Which Bourbon Should You Buy? – A Blind-Tasting

Following the tradition of one American whiskey blind-tasting a year. It again was time for bourbon. This time I tried to incorporate as many different styles as possible. This means that we tried high corn, high rye, wheated and also a four grain bourbon. Apart from that, the range spanned from a few month old bourbon, over single barrel expressions to even nine year old bottlings. While every whiskey had some characteristic bourbon note, we still were up for a few surprises in the end.

Since the last bourbon blind-tasting on my blog in 2016 a lot of new bourbon became available. Therefore, I decided that it was time to compare some other bottlings. The range stretches from traditional bourbons to homemade blends. I was especially excited to see how our American whiskey blend finished in a five litre sherry barrel would compare to the other tested products. So without further delay, here are the tasting notes for the whiskeys we tried. At the end of the post you will find a complete list of all bourbons I have reviewed so far and their ratings.

Willett Pot Still Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Our first whiskey in the blind-tasting, the Willett Pot Still Reserve, is some kind of a mystery. It is bottled and sold by the Willett Distillery. However, at some point it was sourced by Heaven Hill. There also is no official information on the used mash bill, yet the 2012 bottling mash bill is said to consist of 72 % corn, 13 % rye and 15 % malted barley. On top of all of that, the name and the shape of the bottle is a little bit misleading, because the bourbon probably is distilled on a column-still with a pot-still only functioning as a doubler. Nevertheless, the whiskey comes in a beautiful decanter bottle and was classified and rated as a typical bourbon in the tasting. The Willett Pot Still has no peaks in taste in either directions. Instead it comes across as rather smooth and shows what a bourbon should taste like.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Wild Turkey’s Russell’s Reserve Series represents whiskeys selected by the master distiller Eddie Russell and his father Jimmy. In the case of the Single Barrel the bourbon with a mash-bill of 75 % corn, 13 % rye and 12 % malted barley stems from barrels with a #4 “Alligator” char. It is bottled at 55 % ABV or 110 proof. On top of that the bourbon is not chill-filtered. Furthermore, the whiskey is supposed to be between seven and nine year old. The testers quite enjoyed the Russell’s Reserve, with its combination of typical bourbon notes and a fruity component. However, since this is a single barrel expression the taste of other bottlings may vary.

Südstadtboys B1.119 American Whiskey Blend Finished In A Sherry Barrel

After our rum blend we finished in a small five litre barrel, we decided to blend various American whiskeys. The blend approximately consists of 200 ml Booker’s, 700 ml Knob Creek Bourbon, 600 ml Bulleit Bourbon, 700 ml Bulleit Rye, 700 ml Rittenhouse Rye, 800 ml Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, 600 ml Wild Turkey 101 Rye and 50 ml Woodford Reserve Rye. The mix then spent 119 days in our barrel before being bottled. I know that this probably does not pass for a bourbon anymore. However, I was excited to see how it would fare being compared to regular bourbons in the blind-tasting. The B1.119 faired rather well. It probably was the most fruity whiskey we tried. Besides dried fruits you also could notice some wine-like flavours. On top of that, it was very smooth without losing complexity when adding a little bit of water.

Hudson Baby Bourbon

I was very curious, if the next bourbon could keep up with the competition. The Baby Bourbon from Hudson is distilled from locally sourced grains. 90 % of the grains are grown within a ten mile radius of the Tuthilltown Distillery. The bourbon is aged for three months in very small barrels with a capacity of two to three gallons. In addition, Tuthilltown, which is now owned by William Grant & Sons, agitates the barrels using bass speakers. They call this process “Sonic Maturation”. Besides its young age, the Baby Bourbon did pretty well in the tasting. There were sweet and mellow corn notes which you almost could mistake for wheat. Apart from that, the Baby Bourbon had certain spice notes besides the typical caramel and vanilla flavours.

Poor Man’s Pappy

I while ago I got my hands on each a bottle of W.L. Weller 12 Years and Old Weller Antique 107. Of course, I had to give the Poor Man’s Pappy a try. There are a few different recipes out there with different ratios. I went for a three to one ratio of the W.L Weller and the Old Weller. Until now I quite liked sipping the mix and enjoyed it more than a sample of actual Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Bourbon. However, Poor Man’s Pappy could not impress in the blind tasting. While it had interesting exotic fruit notes, the taste was somehow off and unbalanced. In all fairness I have to state, that the reason for that could be that the mix was stored in a small glass bottle with not the best cork for almost two years.

Dry Fly Washington Bourbon 101

Similar to the Weller whiskeys the Dry Fly Bourbon has a wheated mash-bill. The mash-bill consists of 60 % corn, 20 % wheat and 20 % malted barley. The grains are locally sourced and distillation is done on a 450 litre copper pot-still from German producer Carl. Apart from some spicy components, the bourbon had strong glue notes in the blind tasting. Also, the tasters noticed strong umami and overripe fruit notes. The Dry Fly definitely is an interesting and atypical bourbon, but because of that it also polarizes.

Pure Kentucky X.O. Bourbon

The Pure Kentucky bourbon is also produced by Willett. I already reviewed it and was impressed by its relative smooth taste despite the higher alcohol content. Since, this is a sourced bourbon with a supposed age of four years and seven months, there is no information on its mash-bill. For me it tastes more of a high rye bourbon, but that is pure speculation. What I can say for sure is that the Pure Kentucky X.O. won over the testers. The combination of spices, typical bourbon notes and sweet fruits was very delicious. In relation to its price tag, the Kentucky X.O. received the highest rating.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Aged Nine Years

The Single Barrel edition of the Knob Creek line comes from Jim Beam. Therefore, it shares the same mash bill with other Jim Beam bourbons of 75 % corn, 13 % rye and 12 % malted barley. The distillation is done on a column still and #4 char barrels are used for the ageing. The barrel entry proof is supposed to be 125 (62,5 % ABV). While it might seem from the tasting notes like the Knob Creek tasted not different from the other bourbons, it nevertheless was the best bourbon in this tasting. Besides the typical bourbon notes of cereals, caramel, vanilla and charcoal there the bourbon had pronounced dried fruit notes reminiscent of plums and raisins. Of course, you notice the high ABV, but the alcohol is still very well integrated. With a few drops of water, the bourbon becomes more mellow without losing complexity. If you are into bourbon you definitely should grab a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon

The Hudson Four Grain Bourbon differs from the others, because it includes rye and wheat in its mash bill. The mash bill supposedly has about 60 % corn in it, with the rest being rye, wheat and malted barley. The rest of the production is similar to the Hudson Baby Bourbon. The Four Grain is also aged three months in small two to three gallon barrels. The combination of rye and wheat really makes a difference. Especially, when compared to the Baby Bourbon. While the Baby Bourbon can come off as one-dimensional, the Four Grain gets its complexity from rye bread notes with additional soft wheat flavours. You can even taste some liquorice and dried fruit notes in this. Yet, the price is a little bit high for a rather young whiskey.

Below you will find a summary of the ratings of all the bourbon I featured on this blog so far. Please keep in my that the tasting notes and therefore also the ratings are highly subjective.

*The fact that I received a product reviewed in this article for free, did not – in any way – influence the rating of said product.

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