I work at a liquor store. This time of year, everybody and their brother is looking to score a bottle of limited-release bourbon. In particular, they want a bottle of 15, 20, or 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle. If you’ve got $100 to $300 burning a hole in your pocket, I say go for it.
However, most casual whiskey fans don’t have that kind of money. I don’t consider taking a second mortgage out on my house for a bottle of hooch to be a sound investment.
Here’s a few reasonable alternatives to Pappy that you can find year-round. These are sipping bourbons, meant to be enjoyed straight. Ice isn’t allowed. If you mix it with Coke or Ginger Ale I will judge you loudly, publicly and without mercy.
Roughly $35 retail
Rowan’s Creek is a quality Kentucky bourbon. It’s bottled in small batches, so even though it lacks the status-symbol bragging rights that come with a bottle of Pappy, it’s sure to impress your buddies sipping Jim Beam. It’s got excellent balance- smokey, complex oak notes that aren’t too bold or overpowering. A very well-rounded affair.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Small Batch
Roughly $37 retail
100 Proof (Bottled In Bond)
Gather round for a quick lesson in whiskey history. Back in the day, it was difficult to know for sure what you were getting into when you bought a bottle of whiskey. There could be quite a bit of variation from bottle to bottle. Moreover, so-called straight whiskeys were often colored and flavored artificially with tobacco or iodine.
So, a group of distillers came together and lobbied the federal government to create a set of regulations, a standard for bourbon production that could separate the wheat from the chaff. The leader of this group was a man named Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.
Taylor and the gang were successful. The result was 1897’s Bottled in Bond Act. It required that the whiskey be aged at least four years in federally bonded and inspected warehouses. It can only come from one distiller and one distillery- no blending allowed.
Taylor went on to own several distilleries, one of which grew into Buffalo Trace, the owners and producers of the Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. collection, the George T. Stagg collection and the Pappy Van Winkle collection. The Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Small batch meets the bottled in bond regulations, and is a hell of a whiskey.
Now you have a story to go along with your whiskey. You’re welcome.
This bourbon is excellent. It’s dark amber in color with hot notes of leather and oak on the nose. It’s complicated and mature on the palette. Bright and spicy, it pairs well with steak.
Eagle Rare 10 Year
Roughly $30 retail
Eagle Rare is another excellent whiskey from the cats at Buffalo Trace. On the nose, there’s a strong scent of vanilla and oak. It dances on the palette, more like a wine than a bourbon with notes of vanilla and berries. Very approachable, and smoother than a newly paved road.
So there you have it. This year, consider saving some money on your whiskey exploits and try one of these more affordable excisions.
A piece of advice: hide your phone before you start taste testing. Before you know it, you’ll have a sudden urge to text stupid things to your ex-girlfriend.