Bourbon Spotlight - Bourbon Tasting & Buyer's Guide

I recently did a country western-themed cocktail party at a private residence, which included an unofficial bourbon tasting for newbies and more experienced bourbon drinkers and signature bourbon cocktail called “The Wrangler” (recipe below). It was a fun time. This post is dedicated to my good friend and client, Alan Weinstein. The offerings were spread out across the spectrum of bourbon choices, i.e. small batch, single barrel, straight, reserve, high wheat, high rye, and traditional mash. The representatives were Bird Dog, Blanton’s, Bulleit, Eagle Rare, Four Roses, Jefferson’s, which all offer something a little bit different to the palate. They will be discussed below with tasting notes and PA price.

I also included some other bourbons that I find to be intriguing, i.e. Larceny, Michter’s, Jefferson’s Reserve, Four Roses Yellow Label and Single Barrel. Many of these bourbons are a fine addition to your favorite bourbon collection and whiskey-based cocktails, such as a Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, and Boulevardier, but best enjoyed straight up or on the rocks. Add a splash of water, which brings out and enhances the aroma and flavor of the bourbon.

 

What is Small Batch Bourbon?

Small batch bourbon is largely an American term. It’s made for the true connoisseur, every sip a testament to the work and love that has gone into each handcrafted bottle. It’s used when a smaller number of casks than usual mixed together to create a special product from a distiller, i.e. Four Roses Small Batch (one of my favorites) versus it’s more widely produced Four Roses Yellow Label. New, smaller craft distilleries always produce small batch whiskeys because they don’t have any other choice. You will see the term on the bottle.

As the name suggests, these ultra-premium, small batch bourbons are made in limited quantities. Aged from six to nine years in new, charred American white oak barrels, each is characteristic of pre-Prohibition whiskey, with strong, rich flavors and aromas. Small batch bourbon is a complex balance of taste and flavor.

 

What is Single Barrel Bourbon?

Single barrel whiskey (or single cask whiskey) is a premium class of whiskey in which each bottle comes from an individual aging barrel, instead of being created by blending together the contents of various barrels to provide uniformity of color and taste. Basically, whiskey is dumped from one barrel or cask into bottles.

 

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon (high rye content, $27.99)

Mingling multiple Bourbon recipes is an art in itself. Four original and limited Bourbon recipes have been expertly selected by our Master Distiller at the peak of maturation to create a perfectly balanced Small Batch Bourbon that rewards you with a mellow symphony of rich, spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. Finishes soft, smooth and pleasantly long.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Spicy, rich, mellow, fruity, hints of sweet oak & caramel.
Palate: Creamy, mellow, ripened red berries, rich, spicy, well-balanced, moderately sweet.
Finish: Soft, smooth & pleasantly long.

 

Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label, approx. $19 – not available in PA)

A worldwide favorite, especially when creating mixed drinks with a sophisticated, contemporary flair. Hints of pear and apple compliment floral aromas and mix with a taste of honey and spice. Smooth and mellow with a unique, long and soft finish.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Pear and light fruitiness, floral, gentle spice, honey.
Palate: Crisp, yet soft & smooth, fresh fruit, hints of apple.
Finish: Soft & smooth.

 

Michter’s US 1 Small Batch Bourbon ($39.99)/Unblended ($39.99)

Michter’s US 1 Bourbon is made from a carefully selected mashbill (traditional) that features the highest quality American corn. It is then matured to the peak of perfection, with barrels often aging in excess of eight years. Truly “small batch,” each batch of our US 1 Bourbon is typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels, leaving no margin for “blending out” imperfection and thus necessitating excellence from every barrel. Reflecting the spirit of the Bluegrass State, Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nuanced, mellow, and earthy.

Tasting Notes

Rich caramel with balanced vanilla, stone fruit notes, smoky depth, with an oak finish.

 

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon ($31.99)

Balance and complexity are made approachable and affordable in this offering created from four styles of bourbon that we marry together in small batches.

Tasting Notes

The result is a slightly fruitier and surprisingly sophisticated flavor profile, finishing - as always - with a smooth, vanilla-infused elegance that demands another round.

 

Jefferson’s Reserve ($59.99)

The Reserve is the perfect marriage of four different recipes of bourbon, one of which is an elder statesman. The result is bourbon that, like Thomas Jefferson, is sophisticated, complex and unforgettable.

Tasting Notes

Big and bold with hints of spice, toffee and leather.

