For our first meeting, we tried some mid-range Kentucky straight bourbon. We started light and moved to progressively darker spirits, discussing and rating each one along the way. To begin, I gave a quick lesson on the ins and outs of what legally constitutes bourbon as opposed to other whiskeys and some basic terminology. We also discussed how to taste a bourbon. Here’s a quick pointer for those of you who are new to drinking bourbon, don’t inhale it like it’s wine, especially if you’re drinking a stronger spirit like an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (133 proof). It may knock you out.
Our first bourbon was Basil Hayden’s. This is one of my personal favorites, and the whole group agreed that it was really easy to drink. As a group, we ranked it as a 9 out of 10 with a few 8’s and one 6. Most of our tasters are relatively new to drinking whiskey without shooting it or mixing it into a drink, and the group reviews started spiraling shortly after this. Anyway, here’s what we thought of everything:
(Specs) 8 year aged | 40% or 80 proof | 750 ML $44.95
(Distiller) Basil Hayden’s Distillery, Kentucky
(Color) Basil Hayden’s is light in color. Some descriptions we came up with included amber, golden, and honey brown.
(Notes) Smooth, buttery, and sweet. Some tasters described notes of honey or toffee.
(Finish) Smooth aftertaste, mild burn. Most said the after taste was pleasant and not too long lasting.
The master stiller is said to determine when the spirit is ready, but not based on a specific age. I kind of think of it as the rosé of bourbon since it’s a little less precise, a little less complex, but really easy to drink.
(Specs) 7 – 9 years (actual age undisclosed) | 45% or 90 proof | 750 ML $22.95
(Distillery) Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky
(Color) Caramel Brown (I have some other colors written, but the taster’s writing go a bit sloppy already)
(Notes) Very smooth and easy to drink. Sweet, and just a little smokey. Most consider this one that works as a daily drink.\
(Finish) Easy, smooth, and a lingering aftertaste that’s not too bad.
This bourbon was more complex than the previous 2, and the tasters had a lot more to say about it. Being new tasters, they also had a little bit more trouble with it since it’s a much more dark liquor and quite a bit stronger. Overall, the reviews were very positive.
(Specs) 7 years | 53.5% or 107 proof | $54.95 750 ML
(Distillery) James B. Beam Distilling Co., Kentucky
(Color) Dark, honey brown
(Notes) As a note, the notes were getting sloppy at this point, so the parts that are legible are included but I scrapped the rest. Some said it was harsh, sharp, and complex. It has more of a bite but much more flavor. The oak is heavy, and the smoke is much more pronounced.
(Finish) Strong burn, lingering aftertaste of oak
Everyone took a bit of time to play some backyard games and drink water before moving on. We grilled some brats and had some food, and everybody felt like they were ready for another taste.
(Specs) 8 years | 46.85% or 94 proof | $31.95 750 ML
(Distillery) The Barton 1792, Kentucky
(Color) Dark Brown
(Notes) 1792 is a bit less harsh than Baker’s. Some considered the burn harsher than our earlier bourbons but smooth in comparison to Baker’s. It has an even, consistent taste that some described as a little bit of hazelnut.
(Finish) Harsh, but not too harsh. Fairly clean finish with little aftertaste.
Evan William’s Single Barrel
It’s in the featured picture, but there are no notes to go with it. Suffice to say, nobody was all that impressed by it.