Maker’s Mark 101

Formerly known as Maker’s Gold and limited to non-domestic markets and distillery-only occasions, 101-proof Maker’s Mark was once a rare acquisition for Americans. It can now be found at your local liquor store for $40 (nearly twice the price of a certain legendary 101).


Pour: Maker’s Mark 101
Proof: 101
Age: At least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: vanilla, cherry preserves, butter cookies
Taste: creamy caramel, orange-honey, frosted pastry
Finish: moderate length w/ vanilla spice, sweet oak, cinnamon


Overall: The Wild Turkey fan in me wants to call out Maker’s marketing for coattail riding. Point aside, Maker’s 101 is incredibly delicious. It truly is. Why people continue to pay stupid money for mediocre wheated bourbons with this in abundance is puzzling.

Rating: 102

Jim Beam White Label

Here’s one we all know – Jim Beam “White Label.” In my pre-enthusiast days, this was bourbon (as in the only bourbon that existed). I’ve come a long way since, but I must admit, I carry a strange fondness for this classic label. Memories … good and bad in the very best way.


Pour: Jim Beam Bourbon a/k/a “White Label”
Proof: 80
Age: at least 4 years
Color: amber
Nose: nutty vanilla, caramel popcorn, nutmeg
Taste: vanilla, buttered corn, lightly roasted nuts
Finish: moderately short – toffee, mild oak char, faint spice


Overall: Look, I’m not going to try to convince you that you should buy this whiskey. It is what it is, but what it ain’t, is awful. The early bourbon snob in me would’ve snarked. That early bourbon snob was an ass. Jim Beam does the job it was made to do.

Rating: Party bourbon.

Chattanooga Whiskey 111 Proof

I’ve been hearing great things about Chattanooga Whiskey 111 Proof over the last year. Looking over its label, I can see why. There’s loads of transparency. Bottom line – it’s a “high malt” straight bourbon bottled at a notable ABV (NCF, no less). Boxes checked, glass poured.


Pour: Chattanooga Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 111
Age: two years
Color: dense honey
Nose: s’mores, boozy nougat, baked apples & pears
Taste: creamy caramel, chocolate raisins, hints of “crafty” oak
Finish: moderately long w/ English toffee, oak char, grain cereal


Overall: There’s a part of me that wants to dish out serious praise, but the know-better part just smacked it in the face. Chattanooga 111 is a decent pour – impressive for craft, no doubt. Is it worth your next $45? Maybe once. After that, give it time.

Rating: 111 > Old No. 7.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery Series No. 2

Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Discovery Series is an ultra-premium line featuring sourced whiskeys of various ages and mash bills. The second release is composed of 10-, 12-, and 14-year bourbons (undisclosed origins), each distilled in Kentucky with rye as the secondary grain.


Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery Series No. 2
Proof: 122.2
Age: 10 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: salted caramel, honey-roasted nuts, dark citrus
Taste: brown sugar, charred oak, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – vanilla spice, cola, clove gum


Overall: A robust, well-rounded, satisfying pour. While not unlike other bourbons in its class, Bardstown’s Discovery No. 2 brings its share to the table. The sole negative is its $130 price. Quite an expense considering similarly aged options.

Rating: Hefty pour, hefty price.

Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5

Fall 2020 saw the second entry in the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, SE4 x PR5. Curiously, it didn’t receive the level of hype typically associated with annual limited-edition bourbons. A great thing for Maker’s fans, as perception in the bourbon world is seldom 20/20.


Pour: Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5
Proof: 110.8
Age: not stated
Color: honey
Nose: maple syrup, semisweet chocolate, holiday citrus
Taste: creamy caramel, heavily toasted oak, orange cola
Finish: long & flavorful – vanilla extract, cinnamon, hazelnut coffee


Overall: An ambrosial delight of subtly exotic complexity. For $60, it doesn’t get much better than Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5. To those that passed this impressive whiskey by, I leave you with the immortal words of Ms. Vivian Ward, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

Rating: Slept-on hit.

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon

My experience with toasted-oak whiskey is rather limited, but generally speaking I’m not the biggest fan. I am, however, a fan of staying open minded. So, when I saw Elijah Craig’s latest special release, a straight bourbon touting a toasted-barrel finish, I rolled the dice.


Pour: Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon
Proof: 94
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: French toast, densely sweet oak, ripe plum
Taste: roasted marshmallow, brown sugar, caramel chews
Finish: moderate length – vanilla bean, tobacco, black licorice


Overall: Look, I’ll admit, this bourbon isn’t for everyone. But, for those seeking a uniquely sweet and dessert-like whiskey without a cloying or artificial quality, Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon is right up your alley. For $50, I’m satisfied.

Rating: Sweet success.

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon

Michter’s is a bourbon enigma. It’s reported their whiskey is contract distilled by Brown-Forman, though their well-aged and coveted limited edition stocks are surely sourced. Yet, they leverage their brand on “pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753.” Hmm.

