Monday, July 6, 2015

I Don't Always Pay For Bourbon, But When I Do I Buy These

I'm asked to taste a lot of whiskey. I'm not complaining, not at all. It is, for one thing, free. Still, sometimes there is a disconnect between what I want to taste and what I need to taste. If I'm not drinking for the sheer pleasure of it often enough, I get grumpy.

Even though I receive a lot of whiskey for free, I sometimes have to buy the things I want to drink. I know, poor me.

Sometimes I have to let myself drink what I want to drink, even though I'm backed up with things I need to drink. I know, I know, such a tough job, but still.

I'm posting this because people often ask me to name my favorite bourbon. I couldn't possibly have just one favorite, so I try to name a few. A good place for me to start making that list is with bourbons I pay for.

Some of these may surprise you.

The list starts with 100° proof Very Old Barton. I've never gotten a bottle for free and yet I try to always have one on hand, as has been the case for 30 years or so. More recently, Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond has been on that list. I did, however, recently receive a free bottle of Heaven Hill's rebooted Pikesville Rye, which is close enough. I predict that bottle won't last long.

I usually have one of my favorite wheaters in the drinking queue; Weller 12, Larceny, Van Winkle Lot B.

Two recent purchases that I could no longer live without: Eagle Rare 10-year-old and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. Wild Turkey has been doing more and more limited editions and expanding the Russell's Reserve line, but it's awfully hard to beat Kentucky Spirit or Rare Breed, two bourbons that are just about as good as any bourbon really needs to be. Eagle Rare 10-year-old is the same way, and such a good deal too.

I'm never sorry to see a bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, regardless of how I obtain it or what year it is, although I still have a soft spot for the 1994. The same goes for anything from Four Roses. Buffalo Trace, the brand Sazerac never intended to create, has turned out brilliantly. It, too, is always welcome in my glass.

I love Booker's and would buy it if the Beam folks didn't keep me so well supplied.

This is some of what I like. If there's a larger message here, if my personal preferences have any meaning for someone else, you'll notice that I haven't mentioned any mega-dollar wood monsters. They, in fact, come under the heading of things I sometimes get tired of tasting. I'm much more interested in what Old Forester, Blood Oath, and others are doing, creating original flavor profiles by skilfully blending different straight bourbons. In Old Forester's case, they're doing it with liquid that all comes from the same distillery and recipe.

Also absent from this list is anything from a micro-distillery or anything from an NDP. Part of that is the free stuff. In both of those categories, what I get for free and what I enjoy drinking just about balance out, so no need to spend money. That said, most micros still have a way to go to get into my regular drinking rotation and most NDPs are over-priced compared to buying comparable products directly from the makers.

Drink critics are just like critics of music, movies, or anything else. I'm only really useful to you if what you like is similar to what I like. What I like isn't in any sense what anyone should like. You should like what you like. If you happen to like what I like, then you might find my recommendations helpful. If you don't, you can read me anyway for the snarky comments about Diageo.

It's all in a day's work.


Unknown said...

I like most of your list Chuck. But even if I didn't, "snarky comments about Diageo" are reason enough to keep visiting.
And insightful bourbon knowledge :-)

Unknown said...

Incredible blog right there. Love it! Thank you so much. Especially because of the point you made that the end. Your opinion really only means something if our palates are similar, so it is very good to know what your palate actually is. Thanks again. Looking forward to hearing more about that new Pikesville Rye.

Zeke said...


You're also helpful is what you like is exactly the opposite of what someone else likes. In that way when you rave about something, they know to avoid it, and vice versa.

Curt said...

I think it is reasonably important to know what someone likes or would pay for out of pocket, before you invest too much in their opinion on something as subjective as food or drink. Good list of favorites, but the one I would exclude is Booker's despite its compelling story and provenance. Too hot and dusty for me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you've told the story before but why is Buffalo Trace "the brand Sazerac never intended to create"?

Chuck Cowdery said...

When Sazerac bought the Frankfort distillery adopted the Buffalo Trace name for it, they did so without intending to create a brand by that name, but distributors and others started asking them, so where’s the Buffalo Trace bourbon? Mark Brown, president, asked Gary Gayhart, master distiller, to pick a profile they could grow with and that became Buffalo Trace, which rolled out nationally over a period of years.

