Price gripes aside, Booker’s is a whiskey I’ve long respected. Age-stated, uncut, and unfiltered, it’s a no-frills, unapologetic, full-flavored bourbon conceived by the late Booker Noe as a tribute to his grandfather, Jim Beam. This is my favorite batch, 2015’s “Noe Secret.”
Pour: Booker’s Bourbon b. 2015-06 “Noe Secret”
Age: 6 years, 8 months
Color: dense copper
Nose: caramel, nutty toffee, cookie dough
Taste: brown sugar, molasses, semi-sweet chocolate
Finish: long & robust – black cherry, charred oak, tobacco
Overall: While all Booker’s batches share a kindred core profile, some, like “Noe Secret,” showcase extraordinary nuances. The dark fruit on the finish is alone worth the price of admission. Sadly, I’ve reached the end of this bottle. It will be missed.
Rating: Noe replacing.
Outside of Kentucky, Old Pogue is nary a household name. Information regarding their whiskey is sparse, though it appears it was largely sourced until recently. This Master’s Select label states “distilled in KY, bottled by the Old Pogue Distillery.” And that’s all I’ve got.
Pour: Old Pogue Master’s Select (b. 6800)
Age: not stated (at least 4 years)
Nose: vanilla creme, toasted banana, nutmeg
Taste: trail mix (more fruit, less nuts), savory oak, rum cake
Finish: moderately long – toasted bread, caramel, cinnamon, leather
Overall: While I can’t say it’s worth a triple-digit purchase, I can say that Old Pogue Master’s Select is surprisingly good. Gauging its maturity by profile is a challenge, however. I assume it’s a blend of younger and older bourbon. Regardless, I’m satisfied.
What do you get when you combine an Elmer T. Lee style bottle and a 12-year age statement? A bourbon no one brags about. I suppose it makes sense. I mean, Old Medley’s label isn’t exactly a work of art. It’s also whiskey from an undisclosed Kentucky source … for $65.
Pour: Old Medley 12 Years Old
Age: 12 years
Nose: sugary cereal, apple jelly, buttered corn
Taste: vanilla-orange candy, seared pear, sweet oak char
Finish: moderately short – smoky caramel & citrus, faint pepper
Overall: Well, it’s bourbon. Unfortunately, even with a respectable 12-year maturation, Old Medley lacks a premium vibe. Vanilla, light fruit, oak char – you get all of that. Just don’t expect layers of complexity. Easy on the palate, hard on the wallet.
Rating: Oh, Meh-dley.
The cask-strength edition of Knob Creek 12 has lingered on my must-try list for months now. Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I finally have the opportunity to taste it. I’ll admit, I’m a little giddy. Knob Creek 12 is a personal favorite. I’m counting on great things.
Pour: Knob Creek 12 Year Cask Strength
Age: 12 years
Color: dense rust
Nose: molasses, maple syrup, baked brown sugar
Taste: chewy caramel, rich charred oak, antique leather
Finish: long & flavorful – chocolate brownie, coffee, clove, licorice
Overall: Knob Creek 12 at 100 proof is wonderful, but uncut at 120.5 (and only $90) … truly remarkable. It’s bourbon done right – bold complexity with an indulgent sweetness atypical of its maturity and strength. Such a shame it’s limited to select markets.
There was a time when W. H. McBrayer’s Cedar Brook was arguably the most popular Kentucky bourbon whiskey in the world. The McBrayer legacy was recently revived by his descendants using a recipe authored by “The Judge” himself and distilled via contract with Wilderness Trail.
Pour: McBrayer Legacy Spirits Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: toasted vanilla wafer, grain, barrel char
Taste: smoky toffee, Cracker Jacks, dry baking spice
Finish: moderate length – singed molasses, clove, licorice
Overall: Despite employing a custom recipe, the Wilderness Trail DNA is prominent. McBrayer Legacy Spirits Bourbon is a well-enough sipper, though I’d prefer it had more time in the barrel. At $100 a bottle, it’s a tough spend for the non-history buff.
Rating: Court in recess.
50ml sample courtesy of McBrayer Legacy Spirits.
Four Roses Single Barrel private selections aren’t easily found in my neck of the woods. When I see one, I buy it, as was the case with this 10-year OESF barrel from “South Carolina Hospitality.” Based on the fact it hit multiple stores, it’s likely a distributor selection.
