I’m the first to admit that I don’t know a heck of a lot about bourbon, so when a nearby wine and spirits merchant announced an in-store seminar on this all-American whiskey, I was there. And happy I went.
The seminar at Post Wines in Syosset proved to be both an educational and delicious experience. In realty it was a guided stand-up tasting led by David Harper, euphemistically called a brand ambassador for Sazerac, the New Orleans-based distiller,
Born of a cocktail in the 1800’s the Sazerac Co. today is an independent, American family owned distilling company that owns such venerable brands as Buffalo Trace Distillery, A. Smith Bowman, Glenmore Distillery, Barton, Fleischmann, Medley and Mr. Boston.
So what is bourbon? It’s a distilled spirit whose grain recipe must include at least 51 percent corn and it may distilled at no higher than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume). Moreover, it may not contain artificial additives; flavorings or caramel color and it must be made in the United States (though some might think, erroneously, only in Kentucky).
This tasting featured six bourbons from the 200-year-old Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Ky.
Harper started his “students” with Buffalo Trace ($26.99 for 750 ml. – prices shown are those at Post), which he described as an easy drinking, everyday spirit, good for making Manhattan cocktails. I started my evaluation using a method taught to me by a Scotch whisky maven, putting a dab of each on my wrist as you might a sample of perfume, let it dry and then sniff. Then I nosed the bourbon – with a splash of water – in an old fashioned glass and then sipped, judiciously, because there’s no spitting out in a whiskey tasting. At 90 proof, the amber-hued Buffalo Trace was a smooth sipper with aromas of citrus and vanilla and sweet and spice notes on the palate.
Up next was Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 years old ($29.99), also an amber-colored whiskey at 90 proof. But this whiskey’s grain mix called for more rye and as a result, it seemed fuller in body with a fruity, peppery nose and on the palate sweet, hot, spicy notes.
Our third sample was Blanton’s Single Barrel ($45.99), with a nose that exuded vanilla. It was intensely flavored with notes of caramel and spice and at 125 proof it’s definitely hotter on the palate. It finishes quite dry.
We’re then on to Rock Hill Farms ($47.99), also a single-barrel bourbon, this time 100 proof. There’s no age statement. Deep copper in color with a chary/tarry nose, this spirit shares a rye-heavy mash recipe with Blanton’s. I don’t detect as much spicy character, but I taste candied fruits, chocolate and sweet oak and more heat. My lips feel the same zing that they might after eating a dish loaded with spicy Szechuan peppers. Definitely a winner!
Our fifth pour was Elmer T. Lee ($31.99), which is labeled a sour mash, meaning an older fermenting grain mixture was added to start the fermentation. The grain recipe is the same as for Blanton’s and Rock Hill Farms. The nose screams English Leather aftershave lotion, but it also has notes of sweet vanilla and pepper. Medium-gold in color, there’s a gentle spiciness and honey notes on the palate and a long finish. Also a big winner on my scorecard.
To finish us up, literally, not figuratively, Harper poured samples of the recently released Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. ($64.99). Named for one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, this 100 proof, single-barrel whiskey comes from 93 barrels aged exclusively in the top two levels of the distillery’s Warehouse C, which was built in 1881 and which survived a 2006 tornado. The most delicately flavored of the evening’s samples, this whiskey showed light, smoky and dried figs aromas. Candy sweetness, fruit and spice could be found on the palate. Relative to the other whiskeys, it finished short.
Now that I’ve sailed through previously unchartered waters, I’m ready to continue my bourbon education with much enthusiasm. Are you a fancier of bourbon?