Recently the guys at Modern Thirst proposed a nearly impossible question to a slew of bourbon writers, “If you had $100 to spend on American whiskey, what would you buy right now at your local store?” This sounds like an easy question, but the more I thought about it, the harder it became. Am I sipping it or making cocktails? Is it just for me, or am I taking it to enjoy with friends? What’s the temperature outside? Did I have a good or a bad day at work? What’s new that I haven’t tried? Are there any store pick single barrels available? What can I even get today? Which direction is the wind blowing?
These questions notwithstanding, it seems like what you can actually find changes daily depending on the bourbon trade winds. For example, Elmer T. Lee would easily be on my list, but you can’t find it anymore. The quality of Eagle Rare has gone down so much that it got the boot. Weller 12 has become nearly as hard to find as the notorious Van Winkle line. Our beloved Kentucky Tavern BIB is discontinued and Ancient Ancient Age 10 year is on hiatus for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s almost as if we’re cursed to see every reasonably priced bourbon we fall in love with fade into obscurity. With all this in mind, I decided to cheat a little and come up with two scenarios. First, what do I keep consistently stocked at my house and replace as needed, and second, what would I bring to a party where I don’t know the tastes of the people coming. Both are based on what I know I can get nearby right now, or at least with relative ease. There would be some overlap between the two lists, but for the sake of keeping it interesting I’m going to only allow each bourbon to appear once. We’ll link to everyone’s responses once they come out and you can read Darren’s response here.
What’s always in my bar?
As you might imagine, this changes constantly and has taken over way more space than it probably should. But there are a few things that I always have around. Our readers know that we at BOTB like good values and Swiss Army Knives of bourbon that can be excellent sippers as well as make a delicious cocktail. Here’s what I’ve always got on hand:
Knob Creek Single Barrel ($35-40) – This is just a great all around bourbon at a damn fine 120 proof that allows it to be sipped neat, put on ice, or put in a Manhattan and it still shines through. I prefer the store select bottles, so go for that if you can find it.
1792 Ridgemont Reserve ($25) – One of our favorites. Easy drinking, always pleasant, good in a cocktail, and a damn good value for a blend of 8-10 year old bourbons. If you can find a store select single barrel, again, go for that. I have a stash of some single barrel from Kroger of all places, which is delicious.
Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star ($12-15) – This is my go-to everyday mixer. A 6ish year old blend of the higher rye mashbill from Buffalo Trace, this always hits the spot. And yea, I know you can’t get this one in the state of Kentucky, but if you know anyone outside of the state I’m sure you can figure it out.
Weller Antique 107 ($22-25, it seems to change daily) – Weller Antique is always in my top 5 bourbons. Great price, great flavor, solid proof. That’s really all it takes to make me happy. This tastes like apple pie to me and makes any day better. And yea, yea, I know this is becoming hard to find now. But if you keep your eyes open, it’s reasonably easy to find. And you know what, I love it, so there.
What do I bring to a party?
Four Roses Single Barrel ($35) – For some reason a lot of people still don’t know about Four Roses. They need to, and that’s why I like to bring this for people to try. On second thought, maybe I should stop doing this. You can pry my Four Roses Single Barrel from my cold, dead hands!
Very Old Barton BIB ($12-15) – Bottled-in-Bond bourbons are delicious, interesting, and filled with history. It’s hard to find a BIB expression that isn’t at least pretty good. Our favorite, Kentucky Tavern BIB, is sadly no longer available, but this one comes from the same distillery and basically tied KT in our Bonded Mash Madness competition.
Old Grand Dad 114 ($22) – This high proof expression of Old Grand Dad seems to fly blissfully under the radar. The high rye content and high proof make it stand out in almost any cocktail. I don’t know why it’s still so cheap, and I don’t know how long it will continue to be available, but for the time being it is a helluva bourbon for a damn good price.
A Straight Rye Whiskey (depends, but readily available with the balance) – Some of my favorites are Bulleit Rye, Rittenhouse Rye BIB, Smooth Ambler Rye, and Sazerac Rye. I know not picking one is a cop-out, but I tend to float between ryes. I don’t have a single favorite in this <$35 price range. My overall favorite is easily the single barrel Smooth Ambler, but that is closer to $50-60. Ryes are much older than bourbons in heritage, and always spark a good conversation. They’re also somewhat polarizing, but that’s half the fun honestly.
So do you Bourbon Crusaders agree? Disagree? Want to rage quixotic against not being able to find some of these in your area? Let us know in the comments! We want to hear what your lists would be and can’t wait to see what some of the other writers chose. Cheers!
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