Getting Started With Bourbon (Part 1)
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Like I mentioned in my November Update, I recently watched this great documentary about bourbon called "Neat." This got me started on a deep dive on bourbons (and whiskeys). I'm going to update this post throughout the next month or so until I reach a good point of wrapping up my getting started story.
A little timeline introduction (sorry it is going to be sad -- see top of November Update). I was in Omaha, NE for work, and traveling with some co-workers. Several of them are really into bourbon (I mean really). And they recommended I watch the documentary Neat to learn more about bourbon. I happened to get a $5 credit from Google Play Video recently, so I used it to rent the documentary and loaded on my laptop to watch as we flew home on October 31, 2018. I actually watched it twice on the plane, the second time I took about three full 3x5 cards of notes (which I'm still working on getting through). Here comes the really sad part. Later that evening on October 31, 2018, I learned from my sister Michelle that my Mom had unexpectedly passed away on Oct. 31, and I was on the first flight up to Sacramento on November 1, 2018. More on updates in my December Update (posted on Dec. 1, 2018).
So the first bourbon I tried after watching Neat was Four Roses Small Batch that I bought in Roseville, CA (near Sacramento):
I tried it 'neat' first, but didn't really like much, so I then had it 'on the rocks.' Which I liked a lot better. I'm probably going to be leaning towards 'on the rocks' as my standard delivery method as I like the ice cooling the bourbon, and the mixing with water as the ice melts. I need to come back to trying Four Roses again as I left the bottle up in Roseville, and "someone" drank it all (enough on that topic).
The next bourbon I tried was Woodford Reserve that I bought at Costco after coming back from Sacramento since it was highly recommend and well covered in the Neat documentary:
I also tried this one 'neat' and then 'on the rocks,' and I'm definitely becoming a big fan of 'on the rocks.' I am still (thank God) slowly still sampling the Woodford Reserve (1.75L). I did use it to make Old Fashioned on Thanksgiving for family members (which turned out great), but there is still a good amount in the bottle. [NOTE: I also recently priced a bunch of bourbons in stores near my house.]
The next bourbon I tried was back on a Southwest flight to Sacramento the following weekend -- after the first trip -- with my son Conrad to work on settling my Mom's estate/trust/house. I tried the Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon on the rocks (no pictures). It was not as smooth as the Four Roses or the Woodford Reserve. It did get better as the ice melted, and the last sip was really good. Since it is 101 proof I think that is why the taste was so foreign to me. Most of the bourbons listed above were a lower proof.
The next tasting came the following weekend when I got to go out to the Palm Springs area with my wife and her co-workers. They went to a conference, and I tried to get organized and relaxed after two+ weeks of not being relaxed at all. This led to a tasting by the fire pit of Bulleit Rye Whiskey:
I really like the first picture by the fire. The second picture was the pour at the bar which had me second guessing ordering it. First it was pretty darn expensive, and second it was a lot of whiskey (most of my own pours were in the 1 oz. range). Luckily we were at the fire for a while (listening to Scott Carter -- he is excellent), and talking. I really like this whiskey and can see myself getting a larger bottle in the future. The flavor was great (probably because of the rye), the color was lighter than the Woodford Reserve, and didn't have that super strong flavor like the Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon.
This led me to think I needed an easy way to try as many bourbons as possible to figure out my personal palette, and not in the expensive way of ordering at a bar or buying bottles that I might not enjoy. I got a recommendation to try out the smaller 0.5 ML sample sizes (like the ones on airplanes - a.k.a. minis), so I checked out BEVMO (a.k.a Beverages and More), and ended up with a pretty good collection just before Thanksgiving:
Since then (today is 11/29/2018), I have tried two. First was the Evan Williams which was recommended to me by travel writer, teacher, and podcaster Rolf Potts:
And second was from Jim Beam:
I liked the Evan Williams better than the Jim Beam. Both of them were very easy to drink from the first sip 'on the rocks.' I thought the Evan Williams was smoother, and it had a flavor that was easy to approach. I wish I still had some Four Roses Small Batch to compare it to, as my memory on that bourbon has already faded a lot.
UPDATE 12/23/2018 ... the next whiskey that I tasted was Gentleman Jack:
From what I can remember I didn't like it much at first, but after about 10 minutes or so with more ice melting it tasted much better. This was followed by the Knob Creek Small Batch:
I liked this one but now it is really getting hard to say it was better than the first four that I've ranked (see below). A couple of days later I tried Markers Mark:
I realized I had this before, but it was really before I was appreciating bourbons. I really liked this one which is good because Costco carries it pretty regularly. I think it is going to the 5th spot in my rankings for now.
The next bourbon I tried was Larceny Small Batch:
This one has a lot of different flavors than the others. There was a hint of spice that I could quite completely identify. Looking online it might be a "caramel" type flavor. Overall though, the Larceny was very good and something I would try again.
The next one was Wild Turkey 101:
Which I have had before (see above), but I liked it a lot more this time. The first time it was really strong (for several sips), but this time after the first sip it was pretty smooth. I think that is because my pallet is changing. It was really good towards the end. Unfortunately I think it is going to stay at #8.
With that I was down to two of the smaller bottles to sample. The 2nd to last was the Bulleit Bourbon:
And I really liked this bourbon. It probably is going to be in my top 5, and it is also one that Costco seems to have most of the time. It started off great and ended strong but mellow. I think though that if Costco has the Bulleit Rye I'd probably get that before the bourbon.
In conclusion (draft as of 12/23/2018) here are my bourbon/whiskey favorites:
- Woodford Reserve
- Evan Williams
- Bulleit Rye
- Four Roses Small Batch
- Bulleit Bourbon
- Marker's Mark
- Knob Creek Small Batch
- Larceny Small Batch
- Wild Turkey 101
- Gentleman Jack
- Jim Bean Original