8 BUDGET BOURBONS UNDER $20– PART 2
We’re continuing our look at some “friends in low places”. Last time, we took a look at Benchmark, as well as two listings from Jim Beam, and a surprising find (if you’re lucky enough to be close to Kentucky to find it) from Heaven Hill.
For this budget-conscious tasting, we drew samples from the following bourbons: BrandDistillerCostBenchmark Sazerac (Buffalo Trace) $12 Jim Beam White Label Beam Suntory $14 Jim Beam Black Label Extra Aged Beam Suntory $19 Heaven Hill Green Label 6 Year Heaven Hill $11 Old Charter Sazerac (Barton) $12 Old Grand-Dad Beam Suntory $12 Old Fitzgerald Heaven Hill$10Very Old BartonSazerac (Barton)$12
Again, we tasted these blind, and was joined by my trusty sidekick (daughter Kristen Bourbon) as we noted out thoughts. This week, we’re taking a look at some “old friends”.
The label carries a large number 8 – easily mistaken for an eight-year age statement. The bottle states it’s made by the Old Charter Distillery company in Frankfort, KY and is “gently matured for many seasons in century old brick warehouses“. In reality, Old Charter is made by Sazerac, whose other brands include Barton and Buffalo Trace.
Rumor has it that Old Charter is made from Buffalo Trace’s Mashbill #1 (undisclosed, but 10% or less rye)- the same one used in tasty brands, such as George Stagg, Eagle Rare, and Buffalo Trace. The bottle no longer carries an age age statement (it did until 2016 – 8 years) and is bottled at 80 proof.
Eye: Straw; light. Nose: Some vanilla, hints of banana. Sidekick says “smells like booze”. Palate: Thin mouthfeel. Sweetness with spice, oak, and more bananas – almost like banana pudding. Finish: Short, with spice, vanilla and bananas. Overall: One of my least favorite bargain-shelfers. Not very complex and left me wanting something more. The banana flavor was “ok”, but not one I’m typically seeking in a bourbon.
Old Fitzgerald is a very storied name. Originally distilled by Stitzel-Weller (of Julius VanWinkle fame), it was one of the original wheated bourbons. The current brand was sold off in the early 1990’s as Stitzel-Weller shut down and was subsequently purchased by Heaven Hill. The bottle carries a “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” statement, indicating it is at least 2-years old. The label further states that it is aged 36 months, so it’s a year-shy of a typical Jim Beam White or Evan Williams bargain-find. Old Fitz is bottled at 80-proof, similar to several of our finds, and has a mashbill of 68% corn, 20% wheat (instead of the more typical rye) and 12% malted barley,
Eye: Copper. Nose: Grains, vanilla, caramel, and hint of spice. My sidekick says she detected a few citrus notes, as well. Palate: Light, very smooth, with vanilla and oak. Finish: Medium and smooth, with more vanilla and sweet notes with some peppery spice rising in crescendo. Overall: This is actually a pretty decent bargain-shelfer and one I’d like to try alongside of some other wheated bourbons, including Heaven Hill’s newer Larceny, Beam Suntory’s Makers Mark. It is one I’d love to see a little higher proof to stand up better in a cocktail or with an ice ball, but overall, I might just buy this one again.
Many of our bargain-shelf finds are very old brands, and Old Grand-Dad is no exception. Old Grand-Dad traces its routes to 1840 when Raymond Hayden began distilling. Raymond named the bourbon after his grandfather – you may recognize his name more – Basil Hayden – one of the many brands produced by Jim Beam at its Clermont, KY facility.
Old Grand-Dad comes in several bottlings – this bargain-shelf 80 proof, a bottled-in-bond product, and a 114 barrel proof product (which, if you’re looking for something to hold up to ice – this one most definitely will). The label carries a “high rye” statement on the label, and its mash bill bares that out – 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley.
Eye: Dark caramel – one of the darkest in the bunch. Nose: After an initial heavy dose of alcohol/ethanol (trusty sidekick says, “rubbing alcohol?”), there is vanilla, spice (cinnamon and baking spices), grains, more vanilla and caramel. This is one you may want to let “breathe” for a few minutes before it hits your nose or tongue, even at its relatively low 80 proof. Palate: Vanilla and cinnamon with a peppery spice. Finish: Medium with more spice and a bit of an alcohol burn. Overall: I’ll say I’m not a “high-rye” fan, and tend towards a smoother, slightly sweeter product. This is one that could use a bit more aging to round out its rougher notes. I am curious enough to check out its older, Bottled-in-Bond brother that carries the same mashbill.
Very Old Barton
If you’ve been following the latest in bourbon news, you’ll recall the tragedies that have befallen the Barton Distillery the past two years. In 2018, a rickhouse collapsed, sending half of the 18,000 barrels inside tumbling. In March 2019, a large fermentation tank collapsed, rupturing some adjoining tanks, and sent 120,000 gallons of “beer” (fermented mash) pouring across a parking lot.
This bottle doesn’t carry an age statement, but is labeled as 100 proof. Barton doesn’t disclose its mashbills, but rumor has it that this is over 75% corn, which definitely comes through in the sweet notes.
Eye: Medium Copper. Nose: Vanilla, caramel, and an occasional subtle note of banana – though not in an off-putting manner – similar to a baked dessert, with even a hint of baked apple. Palate: I can definitely tell this is a a higher proof, but it’s very well balanced around the edges. Corn and vanilla, balanced with notes of sweetness and brown sugar. This tastes like crème brûlée. Finish: Medium with spice and fruit. Overall: If the television show “Mad Men” had a scratch-and-sniff sticker, I think this might be it. Very traditional bourbon notes that invite you to another pour. I’ve heard good things about the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, KY, and, quite frankly, this is making me want to visit.
We made it through another round and made it another day. We uncovered a couple of old names we’d like to try again, and a couple that left us wanting. We’ll keep searching for more interesting finds that might be able to be called a decent find.