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The Forgotten Bottles of Bourbon

Several weeks ago I wrote about What Will Kill the Bourbon Boom on the blog which sparked a lot of great bourbon discussion. In the article I mentioned how the increase in premium bourbons over the last 10 years has affected the bourbon industry. However, one unintended consequence of a growing premium market is the blatant disregard for great bourbon that is already on the shelf. Bourbonr’s (myself included) spend so much time hunting down the Four Roses Limited editions we stop buying the regular Four Roses Small batch or Single Barrel. We spend so much money on Pappy and Stagg there’s no more room in our bourbon budget for Evan Williams Single Barrel or Elijah Craig 12 year. The last 10 bottles I’ve purchased have either been limited edition, dusty or private barrel selections. Basically, the only time I reach for a “regular” bottle at the store is when I know I have friends coming over that I don’t want to share good bottles with.

Obviously, I’m all for hunting rare bourbon but it can get out of control. Ultimately, the Limited Edition (LE) bourbon craze could hurt Bourbonr’s. With demand increasing for LE’s distilleries will begin to funnel their bourbon that was once in their regular product line to new “special releases” or current limited edition. Who could blame them with the amount of attention garnered by anything labeled “limited” or “special” receives? Scalpers and bourbon opportunist are able flip these bottles for a higher profit than what distilleries sell the bottles for.

Another problem with the Limited Bourbon Craze is new Bourbonr’s not understanding what they’re drinking. There’s nothing wrong with new bourbon drinkers jumping in head first to bourbon hunting but when the third bottle of bourbon you’ve ever purchased is Pappy 20 there may be a problem. It takes time to build a taste and appreciation for bourbon. Luckily, the best way to build the appreciation is to continue to drink bourbon. I don’t say this because I want a slightly better chance at getting more LE bourbons. I say this because I know from personal experience that after tasting a variety of bourbons you begin to notice the difference in taste as well as build your own preferences in taste. Going straight for the LE bourbons is like jumping in to the middle of the ocean during a storm to learn how to swim. By all means, grab as many limited releases as you can but at least try some of the mid-shelf bourbons to start building your palate before you crack them open.

Finally, while there is a difference between good bourbon and great bourbon it’s not as wide of a gap as you may think. It really comes down to personal preference. There’s plenty of $30 shelf bourbons I prefer to $100 limited editions.

Closing Thought: Have we become spoiled in the bourbon world? Is there too much good bourbon available today that we only open our wallet when we see great bourbon? If so, it’s a great problem to have and next time you’re at the liquor store asking about the release date of Willett Exploratory Cask or William LaRue Weller grab a bottle of one of the bottles below to enjoy while you wait.

Bourbonr Lonely Bottle Selections:

Four Roses Small Batch

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Elijah Craig 12 year

Evan Williams Single Barrel

W.L. Weller (12, Antique or Special Reserve)

I understand bottle availability varies by state and by store so that’s why there are five bottles to choose from.


    The best one of the bunch (for the money) is the Weller….just plain ‘ol Special Reserve (the 12 and Antique are just too hard to find these days). It’s basically my daily drinker and it’s only $11.99 a fifth. I can tell you it beats the pants off the crappy bottle of Barterhouse for which I paid $84. Another good one is the Taylor Small Batch…it’s relatively cheap, you can find it, and it’s amazing!

    Well said. I have definitely found myself falling into this trap as well, especially since I tend to accumulate more than I actually drink. Love all 5 of the recommendations above and agree with you fully.

    Good article have all five in cabinet. The 4 Roses single is tastier than a 20 year-old that I have opened. My house pour is the Kirkland 7year old at $20 a litter. Remins me of knob

    I would add OF 86 proof to the list as well. Last bottle I picked up guy at the register said good choice to which the so called bourbon expert behind started to criticize my choice. I just looked and laughed when I saw he had a bottle of Woodford and a 2 liter of 7UP..

    People buy what they are “sold”. Real drinker know that the “premium” bottlings are not that much better than these everyday drinkers. Just ask all those people dying to get a sip of the “shelf” bourbons from the 70’s and 80’s. Old Grand Dad, Old Fitzgerald…shelf bourbons from back in the day that are now held up next to the likes of PVW and limited stuff now.

    I appreciate the post, and I agree completely. I’d say I’m above the beginner phase, but not to the experiences phase, but I still don’t know if I’m prepared to buy Pappy anything (let alone try to find it). I’m sipping on some Buffalo Trace right now, and I chose that over EC12 and Old Weller Antique. I’ve got a few others on my shelf, but those are my go-to unless I want something special. I think they’re very under-appreciated by new bourbon drinkers. I think this needs to be mentioned more often so people can truly appreciate what they’re drinking.

    My main two bottles at home is Old Grand Dad 114 and Old Weller Antique 107 both coming in under $25 a bottle and both great sippers.

    Here here! While I love a lot of the limited releases, I often get a much greater thrill by finding an unexpected shelf standard that I can drink neat, mix, and do whatever I want with sans guilt. I would probably add 1792 Ridgemont Reserve and Charter 101 to this list. There’s a lot to be said for a solid everyday drinker.

    You’re right about those two bourbons. Probably need an honorable mention list or a top 10. I want to add OGD as well

    I agree. If new bourbon drinkers do not build from the base line, they wont know if the LE’s, Special Reserves etc are really any better than the base OR worth the money.