Anyhow, there’s a rabbit hole to descend with that tale, but I’d rather not. Instead, I’ll focus on Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon. You know the one – the bottle you always find on shelves but never get around to buying. I’ll proudly take the bullet – eh – musket ball, for you.


Pour: Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon (batch 20H1957)
Proof: 91.4
Age: at least 4 years
Color: honey
Nose: vanilla creme, orange peel, hints of evergreen
Taste: caramel apple, sweet oak, citrus herbal tea
Finish: moderate length – vanilla icing, nutmeg, faint ginger


Overall: Well, it’s bourbon. Nothing much to rant or rave about. Strangely, Michter’s Small Batch reminds me of a “proofed up” Four Roses Yellow Label (and not at all like Brown-Forman). In a nutshell, core bourbon notes laced with citrus and faint evergreen.

Rating: Bourbon.

Cream of Kentucky (Batch 4)

In 2019, former Four Roses master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee, Jim Rutledge, revived the classic Cream of Kentucky brand. Today, I’m tasting the fourth release in that modern revival, a 13-year small batch bourbon reportedly sourced from Barton.


Pour: Cream of Kentucky (Batch 4)
Proof: 102
Age: 13 years
Color: dark honey
Nose: charred banana, vanilla pudding, damp oak
Taste: Cadbury Creme Egg, butter toffee, boozy orange
Finish: moderate length – toasted caramel, baked cinnamon, leather


Overall: Signature mature Barton in virtually every way – woody banana and thick vanilla creme laced with dark citrus and baked spice. Cream of Kentucky batch 4 is robust and full-bodied, not to mention a significant improvement over the 12.3-year batch 3.

Rating: Doubly rich.


Bottle courtesy of J. W. Rutledge.

Early Times Bottled in Bond

In 2020, Sazerac announced their acquisition of the Early Times brand. That considered, I figured the sooner the better on a review of the in-the-know popular Brown-Forman distilled Kentucky straight bourbon. Coming soon to a Pappy halo near you, Early Times Bottled in Bond.


Pour: Early Times Bottled in Bond
Proof: 100
Age: at least 4 years
Color: copper
Nose: toasted banana, vanilla extract, nutmeg
Taste: caramel syrup, sweet oak, brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – burnt toffee, licorice, leather


Overall: This is good. Not just good for the money ($20/liter) but good, period. Most non-age-stated bonded bourbons taste their required four years. This one is an exception. Early Times Bottled in Bond is rich, flavorful, and surprisingly grown-up in profile.

Rating: BIN.

Knob Creek 9 Year

Having reviewed Knob Creek 12 and 15, it seemed only appropriate to review the affordable and widely available 9-year expression. If it weren’t for Wild Turkey 101, Knob Creek might just be my table bourbon. But then, I’m spoiling this review. Let’s do this right.


Pour: Knob Creek 9 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 9 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: nutty toffee, vanilla, sweet citrus
Taste: brown sugar, zesty oak, baking spice
Finish: moderate length – caramel, nutmeg, mild pepper


Overall: I don’t just like Knob Creek, I love it. It’s not going to win major awards or destroy competition twice its price, but it doesn’t need to. This is the profile an everyday bourbon should be. No youth, no tannins, just 100-proof, $30 goodness.

Rating: A modern classic.

Knob Creek 12 Year

2020 was a banner year for Knob Creek bourbon. Its original 9-year age statement returned, a reasonably priced 15-year limited edition was released, and a new 12-year expression was introduced. Having just reviewed the 15-year, I thought I’d give the 12-year a go.


Pour: Knob Creek 12 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 12 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: honey-roasted peanuts, maple, orange tea
Taste: caramel-apple, brown sugar, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – dark fruit, sweet charred oak, autumn spice


Overall: Possibly the most well-balanced Knob Creek expression I’ve tasted. While there’s maturity, there’s an equally present fruitiness not commonly found in Knob Creek Single Barrel selections of similar age. For $60, Knob Creek 12 is a winner.

Rating: Right on the money.

Knob Creek 15 Year

The best thing about Knob Creek limited edition releases is they’re relatively easy to find. 2020’s Knob Creek 15 was no exception. For $100 one could – and still can – purchase a 100-proof, 15-year Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (sans sourced whiskey mystery bullshit).


Pour: Knob Creek 15 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 15 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: woody cherry, fragrant oak, Coca-Cola Classic
Taste: earthy vanilla, chewing tobacco, sweet sassafras
Finish: moderately long – singed plum, clove gum, leather


Overall: I can’t help but compare Knob Creek 15 to the slightly younger but cheaper Knob Creek 12. While I generally prefer the 12-year’s profile, I remain impressed with the 15-year’s surprising elegance. This is well-aged bourbon done right.

Rating: Mature, meticulous.