Bourbon is more than hot right now; it’s on fire. This includes everything from cinnamon, honey and maple flavor to non-Kentucky, non-Bourbon County Bourbon, which I’m not even sure can technically be called Bourbon. Michigan, Ohio, and even Texas are all making Bourbon-style whiskies, and the demand, quality and prices are going sky high. So what’s the big deal? Why a new interest in this particular brown spirit? Scotch and Cognac have always been the preferred drinks of high rollers, Bond villains, and well-heeled aristocrats, but nowadays, hand-crafted, small-batch whiskies are the new upscale gift for CEOs, father-in-laws, and valued clients.
I may seem to go on and on about craft beer and cocktails, but more and more, people want items that are made close to home, in small batches with storied histories. Sazerac, Beam Inc., Brown-Forman, and Heaven Hill are the big players, with names like:
Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, and Pappy Van Winkle spearheading Sazerac’s popularity
Booker’s, Basil Hayden and Maker’s Mark powering Beam Inc.
Elijah Craig, Jack Daniel’s, and Woodford Reserve driving Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill
Classically American, the rich history of the spirit influences the popularity, with a backwoods-rowdy beginning and a front-porch sipping, high-civility outcome. Moreover, it’s the drinkability that has earned its mass appeal. Scotches can be a bit too smoky and peaty, reminding many of us of the nurse’s clinic in grade school, whereas Cognac’s prices can be lofty, and if you don’t know the differences between VS, VSOP and XO, you might not know what you’re getting. In contrast, Bourbon is rich and smooth with woody overtones due to barrel aging and a hearty sting on the back end that burns clean and flavorful.
When shopping for the right bourbon for you, keep in mind that the best bourbons don’t have to break the bank. Bulleit, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Elijah Craig 12 Year are my favorites for under $30, with Maker’s Mark being a sure bet for parties since it is easily recognized by its memorable, sharp-looking, wax-dipped neck and good quality. Whether or not you drink your Bourbon straight or in a cocktail, all of these varieties are very mixable, excellent choices for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours. Best bet for a gift? Elijah Craig 12 Year. For $26.99, it is aged 12 years, cork finished, and rich, with sweet honeyed notes. It’s also smoother than most for its price.
A step up would take us to the Jim Beam line of Booker’s Baker’s and Basil Hayden. These three are great because they range from light to bold and intense. Basil Hayden is light and elegant, with peppery wheat and tea notes. Baker’s is medium bodied with more caramel and toffee. Booker’s is uncut and powerful, with notes of oak, charcoal and candied tree fruits. These are all high quality, but when giving the Booker’s, also give a disclaimer since it is over 125 proof!
I recommend great-quality, high-end Bourbons like Blanton’s and Rock Hill Farms, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pappy Van Winkle. I like to call this the albino alligator of whiskeys because it is so rare that few see it, and even fewer have the opportunity to buy it. If you can purchase them, they can easily reach over $1,200! Pappy Van Winkle has a history that dates back to before prohibition and is overwhelmingly reviewed as the best in the country. If you see any of these, from the 10-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle to the unicorn-like 23 year old, buy them and only share with someone you would die for.
We are buying up as much bourbon as we can, even going as far as buying an entire barrel of Buffalo Trace. Bourbon is versatile and on trend for this holiday season, and there are so many to choose from! I’ve only mentioned a few of my favorites, but be sure to come into the store and chat with me about my favorite spirit. And remember, if you like to have a little nip before bed, a clean glass, an ice cube or two and a good-quality bourbon is all you need to cap off the night.