Pour: Four Roses Single Barrel Select (b. 79-6L)
Age: 10 years, 2 months
Color: dense copper
Nose: heavy caramel, blood orange, toasted coconut
Taste: tart vanilla, oak char, tangy maple syrup
Finish: long, hot, and dry – cinnamon candy, raspberry tea, tobacco
Overall: While the nose sings with an enticing medley of caramel and dark fruit, the taste beats a tart & shaky rhythm. Any hopes for a rousing finale are swiftly shuffled off stage by its heat and drying finish. Not terrible; not great.
Rating: Every rose has its thorn.
I’ve been aware of Peerless Small Batch for some time now. I simply didn’t feel the need to purchase an expensive bottle of young whiskey. After discovering mini bottles for sale, I reconsidered. Barrel-proof, NCF Kentucky straight bourbon – it should at least be decent, right?
Pour: Peerless Small Batch Bourbon
Proof: 110.0 (barrel proof)
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: buttered corn, stewed apples, chewing tobacco
Taste: dense caramel, black licorice, tilled soil
Finish: moderately long w/ black tea, oak char, earthy spice
Overall: Perhaps I set my expectations a little higher than warranted. Peerless Small Batch tastes as it arguably should – like craft whiskey with potential. That being said, if you love earthy, dirty “root-like” notes, give this bourbon a try.
Rating: Peers abound.
Google “best cheap bourbons” and you’re unlikely to find Evan Williams White Label taking a spot in the highest ranking search results. A bottled-in-bond Kentucky straight bourbon for $15? Seems like a no-brainer. Yet, outside of enthusiast circles it’s seldom celebrated.
Pour: Evan Williams White Label (Bottled in Bond)
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: vanilla, fresh-cut corn, grainy spice
Taste: caramel candy, nutty oak, confectioners sugar
Finish: moderate length w/ light toffee, nutmeg, hints of oak char
Overall: If you’re expecting hype, you’ve come to the wrong place. Evan Williams White Label tastes exactly as it should – like 4-year, 100-proof bourbon. It’s not great. It’s not underrated. It’s precisely where it belongs – a stalwart of the bottom shelf.
Rating: Budget buy.
You hear a lot about McKenna Bottled in Bond, Eagle Rare, and Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, but not as much about Bulleit 10-Year. As well as the non-age-stated Bulleit Bourbon sells, you’d think you’d hear more. I wager there’s a reason. Perhaps this tasting will shed some light.
Pour: Bulleit 10-Year Bourbon
Age: 10 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: orange spice, toasted honey, floral essence
Taste: vanilla syrup, nutmeg, charred oak, citrus zest
Finish: moderate length w/ leather, herbal tea, faint mint
Overall: Bulleit 10 may be the lightest 10-year bourbon I’ve tasted. It’s flavorful and easy to sip – a notch above standard Bulleit – but that’s about it. With minor depth and complexity, one could argue its strength is inoffensiveness.
Rating: Bulleit with butterfly wings.
Having recently reviewed a 1977 Jim Beam White Label, as well as a modern iteration, I figured I’d strike while the iron was hot and review a 1976 export. Curiously, this whiskey is bottled in bond at 86 proof. Uncommon nowadays, but allowable by law. Sláinte! (export cheers)
Pour: 1976 Jim Beam Bottled in Bond Bourbon (export)
Age: 5 years
Color: amber rose
Nose: butterscotch, apple cider, frosted pastry
Taste: vanilla candy, butterscotch drizzle, light oak
Finish: moderately short – caramel, candied pear, faint spice
Overall: I’ll have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. While far tastier than today’s Beam, it’s a notable step down from the 1977 80-proof domestic bottling. I can only assume the bottled-in-bond “one season” clause limits the batch to younger bourbon.
Rating: One-trick dusty.
Ah, orphan barrels – the great oxymoron of American whiskey. Yet they exist, or so Diageo would have you believe. As for 2014’s Barterhouse, a 20-year $75 bourbon (reportedly distilled at Bernheim) isn’t exactly something to shake a stave at. Hell, it was a steal.
Pour: Barterhouse Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 20 years
Nose: dark cherry, fragrant oak, honey-maple, leather
Taste: chocolate-covered plum, vanilla bean, charred oak
Finish: moderate length w/ cola, licorice, sweet clove & sassafras
Overall: Delicious. While I wouldn’t classify Barterhouse as complex or layered, it’s rare to find 20-year bourbon so damn palatable. I particularly enjoy the contrast between its woodiness and dark cherry/plum sweetness. A noteworthy study in mature whiskey.
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
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.