Let's get this party started. We will begin the TDG Bourbon Bracket with the Values region. I will give you my thoughts on each of the four bottles and in the comments below you can vote for which two bottles will advance. Voting instructions will be at the bottom of the post.
My arbitrary criteria for this region here that these had to be bottles you can actually find, they had to under the $30 price point and they have to be really good (in my humble opinion). This was the easiest bracket to put together. I fancy myself as a value bourbon sniper. I don't have an unlimited budget but I love bourbon. So I need to find stuff that is really good at reasonable prices. There is plenty out there cheaper but these have to strike the right balance of affordable and incredibly tasty.
Taste is subjective, of course, and I was just reading a thread in a bourbon group I'm in. The thread was people taking turns declaring other "daily pours" were terrible. One guy says he can't stand Elijah Craig 12, while the next guys says he loves it and hates Eagle Rare 10 and someone else says they detest just about anything Buffalo Trace makes. What's my point? The point is that you need to try all of these for yourself.
I have included a more professional reviews under each of the bourbons. My pallat is very amateur and limited to just a few descriptors like spicy, sweet and caramel (I avoid smooth, I hate it when people use smooth as an indicator of something really good).
Well, without further adei let's get to the Bracket. Below are the four top seeds with some commentary from myself.
1 - Weller 12 yr
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 89
Distilled by: Buffalo Trace
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : A pleasantly sweet, easy-going, well-balanced experience. Creamy vanilla, caramel, candied corn, and ripe berried fruit , along with more subtle notes of glazed orange, cocoa powder, and wood shavings. If I were going to ease a new bourbon drinker into the category, I might pick this one.
This bottle of bourbon is often heralded as the one bottle to buy if you cannot get your hands on the exclusive and elusive Pappy Van Winkle. Mostly because it is also a "wheated" bourbon, which means the secondary grain used is wheat rather than rye. The Weller line as well as the Pappy line was previously distilled at the now shut-down Stitzel-Weller distillery before having the label and recipe purchased by Sazerac (essentially Buffalo Trace) where it is now produced.
The Weller 12 is just so well balanced and gives you some sweet flavor while still being under $30. With this bourbon I appreciate the caramel and creamy vanilla taste and the drinkability of it. In Minnesota this is a difficult bottle to find, I find that it gets allocated here once or twice a year and only at stores who carry a healthy whiskey selection. Other places of the country, like Texas, this stuff is readily available year round. If you see it...buy it. If you don't like it, I'll take it off your hands.
2 - Elijah Craig 12 yr
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 88
Distilled by: Heaven Hill
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : Very much in the Elijah Craig style: thick and chewy, with layers of toffee, molasses, and vanilla cream. Notes of caramel-nut fudge, cinnamon bun, and blackberry brandy keep it fun. There’s just the right amount of dried oak spice on the finish to round things out. Very good, solid, affordable bourbon.
I love the Weller 12 but it can be challenging to find. The Elijah Craig 12 year old bourbon is much easier to find and delightful. On the shelf you can find the small batch with relative ease and is also pretty easy to find a liquor store's private single barrel around town (South Lyndale, G-Wil Liquors, Cellars to name a few). The difference in this case is minimal. The regularly produced bottling is technically a small batch, meaning they will take a smaller number of barrels, mix them and then bottle them. This is done to maintain a bit of taste consistency. The single barrels can taste different from barrel to barrel, liquor stores are sent samples and can pick the specific barrel they want to be bottled exclusively for them. These can vary in taste but are all relatively similar. You cannot go wrong with the small batch and some single barrels are outstanding for the price point.
This bourbon will have a bit more spice and thickness than the Weller 12 while still holding some of the caramel sweetness. This is nearly an everyday pour for me. For a private single barrel of this, I highly recommend South Lyndale located in South Minneapolis).
3 - Evan Williams Single Barrel 10 yr
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 93
Distilled by: Heaven Hill
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : Polished and nicely balanced, with caramel as the main note, followed by candied fruit, soft vanilla, sweet corn, and nougat. Subtle spice (ginger, cinnamon) and gentle oak on the finish round out the sweet notes. Easygoing demeanor and very drinkable. Great value too! A very pleasing, versatile bourbon.
I think that technically I like the Elijah Craig 12 better than the Even Williams Single Barrel (EWSB) but they are different and it may just depend on the day.
This is always bottled as a single barrel and, like the EC12, you can often find this as a liquor store's private single barrel. EWSB will have a specific year on the bottle and this can vary from barrel to barrel as well as having some significant changes year to year. The 2010 release received a 95 rating from Whiskey Advocate while the last two years have received a 93. Those are very good scores, incredible when you consider it is a $20 bottle of bourbon.
My favorite aspect of the EWSB is the cinnamon complexity to it. I don't find it quite as subtle as the 2014 review above does, I really like this bottle. My favorite bottling of this may have been the G-Wil Liquors private SB from last year (G-Wil is a chain mostly in the northern suburbs).
4 - Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 90
Distilled by: Buffalo Trace
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : Pleasantly sweet at first in flavor, with notes of brown sugar and spice (vanilla, mint), becoming dry with enveloping flavors of oak and leather. With a little water, more subtle flavors are revealed, including toffee, dark fruit, and anise. The whisky finishes long and dry with significant depth.
Buffalo Trace, as a distiller, is really hot right now. Their annual Antique Collection is nearly as difficult to find as Pappy, arguably better. This is their standard bottling of bourbon. Typically it is aged 8-9 years. What astounds me is that for a standard label bottling this bourbon has some real complexity and depth of flavors. This is a sipping bourbon that is masquerading as a mixing bourbon.
This can be occasionally found as a private single barrel, but that is less common and also not as obvious unless the store is promoting it. Again, if you see it...buy it.
Alright, are we ready to vote? Here is how it works.
- I will put each of the matchups in the comments below
- You vote by "Rec'ing" the comment.
- Please only vote for one in each of the match-ups.
- Voting will go for 2 days.
Have fun. Get out and try some of these!