Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Mixologist, Vol. 16: Jockey Full of (Affordable) Bourbon

Posted on: August 13, 2010

Generally, here at Frontier Mixologist we like to focus on, well, mixed drinks.  (We also like wine!)  That’s not to say, however, that we don’t appreciate the unadulterated charms of good spirits enjoyed simply.   Chief among such pleasures are Bourbon whiskeys.  Whether sipped neat or on the rocks, a glass of Bourbon swells the mind with all manner of connotations and connections, both mirthful and melancholic.

More practically, Bourbon works great as a substitute for rye whiskey in many of our favorite cocktails.  Good Bourbon can be had much more cheaply than Scotch or brandy, but prices do range from under $10 all the way up to over $300.  Assuming that you want more of your money to go to the quality of alcohol itself, and less to marketing and branding,  what is one to do?  Well, we here at Frontier Psychiatrist seem to have a thing for top-5 lists, the psychological reasons for this obsession being presumably complicated and non-drink related.  In that spirit, a compilation of the Top 5 Bang-For-Your Buck Bourbons seemed like the thing to do.

But first, people have a lot of misconceptions about Bourbon, and, rather than bore you with a pedantic discourse on the minutiae, here’s the quick primer.  Whiskey refers generally to distilled spirits made from a mixture of grains that is then usually aged in wooden barrels, the alcohol acting as a solvent which extracts flavor compounds from the wood.  Bourbon is a type of whiskey, i.e. all Bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are Bourbons.  Bourbon is defined by law as being made from only water and grain, at least 51% of which must be corn, with the remainder comprised of wheat, rye, or barley, and must be aged for at least two years in new, white oak barrels that have been charred.  Although most Bourbon is made in Kentucky, it need not be.  (If you waste enough time in bars, you will get into an argument with someone about whether Jack Daniels is Bourbon — it is not.)

Here then are five Bourbons that are a great deal for their price.  Incidentally, for readers in New York City, the cheapest place to go is Warehouse Wines & Spirits.

Wild Turkey 101, $24For some reason, people associate Wild Turkey with bottom-shelf rail whiskey, perhaps from too many Thanksgiving drink specials featuring the “kickin’ chicken.”  (We’d be remiss, however, not to recommend you order The Sportsman: a shot of Wild Turkey with a Miller High Life chaser.)  If you make sure to stick with the 101-proof, not the 80-proof, you’ll end up with a really great basic bourbon with a welcome spicy heat.  It’s certainly not for those who favor smoothness over all else, but those folks should stick with the wheat-derived softness of Makers Mark anyway.

Drinking Wild Turkey is what got your correspondent interested in liquor in the first place, and it’s still our house Bourbon.  When in dubious taverns, the order of choice is still Wild Turkey, the best of the widely-available bourbons.

Buffalo Trace, $20

This is another great, generally-available bourbon that comes in as a real value.  Although a bit low in proof, it has a crowd-pleasing smoothness that’s great for those who aren’t sure if they like drinking spirits neat or on the rocks.  That said, it’s still got a great flavor to it.  We like it on the rocks.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, $25Another bottling from the Buffalo Trace distillery, this one gets 91 points from Wine Enthusiast.  It’s got a really great finish, warm and long.  Best sipped neat, hopefully while listening to records out on the porch.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, $28Bottled by Heaven Hill with the assistance of distillers Craig and Parker Beam, there’s a real balance to this one, and its easily as good as whiskeys twice its price.  It’s not always easy to find, but worth picking up if you do.

Eagle Rare 10-year Old, $25Yet another bottling from the good folks at Buffalo Trace, this well-aged bottling still has a consistent charm to it.  While running a bit hot, this one is great taken neat with just a splash of water.

So pick up one of these Bourbons, or blow a paycheck and get all five to really stock up.  Either way, you’ll have a great start to your home bar.  Pour yourself a dram, sit, and watch the world slow down.

Drink up,

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3 Responses to "Frontier Mixologist, Vol. 16: Jockey Full of (Affordable) Bourbon"

Ah, one of my favorite Tom Waits songs! Coincidentally, tonight I just watched the Fishing with John episode featuring ol’ Tommy boy (putting a fish down his pants). Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll make myself a bourbon highball.

Thanks for the inspiration!

[…] of gin is the most crucial, as these spirits form the base for the largest number of cocktails.  Bourbon can be substituted for rye, but rye is spicier and a little less sweet and is what was used most […]

[…] for drinking neat or on the rocks, the great thing about American whiskeys is that you can get a number of well-made ones at reasonable prices.  Bourbon is far cheaper than a good Scotch, although more […]

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