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TDG Bourbon Bracket - Barrel Proof Region

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bourbon itself has been rather popular over the last few years.  We are currently inbourbon boom according to some.  And within the bourbon world it is becoming increasingly popular for distilleries to offer barrel proof releases.  For those who do not know a barrel proof release is bourbon that goes straight from the barrel to the bottle.  Most of your off-the-shelf bourbons are going to be watered down to a consistent proof.  Which is fine, this is partially how you maintain consistency from bottle to bottle and year after year.  But barrel proof bottlings can be very different.

Certainly the first thing you'll notice is that these are much stronger bourbons.  Typically a barrel proof (or cask strength) bourbon is going to be in the 120-130 proof range while your cut bourbons will be in the 80-90 proof range.

These BPs are typically going to be a bit more robust and feel free to add a splash of water to calm it down a little and bring out some hidden flavors.

1 - Stagg Jr

Whiskey Advocate Rating: 83
Distilled by: Buffalo Trace
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : The new, younger sibling to George T. Stagg. George T.’s signature is its bold nature and high proof, and Junior follows in its footsteps. The aromas are very nice: bold spice (clove, dusty mint, cinnamon, evergreen) with layers of burnt sugars, cocoa, charred oak, and berried fruit. However, on the palate, those sugars become dominated by aggressive spice, leather, and unnecessary tannin, most notably on the finish.

George T. Stagg (GTS) is arguably the most popular of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It is a beauty of a barrel proof bourbon.  Extremely strong but still wonderfully tasty and it won't burn like other higher proof bourbons will.  But this is not the one we are talking about (yet).

Buffalo Trace wisely released a Stagg Jr  last year for the first time.  It is aged approximately 8-9 years, while the senior varies but is no less than 15 years.  The problem with this bourbon is that it is often compared to the senior, which is kind of unfair.  On it's own, this is a very good barrel proof.  Strong, bold, complex in flavor but it does carry a bit of the harshness that you won't find with the senior GTS.  I really like the Stagg Jr, slightly underrated because it is too often compared to the senior.  It is the junior, but it is very tasty.

2 - Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Whiskey Advocate Rating: 89
Distilled by: Heaven Hill
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : Quite dark in color, turning cloudy with water. Don’t let that deter you. A thick, chewy bourbon, with layers of nutty toffee, nougat, cocoa, and toasted marshmallow, peppered with cinnamon and vanilla. Oak and leather on the finish dry out the whiskey nicely. Not the most refined bourbon, but the flavors it delivers make up for it.

This is another 2013 new release and it was wildly popular.  This particular barrel proof is thick.  There is a thick molasses to this BP that I haven't found elsewhere.  This BP was pretty hard to find, has had multiple releases over the last year but all are a chewy, tasty treat.

I'm a big fan of every Elijah Craig I have had.  The 12 yr is my favorite daily pour, the no-longer-sold 18 yr is outstanding (maybe the best under $60 bottle I've ever had) and this ECBP is a unique and complex barrel proof.  Hard to find.  There have been a few different releases and most of them have made it to MN, they don't typically sit on shelves for very long but they will hit shelves.

3 - Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof

Whiskey Advocate Rating: 89
Distilled by: Buffalo Trace
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : The fourth in a series of limited-edition Taylor bottlings, and the first barrel-proof release. Layered sweet notes of caramel and nougat, with bright orchard fruit (especially nectarine), dried spice (vanilla, mint), and pencil shavings. The dried spice notes linger on the finish, along with tobacco. Bourbon with attitude.

3 seed but this is probably my favorite of the group.  It is strong but it has a lighter feel to it.  The aftertaste almost lingers as bubblegum on your pallet.  Very unique in my opinion.  The few Taylor bottles I have had, I've loved them all and this one might rank at the top.  For me this is a great summer BP while it's first round opponent above is a better winter BP choice.

4 - Bookers

Whiskey Advocate Rating: 89
Distilled by: Jim Beam
Tasting Notes (hijacked from here) : Big and chewy, with nutty toffee, molasses, nougat, tobacco, pencil shavings, subtle fruit, and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Leather, barrel char, and a hint of licorice root on the finish. Big, bold, and very enjoyable.

There are probably other BP bottles I like more but this one is readily available and still rather good.  Heavy and caramelly in my opinion.  Good complexity of flavor over the tongue.  This one is strong and will knock you back a little but it is still very drinkable, especially with a splash of water.


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Have fun.  Get out and try some of these!