 

Eagle Rare 10 Yr old Bourbon ($28.99)

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (traditional) is masterfully crafted and carefully aged for no less than ten years. The rareness of this great breed of bourbon is evident in its complex aroma, as well as the smooth and lingering taste. Eagle Rare is a bourbon that lives up to its name with its lofty, distinctive taste experience.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Complex aromas of toffee, hints of orange peel, herbs, honey, leather and oak.

Taste: Bold, dry, oaky flavors with notes of candied almonds and very rich cocoa.

Finish: Dry and lingering.

 

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (high rye content, $39.99)

A premium Single Barrel Bourbon with a taste you’ll want to savor again and again. Complex, full bodied and surprisingly smooth with a delicate long finish that’s unbelievably mellow. Contains hints of ripe plum, cherry and other fruits, mild spices, plus sweet aromas including caramel, cocoa, vanilla and maple syrup.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fruity, spicy, floral, caramel, vanilla, cocoa, maple syrup, moderately woody.
Palate: Hints of ripe plum & cherries, robust, full body, mellow.
Finish: Smooth & delicately long.

 

Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon ($57.99)

The finest bourbon in the world comes from a single barrel. That’s the way Colonel Albert B. Blanton first bottled his private reserve bourbon nearly a century ago. Blanton believed the “center-cut” or middle sections of Warehouse H were the best for aging his bourbon. Personally tasting and choosing each barrel, these barrels were reserved and bottled for ambassadors, dignitaries, family and friends becoming the world’s first single barrel bourbon. His time honored tradition lives on today as only a handful of barrels from the center of Warehouse H are selected to become Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon.

Blanton’s Iconic Horse Cork – Celebrates the dual heritage of whiskey making and horse racing shared by Kentucky. Eight various stoppers represent jockey and horse strides in various positions. Collect all eight and spell the word “Blanton’s”. Each letter is etched into the cork.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: A spicy aroma of Dried Citrus and Orange Peels with a hint of Caramel and Vanilla.
Palate:  Full and soft, marked by a mix of Burnt Sugar, Caramel, Orange, and Cloves.
Finish: Balanced with Vanilla, Honey, and Citrus.

 

Bird Dog Bourbon ($17.99)

Bird Dog Whiskey blends the finest aged white oak barrel Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey with all natural flavors to create a smooth, easy-drinking whiskey. Bird Dog Bourbon has an elaborate medley of corn, malted barley and rye that formulates into a distinctive gentle bourbon. With many layers of distinction, Bird Dog Bourbon flourishes with light undertones of honey and golden raisins which is complimented by the richness of caramelized wood sugar. Aged in traditional charred white oak bourbon barrels and bottled at 80 proof, Bird Dog Bourbon is  extremely enjoyable bourbon. In addition, Bird Dog has created a variety of smooth, easy-drinking, 80 proof flavors that can convince even the most die-hard bourbon purists. These include Blackberry, Peach, Hot Cinnamon and Maple.

 

Larceny Bourbon (high wheat, $26.99)

Larceny was hand selected by the Master Distillers to have a taste profile of a six-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Made with wheat as the secondary grain, instead of the traditional rye, Larceny is a smooth tasting Bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Bright new copper

Aroma: Fresh bread and toffee, with a note of butterscotch

Taste: Buttery caramel and honeyed notes, with a rich mouthfeel

Finish: Long, gently sweet and savory

 

Bulleit Bourbon ($27.99)/10 Yr Old ($49.99)

Bulleit Bourbon (high rye content) is made with small-batch techniques inspired by those pioneered by Augustus Bulleit over 150 years ago. Only ingredients of the very highest quality are used. The subtlety and complexity of Bulleit Bourbon come from its unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt, along with special strains of yeast and pure Kentucky limestone filtered water. Due to its especially high rye content, Bulleit Bourbon has a bold, spicy character with a finish that's distinctively clean and smooth.

Tasting Notes:

Medium amber in color, with gentle spiciness and sweet oak aromas. Mid-palate is smooth with tones of maple, oak, and nutmeg. Finish is long, dry, and satiny with a light toffee flavor.

 

The Wrangler

  • 1 oz Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz Spatola Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Splash of O.J. (opt.)
  • Cherry and Orange Peel garnish
  • Chilled Cocktail glass or coupe

 

Prep – Build all ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Drop in a cherry without stem and orange peel squeezed over drink and dropped in.