It’s a fact, good whiskey is expensive. My beloved single malt scotch is even more so. In fact, it’s absurdly expensive. As in, violating the Julia Rule expensive. The question of why scotch is so expensive is completely beyond my pay grade, but the fact is that somewhere in the last decade, the price for a bottle of Balvenie Double Wood went bananas. I’m waving my hands, but I’m guessing that it’s an import thing. Whatever.
Clearly, This Will Not Do.
So, in my never-ending search for things to do with myself while the music is on (I’ve never been able to do the whole “eyes closed in silent prayer” audiophile listening thing; my ADD will have me up out of my chair and channeling Travolta inside of 5 minutes), I bring you a tour of domestic brew! Generally, this is a less expensive option for those of us with a hankering for tasty adult beverages, and in this roundup of whiskies that can hang with my old-world favorites, I’ve assembled a cast of four for your sipping pleasure after extensive testing, grueling trials, and many direct a/b comparisons.
All of which I did, gladly, for you. Because that’s how I roll. Admit it, I’m just a fantastic guy.
Now, on to the mash-up! Ha! “Mash-up”. See what I did there? It’s a play on the word “mash”, which is part of how bourbon is made … yeah, okay, never mind.
On with the show!
My requirements? Ha! Requirements. That’s hilarious. All I want is something sippably delicious. Something I can drink neat, or over ice, without scorching my face off, hacking uncontrollably, or being forced into a gasping “that’s smooooth” caricature.
Jim Beam is nasty. Johnny Walker is too — and no, the ultra expensive Blue is only marginally better. It’s okay, but there’s this JW flavor that is a complete no-go and since it’s $200/bottle, that’s a clear violation.
The solution? Small batch bourbon!
First up, Evan Williams Single Barrel ($35). There’s a variety of whiskeys from Even Williams on offer, but the Single Barrel is quite choice — if you have the option, shoot right for it. There’s a different vintage every year, but I haven’t noticed a whole lot of variation vintage to vintage.
This is my go-to bottle of bourbon. Rich. Smooth. A bit of burn on the back-end to let you know you’re actually doing something. Great over ice, the water takes that edge right off.
Classic rock. I’m thinking CSN’s So Far. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed.
Why? This bourbon is kind of grown up. Like all of those bands. Ahem. Yes, they’re still great, but they’re worth of a bit more bite than … beer. Or wine. Just sayin’.
Evan Williams was my first step away from a suite of Scottish whiskeys. It was a comfortable step. Easy … and very drinkable.
Next up? Noah’s Mill. Another small batch bourbon, this particular outing is considerably more flavorful than the Evan Williams. Yes, there’s a bit of heat up front, so it’s definitely a bit better over ice. I grab a megacube for this bourbon if I’m just sipping it while watching Breaking Bad. This one is also the ballsiest of the bunch — if you’re new to whiskey, you don’t start here. You might finish here.
If I smoked cigars, this would be the bourbon for that. Pouring this one, I tend to think of dark wood and leather, or maybe fires in the pit and stars in the sky. Yeah, it could go either way. Spice and heat, sweet and earthy, it’s the bottle for those friends who fancy the brown liquors. This is the one they’ll go crazy for.
A truly striking pour, this bourbon, and the price reflects that — at $50/bottle, it’s a bit less than half again as expensive as the Evan Williams. Worth it? Who knows. I like it, and since the Evan Williams seems a bit hard to come by in my neck of the woods, this is a very nice alternative.
Musical accompaniment? Oh, this one is just a hint pretentious. Kinda manly. Big orchestra. Beethoven. Mahler. That sort of thing. Since I don’t really do that sort of thing, I reach for Morcheeba, Yello, or those new ones from Depeche Mode and NIN. It’s a punishment. Keeps me from getting too uppity. If I’m feeling particularly ironic, a little SRV or John Lee Hooker might do the trick. But this bourbon practically begs for rock-out music — I’ve done a lot of silly things at unsafe volumes with Rodrigo y Gabriella, which is just hilariously fast and sounds awesome cranked over to 11, Rush is always a safe choice, and yes, I’ll even dig out my old Scorpions Best Of album. Oh, come on. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is totally a classic.
Noah’s Mill is some strong stuff, but I generally prefer a lighter pour for that solo nightcap. Enter: Black Maple Hill. Favorite bourbon? Yeah, pretty much.
All the flavor of the Noah’s Mill, with a bit less heat on the back-end, this is a bourbon that’ll make you weep with joy. It’s thick, too, and that lightly maple/orange flavor rolls around the mouth with a syrupy fullness. Love that. You could go neat, here, and I’d recommend it at least at first. There’s a lot going on in that glass. Just take it slow and savor it.
Price is somewhere between the Noah’s Mill and the Evan Williams Single Barrel (call it ~$40/bottle), but the availability is so hit-or-miss, it’s impossible to say what’ll it’ll cost you — or if you’ll even be able to find it. If you can, get some. If you’re smart, and you do find some, buy the entire lot. I’ve been waiting for the “next delivery” for about three months now.
Musical accompaniment? This one is a bit more audiophile. Upscale. Not quite top-shelf in the bourbon world, but about as far as I need to go. I’m thinking Keith Jarrett, all the way here. Got your copy of the Koln Concert? Or maybe Trio Jeepy by Branford Marsalis? Pour yourself a glass of this, neat, and settle in.
On a trip to Atlanta, I was hanging out with Black Catter Chris Sommovigo, debating the End of American Exceptionalism or something, and we retired to the bar for a nightcap and a chat about his new project, The High Fidelity Report. Chris is a brilliant essayist, so I highly recommend a visit. While you’re there, be sure to post something somewhere about how amazing US foreign policy is these days. He’ll love that. Anyway, the bartender poured us a couple of shot glasses full of Angel’s Envy.
Another moderately priced bourbon (~$40), this is my new go-to sipper. There’s flavor, but a bit less (perhaps) than the Black Maple Hill, but the finish … whoa. Some of you may prefer a bit of heat on the back. Maybe an outright burn? Angel’s Envy isn’t going to give you any of that — this is the smoothest, lightest-touch, finish of any bourbon in the bunch. It goes “poof” in your mouth. No, seriously. There’s this long, lingering, tail to the sip that is both delicate and intricate. In fact, this may be the bourbon to give to folks who’ve had “bad experiences with brown liquor”. Finished in burnt-oak port-wine casks, there’s this vanilla, caramel, orange thing going on, and it’s totally yummy. Diluting this one with water is fine, but there’s really no point as there’s really nothing you’ll need to soften. One cube is more than enough to chill off your lowball glass. Astonishingly good. And, apparently, easier to find these days.
This one is all classical. Think “Bach Cello Concertos” and you’re in the right mental neighborhood.
Weekend’s coming. Time for a trip the store, no?