The Gophers Lost...GN's Bourbon Guide is Here to Help

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Here is another super-short recap of tonight's Gopher loss to Ohio State...

The Gopher turnovers (24) were very nearly higher than their shooting percentage (29%). The end result was a 26 point drubbing. This is getting old.

Let's move on to a more pleasant topic...bourbon.

My journey as a whiskey drinker has always included a little bourbon but for a long time I fancied myself a scotch drinker who viewed bourbons as a mixer with Coke. I do still appreciate a good scotch but I found it harder and harder to find bottles that were both affordable and ones that I really enjoyed drinking.

But in recent months I have had my eyes opened to the wonderful world of bourbons, more specifically sippin' bourbons. Quality and tasty whiskey drinks that you don't need to mix with a coke. These are American whiskeys you drink neat, much like a scotch. But where they differ from their peaty cousins is the fact that a good bourbon is typically a tad sweeter, less peaty and much less expensive. Not that a really good bourbon is cheap, but a really good bourbon can be had in the range of $60-100 (some really tasty ones are $40-50) whereas that is basically the entry point into your most basic scotch.

For me this new bourbon fascination is two-fold. First I really do like bourbon over a scotch and I could easily get comfortable with a nightly pour of a neat bourbon. I truly enjoy the flavor. Secondly I have become enthralled with accumulating a unique collection of interesting or hard to find bourbons.

This second part started with learning about the epically elusive Pappy Van Winkle family of bourbons. I could do an entire post about this extremely tasty bourbon that is virtually impossible to get your hands on. A documentary has been funded and will be released this year about the challenge of getting your hands on a Pappy (the 15 yr, 20 yr or the 23 yr). If a liquor store gets their hands on a case of Pappy, they never hit the shelves. They are distributed to their high-end regulars or others who put their name on a waiting list long ago. The point is, it is a really hard bourbon to find and there is status in landing one as part of your collection (I don't have one). You can get yourself a pour of a Pappy at The Butcher and the Boar or Eat Street Social Club in Minneapolis, but you will not find yourself a bottle by showing up at Haskell's.

Next came the release of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Five highly rated bourbons released in limited quantities that are also a unique find if you are able to procure one. I was able to find one of these just by pulling over and popping into a random liquor store so see if they have anything interesting. In the locked case I was able to find the Thomas Handy Sazerac, which just happened to be the Whiskey Bible's 2013 World Whiskey of the Year! And now I was officially hooked, as much on the chase as I was on the flavor. Both have equally made this a fun endeavor for me.

With that little journey in mind, here is a glimpse into my collection and my favorite bourbons. In the coming days (or weeks) you should be expecting to see similar posts from the good writers here at TDG. I'm up first to help you cope with the most recent Gopher loss.

Go-To Drink

My go-to drink of choice has always been a Maker's Mark and Coke. A solid mix of a decent, everyday bourbon with Coke. A very good drink, reasonably priced, easy to recreate at home and is still my go-to drink. Not much description required here, you aren't going to get my amateur tasting notes.

My Favorites

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition ($80-90) - This one was recently released and is now very difficult to find, but this bourbon is amazing. Easily my favorite of the bottles I own. I was at my go-to liquor store with money to spend on a good bottle (this is very rare for me) and the owner urged me to go with this one. It was the perfect recommendation.

Shortly after purchasing Whiskey Advocate named it their American Whiskey of the Year, below is their review which earned a very high score of 96.

A marriage of four different bourbons, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco. Soft, clean, polished oak finish. A very versatile bourbon! Your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.

If you can find it and if you are willing to spend the money, this is the one bottle I would urge you to purchase. I convinced Matt to buy one and I think he'll agree that this is a great bottle of bourbon. NOTE: Make sure it is the Limited Edition bottle which will have a number written on the back telling you which barrel this came from.

This is a complex bourbon but isn't overwhelming or harsh for being over 110 proof. I'm not going to pretend to have a well-defined or mature pallet (I do not), but this one is really fascinating to me because the taste changes throughout the drink. Complex, subtle, sweet at times but also spicy. Of everything I have tasted, this would be my #1 recommendation with a bullet.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac ($60) - I already told you that this was my unique find and was Jim Murray's Whisky Bible's World Whiskey of the Year. This bottle of bourbon is incredibly strong. 128.6 proof to be exact. This is a cask strength bottle of booze so it is direct from the barrel to bottle with no coloring or water added. Very strong, this one needs a dash of water to calm it down a little.

This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.

To be honest this is not my favorite bourbon, a little too leathery for my pallet. And to be totally honest, this is more about owning the bottle for my collection than it is about drinking a tasty bourbon. I think my biggest issue with it is that it is a rye whiskey and I'm not a rye guy. This has a very interesting and strong flavor.

Russell's Reserve 10 yr ($35) - this is a new purchase for me and a great example of a very good, sipping bourbon that very reasonably priced. This is a Wild Turkey bourbon that has been released under a different label. I haven't had nearly enough of this to really speak to it, but it was highly recommended to me and it gets good reviews.

This one is smooth with plenty of caramel and vanilla yet is mature. I do likey, especially for the price.

I have a few other bottles as well but none that stand out or are worthy of recommendation. But there are a few more that I'd like to purchase.

What I'm Looking For

George T Stagg ($70) - this is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection. I have had a sample of this and it was outstanding, but this is really tough to find. Really tough to find. The Stagg is 140 proof but it was really, really good. I'm hooked and I want one, if you see one let me know.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 ($25) - I've read some reviews that the 2001 and the 2003 are considered very good. The 2002 batch is readily available at most liquor stores, not quite as highly rated but I'm waiting for the 2003 to hit stores sometime this year. A bourbon enthusiast I know and trust cut me off before I could finish the question, "what is a really good bourbon that won't cost me much mo..." His answer was obviously the Evan Williams Single Barrel. 2003 was recently released and Whiskey Advocate gives this review...

Silky smooth. Lush honey notes married with bright orchard fruit and candied tropical fruit. Soft vanilla, mint, and cinnamon round out the palate. Seamless and perilously drinkable. Proof that a bourbon doesn’t have to be old, high in alcohol, or expensive to be good.

An overall rating of 93 is incredible for a $25 bottle of bourbon.

Pappy Van Winkle (any year, any price) - I want one. I've sipped the 15 yr, it was excellent but it was just a sip. I'm looking forward to trying it soon. I'm not holding out any hope that I'll find one, maybe next year.

Many of us here at TDG are bourbon guys and you will see similar posts as this from the other guys. Do we have any other bourbon or whiskey enthusiasts among us? What do you drink? How much more are you drinking to kill the pain after each consecutive Gopher loss?

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