Part of the name change had to do with shedding the Ancient Age image. While the distillery was never officially the Ancient Age Distillery, even when Age International owned it, the water tower was painted with the Ancient Age label and everybody called it either Ancient Age, Schenley, or Stagg. Sazerac mostly wanted a new identity for the distillery but got a brand out of the deal too.

Some of this is mythology, but it fits the facts.

billyhacker said...

I go through a case of Pikesville a year, for drinking, for mixing, for bringing to the right kind of party. For whatever reason, for some drinks in which rye is adulterated with some specific vermouths, I've gotten many to agree with me that it's the best rye at an price. So, if there will be changes, Mr Cowdery, please let us know about them!

Chuck Cowdery said...

The 'new' Pikesville is a line extension, not a replacement. The existing expressions will continue to be available.

snakeman said...

Chuck, I find your list right along with many of my favor profiles, except as noted above with Bookers. My newest discovery is the Old Forester, 1897, bottled in bond. The bottle didn't last 7 days. Soooooooooooooo Good

But the best part of this blog is the knowledge you imparted upon us of the industry, it's history ,and lore. And the snarky comments about the "The Big Galoof" and the NDP's just add's icing on the cake.

Erik Fish said...

"But the best part of this blog is the knowledge you imparted upon us of the industry, its history ,and lore."

Exactly this^^^. Chuck, your usefulness has really nothing to do with whether I happen to like what you like. Your blog is enormously useful because you actually know stuff and have access to real sources of information. The knowledge pool of the whiskey blogosphere in general is rather shallow; the majority of bloggers really don't know anything and have nothing beyond a computer, some Glencairn glasses, access to a liquor store, and more or less experience, and fill their blogs entirely with tasting notes of inconsistent helpfulness.

I read this blog and subscribe to the reader because I'm impressed by your ability to collect and put in perspective information beyond the press releases and distillery websites. That's a lot more valuable than someone's creatively worded and entirely subjective opinions about a specific whiskey. And if against that background you tell me that a certain whiskey is good quality, I'll trust that judgment even if it may turn out not to be my favorite.

By the way, when can those who are already subscribed expect the new Reader?

Chuck Cowdery said...

The new Reader has been mailed. It is in the hands of the Post Office now.

Unknown said...

Chuck -

It's evident why we get along so well - your tastes mirror mine pretty darned close. Very Old Barton 100: good grief what a bargain! Hard to believe you can get such good stuff for $23 per half-gallon. (Although I think everyone is wising up - it's becoming harder to find). Eagle Rare? You can still find it where i'm at for $25 per bottle! Outstanding value for 10 year old bourbon. As you said it best - the best values in bourbon are hiding in plain sight!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling the Buffalo Trace story. I liked the Ancient Age moniker (and water tower) but it appears like Sazerac knew the market pretty well and has enjoyed a huge success as a result. As the pre-WWII author Joseph Roth said:

"Things change."

GunRights said...

snakeman Is absolutely correct in his comments. Attended a cookout at his house on the Fourth of July and he only had enough in the bottle for me to have about 4 ounces maybe. Good stuff..... Thanks to Snakeman who signed me up for "The Bourbon County Reader".

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Thanks for sharing your favorites. The way you feel about Eagle Rare 10 is the same way I feel about Elijah Criag 12 yr. I also always try to have Four Roses Single Barrel in the cabinet.

Anonymous said...

Your blog was the only reason I became aware of VOB 100 proof. That was about a year ago. I asked my local liquor store for it, a terrific owner, and he obliged. What surprised me when I found it on his shelf a couple weeks later is that it was a 1.75l for 24.99. Minus a $2 coupon the guy offers on his website and that bottle joins me out the door for $25 including tax.

So thank you for that because I can't afford much more when balanced with how frequently I like to pour!

Unknown said...

I am also a big fan of Rittenouse Rye - I am interested in the new versions of Pikesville.

Ward Williams said...

Mind updating this list, if it's changed any, for a 2018 edition..? I really appreciate having this as a bourbons to try and look for list. Thanks!