John J. Bowman

Ever see what people are paying for Rock Hill Farms on secondary markets? Pathetic, right? I’m guessing they’ve never tasted the $50 John J. Bowman, a lesser-known, 100-proof, single-barrel bourbon from another Sazerac brand. Oh, well. As you’ll soon find out … their loss.


Pour: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon
Proof: 100
Age: not stated (reportedly 9-10 years)
Color: amber
Nose: cherry-vanilla frosting, caramel, cream soda
Taste: dried fruit, butter toffee, nutmeg, sugar glaze
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, Luden’s cherry, faint pepper


Overall: They say John J. Bowman starts out as Buffalo Trace distillate. It’s redistilled twice over by A. Smith Bowman, then aged and bottled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Whatever the process, it not only tastes like 100-proof Buffalo Trace, it tastes better.

Rating: Horsey killer.

Weller Special Reserve

Anyone dipping their toes into the bourbon enthusiasm pool will quickly learn that Weller is Pappy. Okay, maybe not Pappy, but kind of the same as Pappy. Okay, maybe not kind of the same as Pappy, but dammit they need it because it has something to do with Pappy.

Today, I’m tasting Weller Special Reserve. That’s right – the supposed-to-be-priced-at $25, 90-proof, wheated mash bill, Buffalo Trace distilled bourbon phenomenon. Unfortunately, thanks to Pappy hysteria, its price is often as inflated as its mythos.


Pour: Weller Special Reserve
Proof: 90
Age: at least 4 years
Color: amber
Nose: vanilla, honey-glazed apple, buttery rolls
Taste: caramel drizzle, sweet oak, hints of cherry
Finish: moderate length – confectioners sugar, light baking spice


Overall: A well-balanced, easy-sipping, sweet and buttery bourbon. I completely understand why folks love this stuff. All the same, I discourage anyone from paying a premium for Weller Special Reserve. It’s good whiskey, not great whiskey.

Rating: Weller Lite.

Col. E. H. Taylor Straight Rye

There was a time when one could find Col. E. H. Taylor Straight Rye collecting dust on retail shelves in my area. (True story.) Those days are over. Hell, it’s probably been two years since I’ve seen *any* Taylor tube sitting on a liquor store shelf. Such are the days we live in.


Pour: Col. E. H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey
Proof: 100
Age: at least 4 years
Color: dark honey
Nose: maraschino cherry, vanilla wafer, blood orange
Taste: fruity caramel, lemon-honey, sweet oak char
Finish: moderate length – creamy cake frosting, ripe citrus, holiday spice


Overall: It might surprise some on first taste, but E. H. Taylor Rye isn’t distilled by Buffalo Trace. It’s distilled by Barton from a mash bill containing no corn. Unsurprisingly, it’s one uniquely tasty bottled-in-bond whiskey. If found at its $80 SRP, buy.

Rating: Damn ryet.

Benchmark “Old No. 8” Bourbon

Benchmark is one of two brands acquired by Sazerac from Seagram’s in the 1980s (the other being Eagle Rare). Today, it’s distilled by Buffalo Trace and is commonly found for less than $10 in liquor stores nationwide. Sounds like a deal, right? Don’t get your hopes up just yet.


Pour: Benchmark “Old No. 8” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 80
Age: 36 months
Color: straw
Nose: margarine, strawberry Greek yogurt, apple juice
Taste: canned corn, sour pears, pasteboard
Finish: not short enough – Lemon Pledge, sadness


Overall: Rarely can I not finish a bourbon. Benchmark is one such pour. Yes, it’s labeled “Kentucky straight,” but three years in oak just doesn’t cut it here. It’s thin, youthful, oddly sour, and unpleasant. If this is a benchmark of whiskey, I’m Tom Handy.

Rating: Gag Jr.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

The eponymous whiskey from the enormously popular distillery, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon was once commonly found and appropriately priced. Now … not so much. Such is the state of bourbon at the onset of 2021. Is the feeding frenzy worth the fuss? Let’s find out.


Pour: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 90
Age: at least 4 years
Color: gold/amber
Nose: apple pie, honey-butter, caramel drizzle
Taste: vanilla, honeysuckle, confectioners sugar
Finish: moderate length – sweet oak, lemon peel, faint spice


Overall: If it weren’t hell to acquire, I’d recommend Buffalo Trace as an ideal starter bourbon. Unfortunately, that would only prompt frustration for beginners. As is, it’s a tasty sipper with enough complexity to keep things interesting for the seasoned drinker.

Rating: Solid.