    It’s true there are so many readily available, great bourbons to choose from. I can’t remember the last time I bought a Scotch. I think we all just take them for granted because we can always get it. We are definitely spoiled with bourbon and rye thank God! Bottles such as Elijah Craig 12 need to be cherished for their quality and value.

    Great choices. 2 of ‘them are my every days; the other 2 in my cabinet. Next to my last bottle of Elmer T Lee.

    Couldn’t agree more. While I may have just recently managed to score a bottle of Lost Prophet I also recently managed to have a store get 4 bottles of Old Weller Antique for me. Old Weller is such a great bourbon for the money that I am glad to stock up on it. Especially now that it has become kinda hard to find. I am sure I will finish off all 4 bottles of Weller long before I will empty the single bottle of Lost Prophet.

    I really enjoyed this article , I started this long and lonely road taking a class on tequila. To find out that my favorite was a $36.00 bottle of Corralej. My point being is the more it cost does not mean the more I will like it. I have never tasted Pappy , probably never will, but I have enjoyed 4 rose’s and buffalo trace to know I want to explore some more. Elijah Craig 21-Year-Old Single Barrel, is my next adventure I hope.. Again thanks for your words of wisdom.

    4 Roses Single Barrel is as good as any out there. It just jumped in price here in MS to about $42.
    Eagle Rare is another great daily.
    My buddy at my local retailer scored me a bottle of RVW 10 as a thank you for my business.

    Love the article. A lot of truth in it. I have the Willett Exploratory Cask and the PVW, steadily looking for the William LaRue Weller (had some at the Bourbon House in New Orleans). All great bourbons, but my everyday bourbon is the Eagle Rare or the Weller Special Reserve. Priced well and are very good tasting. On the higher end I choose Col. Taylor Small Batch.

    I have never tasted any of the PVW or BTAC, I am a big fan of the Weller Antique 107 and Blantons. I really enjoy BIBs and I am currently purchasing all the BIB labels I can locate, unfortunately I live in an ABC controlled state and pay out the wazoo when purchasing from a package store.

    If anyone out there in the bourbon world is interested, I just finished putting together this morning the final piece to my whole collection of Pappy Van Winkle 2014 collection.. Last year of the old Pappy barrels…

    Not an aficionado, but simply an enjoyer.
    No distiction in any foregoing comments between Rye and wheat in the mash.
    – And maybe there needn’t be. Individual taste is what it is, and we should enjoy what WE favor,
    and not necessarily what someone else prefers. Same goes for mash and resulting character per distiller. I happen to like (LOVE!) 12 yr. Weller,
    but I also cherish 12 yr. Elija. Each has it’s own, separate character and appeal.
    Latest discovery: Rebel Reserve – cheap and VEry satisfying one a few cubes. With the premium
    stuff harder to find, these “2nd Shelv=ers” are worth investigating!

    I agree Bo! I don’t care for EC, but the others named above are definitely great bourbons! I tend to lean toward the wheated bourbons, but appreciate the opportunity to enjoy them all. My go to bourbon is Maker’s Mark just because I like it.

    Those are all great ones! Enjoy the Eagle Rare too. Fun to find old rip 10 yr on rare occasion by the pour at bourbon bars.

    Awesome write up! It really is sad that we can’t lock down Weller 12 year now. it’s becoming equally as hard to find as the other Unicorns.

    I really appreciated the information here. I would add Bullet to the list. At Costco I’ve found ititt on sale for $32 for the 1.75L, a bargain by any standard and a great way to end the day.

    Couldn’t agree more. I started to develop a taste for bourbon after a friend invited me to a tasting. My collecting began with looking for and purchasing every bottled in bond currently produced, approximately 1 year later i am missing JTS Brown, TW Samuels and Tom Moore, I have all the others, my favorite up to this point is Old Grand Dad BiB. Through this enjoyable experience I have also picked up a few bottles of non BiBs that have expanded my palate. This fall will be my first concerted effort to pick up some LE bottles as i have developed a pretty good relationship with some store owners after they realized that I wasn’t sourcing them for liquid gold to sell off. My most prized BiB thus far is EHT cured oak,I got a call from an ABC manager when the EHT cured oak became available and he kept a bottle aside for me. If I didn’t live in Alabama i think my BiB search would be much simpler but when the state controls what comes in and what doesn’t it is very difficult to get them to do any ordering for you unless you own a bar or restaurant. So much good juice so little time.

    I’ve been waiting to taste Pappy VW, but hey, I just drink bourbon, I don’t claim to be an expert. Meanwhile, enjoy Weller, Maker’s 46 and a bunch of others, not to mention (gasp) Jim Beam when I’m stuck somewhere with only a supermarket to buy from.

    Now a question, and I’m dead serious: what’s the opinion of Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon? It’s not super cheap, but a bit less expensive than Maker’s Mark by the 1.75l bottle in Costco. I’m not ashamed to say I like the stuff but I’m really curious what others think.

    Weller Special Reserve used to be cheap in Tallahassee, around 14 dollars a fifth. Now it is 23 and I am not real impressed with it. I like a stronger bourbon; more bang for the buck. I find Weller’s Old Antique a bit harsh. Turkey 101 is my go-to bourbon, It is complex enough, strong enough and I can usually get a handle for 31.99. I had a glass of Pappy 15 Year for my birthday and while I don’t want to support the hype, it lived up to it. This is a bar attached to a liquor store and they sell Pappy by the glass at a commensurate, retail price; not along the lines of black market prices. It was 17. for the glass. I think I will have to make this an annual thing.

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