugar and barrel spice.
Finish – Neat the heat continues with a medium length generic sweetness, on the rocks oak tannin with a bit of fruit and an overall green taste.
Score – C
Verdict – A bourbon with a sketchy story and a taste profile to match. Clyde May’s leans heavily on the story of an Alabama whiskey legend, the top of the label states Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Alabama. In reality this is a sourced bourbon that is actually bottled in Florida. The shady marketing could be overlooked if the product in the bottle were great, but it isn’t. When factoring in the $39.99 price point I would advise in passing on Clyde May’s.
About – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is produced by the Wild Turkey Distillery and uses the standard Wild Turkey recipe. It is essentially the best barrels of Wild Turkey chosen by Eddie Russell. It is bottled at 110 proof and non-chill filtered. The version I am reviewing is a private barrel chosen by Middlebrook Liquor Store in Knoxville, TN. Normal cost is around $50 at most stores in my area.
Nose – If there were one bourbon I would use to illustrate what a good bourbon smells like it is Russell’s Reserve and the single barrel offering is no different. There is a noticeable floral scent, accompanied by a strong dose of vanilla, oak, and honey, and caramel that borders on toffee.
Palate – Once again this bourbon delivers on the classic bourbon flavors. Opens up with a sweet honey, followed by a nice oak, citrus and dark fruit that are a hallmark of a high rye, and a strong dose of vanilla.
Finish – I would characterise the finish as medium-long. A rye spice that fades into oak with vanilla and a touch of that toffee/caramel.
Score – A-
Verdict – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is everything I love about the Wild Turkey brand just taken to a higher level. For a classic bourbon profile this is hard to beat. Not cheap at $50+ per bottle, but compared to other bottles in the price range is better than most. If money is tight I recommend the standard release of Russell’s Reserve, at $30 it is one of the best bourbons in the price range. However if you have the extra money single barrel is a nice upgrade.
If you have the money to spend, the bourbon secondary market can be a fantastic and magical place. All the bottles you have been unsuccessfully searching for are now at your fingertips. After first joining the market I was having a blast grabbing bottles I had never seen on my shelves before, and growing my collection more rapidly than my wallet could keep up with. This is where the problem with the secondary market begins. First of all, the bottles available on my local store shelves no longer interested me. Since I had access to rare and limited bottles the normal bottles and paltry store picks were of no interest to me. Secondly it sucked all of the enjoyment out of finding allocated bottles on the shelf for all but the rarest bottles. At one point I was lucky enough to come across a bottle of Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa my first thought was how much I could get for it on the secondary market. Beyond that it took all the enjoyment out of products like Orphan Barrel because they had no increased secondary value they were no longer worth buying. Over time i began to notice these things and made the decision to leave the secondary market behind. Since making this decision I am proud to say my enjoyment of bourbon has increased tremendously. I began picking up the bottles on the shelf I had been passing over, and to my surprise a lot of these were great bourbons. I can’t count the number of times I passed on Henry McKenna because it wasn’t rare and valuable. After trying it I must say it is far better than many of the allocated bottles I have tried. Another benefit is that it brought back the excitement of finding allocated bottles on the shelf. During this years hunting season my haul was Hancock’s Reserve, Elmer T. Lee, Barterhouse, Forged Oak, and bottle of George T. Stagg that had me so excited I felt like jumping up and down in the store. Many people rip Barterhouse and Forged Oak, but I have really enjoyed both and was excited to find them at retail. Leaving the secondary market was a decision I will never regret.
About – Booker’s is considered by many the bourbon responsible for creating the market for barrel proof bourbon’s. Named Booker’s because each barrel was hand chosen by Master Distiller Booker Noe, the task now done by his son Fred. Booker’s generally represents the best of what the Jim Beam distillery has to offer. As with all Booker’s releases this bourbon is unfiltered and uncut. Off Your Rocker is bottled at 129.7 proof and can be bough for ~$60.
Nose – Alcohol is definitely on the nose in this high proof monster, beyond that there are peanuts, caramel, vanilla, toasted oak, white pepper, and with ice or a touch of water honey begins to come through.
Palate – Oak is dominant on the front along with classic vanilla bourbon flavor, then a good bit of spice leaning towards black pepper, and also a slightly herbal quality that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Finish – A long oak laden embrace with a bit of lingering heat. As usual with Booker’s it is much easier to drink than the proof would lead you to believe.
Score – A-
Verdict – For me the thing that first draws you in to a great batch of Booker’s is peanuts on the nose, and this one is no exception. Off Your Rocker is just a classic example of what Jim Beam is truly capable of. Booker’s is something I would always recommend to anybody looking to dip their toes into barrel proof as it usually brings classic bourbon flavors. Every batch is slightly different, and I don’t try them all, but am usually impressed when I do, and usually keep one stocked in my home bar.
About – The bottle states “genuine bourbon whiskey, handmade in the hills of Kentucky”. Noah’s mill is produced by KBD (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) also known as Willett. It is not actually distilled by Willett however and it’s source distillery(s) is undisclosed. This is a product that used to carry a 15 year age statement that was removed a couple of releases ago. Noah’s Mill is a seasonally released product that retails for around $50. It is bottled at a healthy 114.3 proof.
Nose – Mint, clove, so much mint that I am having trouble picking up on much else. It does have a sharpness on the nose that would indicate to me some younger whiskey in the mix. Surprisingly not a strong sense of alcohol from this 114 proof bourbon.
Palate – A lot of complexity here, oak and smoke are dominant, mint and clove from the nose poke their way through, some dark fruit like sweetness, and some grassy flavors at the end that once again indicate some younger whiskey in the mix. Adding ice brings out some interesting changes as this bourbon really takes on a creaminess and caramel comes through with it. Really nice.
Finish – Long, hot, and oaky but not the expected burn considering the proof.
Score – A-
Verdict – Honestly I came into this review very skeptical knowing that the age statement had been dropped and the fact that it is sourced. Really wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, but the cream and caramel that came through after the iced addition put this one over the top for me. The only thing holding it back from being a truly top flight bourbon are those young whiskey characteristics that keep popping up. I would love to get my hands on a 15 year age stated version of Noah’s Mill, but as far as the current release goes it is really good and given the limited release schedule if you see this in your store I would recommend picking up a bottle. Easily worth the price.
About – Old Grand-Dad is a name that has a long and complex history. It is a brand that has changed hands several times throughout it’s long history and is currently a product of Beam-Suntory. It is famous for being a high-rye bourbon. The name Old Grand-Dad is a reference to whiskey pioneer Basil Hayden as it was his grandson who took the family distilling to a professional level and honored his grandfather in the name. As the name in implies this bourbon is bottled in bond meaning it has been aged a minimum of 4 years and is bottled at 100 proof. I paid $25 and that seems to be the normal price around me.
Nose – A bit astringent right off, dark fruits lead the way along with vanilla and a touch honey, there is some raw grain at the end.
Palate – Let’s start off by saying it is bold, it is spicy, and has a bit of an oily mouthfeel. Burnt sugar, oak, a bit of corn still in there, and a little hint of something vegetal.
Finish – Medium length, primarily oak and burnt sugar. Does have a bit of lingering hit, but nothing overpowering. Leaves a bit of an oily/waxy mouthfeel.
Score – C+
Verdict – I hate to say this, but I find my self a bit disappointed here. OGD is a brand that has developed somewhat of a cult following with an avid fan base it just doesn’t stand out to my palate. A 100 proof bourbon at $25 is definitely a rarity in the current market so I will say this is a decent deal in the same price range I would be more inclined to pick up a bottle of Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 101 however.