Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Best Bourbon Is Free Bourbon.

I get this a lot. "What's the best bourbon?" Or the equally problematic, "what's your favorite bourbon?"

What do I say? I may mention a couple of things I particularly like, although the list always varies. I often dismiss the query with, "the best bourbon is free bourbon."

The truth is, the list of things I like about equally well is very long, and what I say tends to reflect what I've enjoyed most in the last week or so. Recently it was Four Roses Single Barrel. Sometimes it's Woodford Reserve or Knob Creek or Buffalo Trace.

I tend not to mention the cheaper products I also like just as well, such as JTS Brown. I also generally don't mention products that are difficult or impossible to find, such as Very Very Old Fitzgerald or A. H. Hirsch. I also tend not to mention the more challenging older bottlings, like George T. Stagg.

I also don't mentions rye (unless specifically asked) or corn whiskey.

But I never give the true answer, which is that there is no best and hardly any true favorites. If I narrow the words used to describe the experience, I can plug in a few products. Most memorable would have to be Very Very Old Fitzgerald and A. H. Hirsch, but also the Fairfield Henry McKenna my friend Doug found and shared with me. Always in my house and open: Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond. I can name a favorite from each distillery, although if they make multiple recipes then it's one per distillery per recipe. And, like I said, it will change tomorrow.

So let's bury the concept of best, which is the search for The One. That's not what the whiskey enthusiasm is about. It's about luxuriating in The Many. And hoping for many, many more.


Ethan Prater said...

Is VOB BIB still made? I love that bourbon and was looking forward to buying some at the Bourbon Festival this month, but the Constellation Brands web site shows only a non-BIB version.

What's the best place to find the (old?) BIB version on the shelf?

Chuck Cowdery said...

It is my understanding that at some point the 100-proof bottling will stop being a bond. This may have happened, but had not yet happened the last time I was in Kentucky a few months ago, at which time I bought a bottle and it was still BIB. Even when this does happen the product probably won't change noticeably, at least not at first. It will still be 100 proof and at least six years old. By removing the bonded designation they give themselves a little more flexibility, in terms of mixing together barrels from different seasons, which the BIB rules prohibit. So far as I know, that is the only anticipated change but I've been hearing about it for a long time, so I'll believe it when I see it. Of perhaps more concern, considering the present state of the bourbon market, is how much longer it will be such a great bargain. As for where to shop, I usually start with Liquor Barn and work back from there.

Ethan Prater said...

It looks like Binny's is now stocking the Barton 100 proof (and some others in the line). $11.99 as of this post. No word on the bonded designation, but I ordered a bottle and can't wait to see what comes.

Ethan Prater said...

I ordered a bottle of Very Old Barton 100 proof from Binny's for $11.99. Received on 9/9/08.

Packaging very similar to what's displayed on the web site for the entire Barton line (new in the past few years).

But yes, this bourbon is listed as 6 Years Old in three different places on the labels, and still labeled as "Bottled in Bond" in one place, right above the name.

Haven't cracked it open yet, but if this tastes remotely as good as previous bottlings, then it's mind-boggling bargain at $12.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Please post your impressions after you've tried it. I just drank a glass of VOB last night. These days, a lot of bourbons have been toned down to make them more palatable to more people. In that respect, Very Old Barton is a lovely throwback to a time when bourbons weren't shy about flavor.

Ethan Prater said...

I'm on my second bottle of VOB BIB 6yo 100 proof since the post above (ordered from Binny's in Chicago, shipped to me here in the San Francisco Bay Area). I'm happy to report that it's the same great bourbon I came to love several years ago.

New bottle and label, yes, though certainly nothing fancy. But the same uniquely rich flavor profile, that hint of mint (without going overboard like Jefferson's Reserve or many Heaven Hill whiskies).

Amazing that this is still available for $13 or less. Better than most bourbons selling for 3-4x its price.

Ethan Prater said...

Better late than never, I posted a brief review of the VOB BIB and some bottle shots to my own blog here:

As of December 2009, Binny's still has this whiskey for just $12.99.

Anonymous said...

I was able to still buy VOB BiB from Binny's.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Yes, Binny's now has the full line, meaning all four proofs: 80, 86, 90 and 100.

AaronWF said...

Glad to see recent comments! My grandfather's house was just sold, but before the preparations ended, we found a handle of Old Fitzgerald BiB, as well as a bottle of Old-Grand Dad 86, and 10-year old Beam whiskey in a collectible 'carafe' I see going for $10 or so on ebay (empty). Also, a 'sippin' whiskey' with a 12 years age statement clearly labeled called Rare Old Kentucky. It's 86 proof and bottled for Easy Travel Service in Skokie, ILL, Bottled by Old Cummins Distillery in Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky.

All four of these bottles are unopened, but only one has a date on its stamp: Old Fitzgerlad BiB says on the tax stamp that it was distilled in 1968 and bottled in 1974.

Any insight on these bottles that you might have would be very appreciated! What's to expect in opening and tasting? Anything collectible? I wonder about a tasting comparison of the Old Fitzgerald from 1974 vs. 2010.

Looking forward to my first ever WhiskyFest next week in my hometown of Chicago!

Chuck Cowdery said...

Congratulations. Your grandfather had good taste. Such 'finds' rarely turn out so well. Plenty to enjoy there. Even the Rare Old Kentucky should be good. Only iffy one is the Beam in the decanter. Those often have trouble after 30-40 years, but anything in a sealed screw cap glass bottle should be fine.

Anonymous said...

The VOB 100proof here around Nashville is kind of hard to find, but what a great pour!!! A handle is still going for around $22-$23 and FAR better than the 80 or 90 proof!

idunno said...

hello i found two bottles of unopened bourbon dated 1940 and aged four years before that, one is Four Score Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Cummins Distillery Corp.
And the other is called Mellow Cream Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Old Weston Distillery.

Anyone have any clue what i have? Is its good?
Should i even drink it?

it is clean looking no sediment

Chuck Cowdery said...

Cummins, aka Cummins-Collins, was a distillery in Athertonville best known for the Antique brand. Old Weston may be another name for McCormick, which is in Weston, Missouri. Both are probably pretty ordinary but might be okay.

Anonymous said...

Chuck, funny you mention Fairfield Henry McKenna. I was in an old store the other day and saw a half gallon of Henry McKenna with a tax stamp and could have sworn the label said Fairfield. I have always seen Henry McKenna on the bottom shelf at the big box stores so I didn't purchase it at the time. I wanted to do some additional research and it appears that you know a little bit about it. If it is infact a Fairfield bottling, what am I in for - a great dusty find?


Chuck Cowdery said...

If I saw a Fairfield McKenna, I would definitely buy it.

Anonymous said...

I always say, “I’m not sure about the best but that the worst I ever had was great.”