I'm a bourbon enthusiast and that's about as generous as I can get. By enthusiast I mean that I enjoy drinking bourbon and reading about it. The history, the process, and even the marketing that goes into selling a bottle of bourbon. When the opportunity to actually write a blog for an established website presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Particularly since my last blog, Confessions of an Environmental Consultant, went nowhere.
Let me preface what you're about to read with a few caveats. I like bourbon, always have. Being the good Scotch Presbyterian North Carolinians that the McIntyres are, bourbon has always been the desired libation on my Dad's side of the family. He enjoyed Jack Daniels (let's not start the Tennessee Sour Mash debate) and Makers Mark. I enjoyed whatever I could get my hands on back in my late teens and early 20s, liberally mixed with crushed ice and Mountain Dew or Sun Drop. Back then, I had no appreciation for fine whiskey or fine alcohol in any form. I was content to consume whatever I could get my hands on, Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and God forbid Natty Lite (I shudder at that memory). Fine bourbon was anything that was not Jim Beam (that was beneath me).
Since that time Iive come to appreciate the finer things in life, including the finer properties of alcoholic beverages. I like wine, particularly malbecs, and almost anything from Stag's Leap, Grgich Hills, Cakebread Cellars, and Clois du Bois (although I can only afford the last on the list). I love microbrews, I was an early proponent of Karl Strauss when they were the game in town (San Diego) and my tastes have evolved. Where I used to be a hard core pale ale guy I've pretty much abandoned them for the draw of the hops in West Coast IPAs (San Diego County ones in particular). At one point in my life I could not imagine putting a porter or stout in mouth because to me they looked like Mobile 1. Thanks to my home brewing neighbor I cannot get enough of the pumpkin stouts and porters that come out at Halloween (my favorite holiday by the way).
Why do I like those particular wines and beers you might ask? Because they taste good, plain and simple. Don’t ask me to compare the varietal notes of a Stag's Leap Cabernet or the fruity overtones of a Chalk Hill Chardonnay because I can't. I just don’t have the palate, why do I drink it? Because it tastes good and whatever the precipitation amount and whatever the soil temperature was, it combines to make something I enjoy drinking. Same with beer, Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin simply far exceeds Bass in taste and I’ll always grab it when I have a choice.
So why should you read a blog written by an obvious novice like myself? It's obvious isn't it? You're just like me. You have as much trouble determining where in the rick house that bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel was stored as I do. The amount of char in that barrel of Russell's Reserve? Your guess is as good as mine. But while you publicly decry regular old Jim Beam, you secretly harbor a backup supply of OGD BiB because it just tastes so good. I know you do. And you absolutely bypass regular Jack Daniels for Evan Williams because why would you pay twice as much for a bottle of bourbon (Sour Mash whatever….) that's only 80 proof when you can pay under $10 for something that's 86 proof and likely aged for a year or two longer. You do that all day long. So are my reviews going to be purely a quick synopsis of what burned my tongue more and "hey should get this, it's only $9.99"? No, despite what I said above I can do a bourbon review in the conventional sense and I actually can pick out some details when I focus on it. More importantly, being an ardent viewer of the secondary market, I can offer you my thoughts and insights on whether some of these are really worth that extra $5000 over MSRP.
Let me start off by saying that my bourbon sweet spot is typically something with a high rye mashbill between 86 and 100 proof. I tend to find anything at 80 proof cloyingly sweet (although I'll use it as a mixer) and when you get much over 100 proof the alcohol fumes are just too much for me. I tend to enjoy my bourbon with an ice cube or two or a plash of water. My preferred mixer is Ginger Ale.
I was asked to review two bourbons: Blanton’s Gold and Blanton's Straight from the Barrel. Note that I had no information on the year these particular expressions were released, nor did I know their proof or age. I did a little research and started with Blanton’s Gold since it seemed to have the lowest proof.
My method was simple, I used a tulip shaped wine glass (I'll get a Glencairn for the next review) and poured about 2 oz in. I nosed it, swirled it a few times, nosed it again, and repeated. I took the first sip and focused on the palate and the second sip was focused on the finish, the third was looking for anything else that stood out. I used about ¼ TSP of filtered water from my frig for the last sip. I ate a plain cracker and drank some filtered water in between.
Clear, with a dark amber color (darker than honey). Tawny even.
Heavy on the alcohol. Spicy with a hint of malt, cinnamon and vanilla. I didn’t get a sense of any wood or fruit notes.
Burned my lips and tongue, buttery (Although I think almost all bourbons have a buttery feel to me). I did get a hint of char. It was NOT sweet. Tannic and puckering.
Burning, lingering and long, it did not go away for a while. I did get a hint of wood in the aftertaste though.
With ¼ TSP of Filtered Water
That tiny amount of alcohol (granted in about .5 oz of bourbon really went a long way to knocking back the alcohol fumes. There was a much strong cinnamon note in the nose. The taste was still tannic and puckering. The hint of char was gone and there were no wood notes in the finish, but it still had that great burn.
Blanton's Straight from the Barrel
The SFTB was clear and darker than the Gold.
Like the Gold the alcohol was strong. However, I did get a hint of spice and a musty odor which is a bit reminiscent of moss on a tree. That goes along with the slightly woody notes and the hints of charcoal and char that I got. There was another note that I couldn’t quite get my finger on, burnt sugar (I saw that in another review on BTAC but that could have been it).
The burn on SFTB was not as strong as the Gold and it had a malty taste. Buttery again. I did not taste any alcohol which I liked although it still had that tannic, puckering quality. No hints of fruit or spice, this was very mild in the mouth I thought.
Another long, lingering burn. The alcohol really hit me on the finish. There was a strong woody aftertaste after the burn had ceased which I really liked. Hints of malt and char.
With ¼ TSP of Filtered Water
Almost of a mossy smell with a hint of toffee on the nose. Even milder on the palate but still tannic and puckering. Finish was still long and lingering with more spice.
Again, I'm a novice and I enjoy what I enjoy. If I had to rank the two I'd say (1) SFTB and (2) Gold. I know Blantons Gold and SFTB are hard to find, I think you can only get them in Japan. I have a friend who goes and I've had him on the hunt for them. If he could get them for $100 I'd have him get me a bottle just because you can't get it here. I wouldn't pay that much if it was on the shelf in the US. I personally cannot see paying more than $100 for anything unless it really, really spoke to me (and cooked me breakfast) and I haven't tasted anything that has to date.