We’ve already established that yours truly is a lover of the bourbon, so what better to give me than a bottle of small batch bourbon when the holidays roll around. Here is a roundup of some of my favorites.
Single barrel bourbon has only been around since 1984. That’s when the master distiller, Elmer T. Lee (Try his bourbon too – it’s great) at Buffalo Trace recalled a story passed down from the whiskey’s namesake, Col. Blanton, about how the good Colonel would entertain special guests with bourbon from barrels in Warehouse H, especially in the sections in the middle known as the center cut. Most bourbon is a mixture of whiskey from many barrels to get a consistent flavor over time. Single barrel tastes like the bourbon in that barrel, and there can be delightfully subtle differences in taste between purchases. Now there are many different single barrel bourbons to choose from, but Blanton’s is the original.
Much like Blanton’s is the original single barrel, Booker’s is the original small batch. In 1992, this signature bourbon of Booker Noe was released upon whiskey lovers of the world, and some of us will never be the same. It comes straight out of the barrel right into the bottle. It’s not cut or filtered in any way, so, like the single barrel, every batch is going to be a little different. Hell, the alcohol content even differs between the batches, ranging from 121-127 proof. It’s some damn tasty firewater.
Along comes Prichard’s, one of Tennessee’s newest distilleries, with a brand new process, double barreling. Most whiskey is brought down to it’s final proof by simply diluting it with water. Prichard’s is barrel aged, brought down to 95 proof then aged some more in a new charred oak barrel to give it a stronger, smokier bourbon flavor. That’s pretty crafty, or, dare I say, brilliant. This process has become one that many other bourbons have begun to use in their own unique fashion. Angel’s Envy, maybe you could call it a distant cousin, uses aged bourbon and then barrels it in old port wine barrels to give it a unique character profile. Make sure to try them.
Eagle Rare is a single barrel bourbon that began its life in 1975 as 101 proof, but is now sold as a 90 proof straight bourbon whiskey. It spends 10 years in Oak, which produces a smooth, delicious flavor. It’s one of my favorites. It is one of the great original rye recipes. I hear there’s a 17-year-old Eagle Rare. If you’re using this gift guide to buy presents for me, why don’t you pick that one.
So, in order to fully understand the complexities, differences and similarities of all these fine bourbons, I procured a bottle of each and had a few buddies over for a tasting, in the name of research. So that I could write this blog post and inform and entertain you. I’m a giver like that.
This is the kind of thing you get from most bourbon reviewers:
Brilliant amber color. Rich polished aromas of walnuts, crème de cassis, dried nuts, dried figs and leather, and elegant brown spices enchant the nose…
Blah, blah blah…
Not this crew. Below are some tasting notes and other quotes from four dudes, four bourbons.
“The bottle looks like the holy hand grenade of Antioch from the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
“I had a bigass old 1969 Mercury Marquis in High School. I once got it up to 140 on Highway 100.”
“This one is so good, if you cut it with Coke, you should be taken out back and beaten.”
“Eagle Rare sounds like a gated community outside of Atlanta. Don’t they have a PGA event at Eagle Rare?”