As many Bourbon enthusiasts are painfully aware, the availability of some favorites like Pappy Van Winkle and George T. Stagg is scant. As far as fans are concerned, there has been too little of many Bourbons in general for the past couple of years, and the years in our near future may require branching out from what you know. But let’s not cry over spilt milk – well, if you’ve really spilled some of your favorite Whiskey then I’ll concede that crying may be in order. Now let’s move past that admittedly weak metaphor and discuss the matter at hand: great Bourbon!
By definition, this titan among beverages must be American, it must be at least 51% corn (with any variety of grains making up the remainder of ingredients), and it must be aged in new-fill charred American oak barrels for a minimum of four years in order to legally be called Bourbon Whiskey. Those barrels give Bourbon much of its depth by contributing luscious caramels and vanillas, notes of toastiness/leather/tobacco, and a whole host of other dynamic flavors. The requirement that corn be the key ingredient gives Bourbon its uniquely American character which separates it from the other Whiskeys out there. But it’s that age restriction that we should focus on here. Any of that Bourbon that you have right now – either in your liquor cabinet, at the ready behind the bar, or in a glass nestled in your hand – began its journey a minimum of four years ago. By extension, if you have in your possession a bottle marked with a ten, it was put into a barrel in 2001 at the latest, and so on.
This means that the reason some supplies are scarce is due to a complex balance between supply, demand, and foresight. The case is simply that those distillers making the Whiskey that is currently unavailable had no idea that these Bourbons would be so popular. For companies making Bourbons with ages ranging from four years all the way past twenty years old, it would be near impossible to predict in the 1980’s and 1990’s that they should be distilling so much more liquor for the high demand that we’re seeing today.
I’m getting away from myself though. I’m not really here to lecture you on the art of distilling Whiskey. I’m here to celebrate, and hopefully to bring ease to your minds. The fact is that because we live in America where Bourbon is a domestic product, and because there has been somewhat of a distilling renaissance in recent years, there is a plethora of Bourbons out there that are mind-blowingly delicious and affordable. So let’s take a look…
Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Year ($48.89): Incredibly smooth, rich, and dark. This Bourbon has so much caramel that you might think you’re in a candy shop. The sweetness is subtly smoky and nutty. Very long finish here. There are also hints of toffee and chocolate that make it perfect for enjoying after dinner in lieu of dessert.
Black Maple Hill 16 Year ($124.99): More deep, dark caramels in this Whiskey, this time accompanied by a little fruitiness and peppery spice. The wood has a strong presence in this Whiskey, lasting all the way through the finish.
Rowan’s Creek ($36.99): This is a Whiskey that puts the char of the barrels on center stage. Dark sugary flavors with toasted wood. There is a nice taste of honey to this one with slight floral notes as well. The finish is smooth vanilla and more tasty char!
The Jefferson’s Bourbon line (Very Small Batch $29.79, Reserve $48.99, 18 year $89.99): I can’t speak highly enough of this family of Whiskies. As far as flavor goes, it has everything I want and more, and there is an offering for every price point to boot. The Small Batch is a perfectly smooth everyday-kind-of-Bourbon with flavors of corn, vanilla, and soft fruit. The Reserve has a great nose with complexity from the different grains coming through with a taste that balances fruit and spice. The 18 year old remains one of the best Bourbons I’ve ever tasted with soft wood notes, fruit jam, leather, caramel, and cream.
I’m not saying that any of these Bourbons can replace one that you already love – all Bourbons are different and true unto themselves. What I am saying, though, is that there are a lot of superb Whiskies out there right now and many should not be missed or overlooked (or overshadowed by Bourbons that have stronger name recognition). So get out there and explore some new Bourbon frontiers! And who knows, you might find a new favorite.
Neal F., Beltramo’s Spirits Staff