Monday, August 10, 2009


“Scotch will make you charming, vodka's liquid Percocet, and beer a fount of oafish non-sequiturs and flatulence. Red wine will put you to bed, white's piss, and tequila's vomit fuel. But bourbon, well, bourbon is the cocaine of alcohol, amplifying every aggressive angle of your personality and dragging all the rotten suppressed thoughts to the surface. Your judgment isn't compromised - it's bloodied with brass knuckles, curbed and left on a sewer grate for dead. You've nothing but a mindful of terrible ideas - equal parts dumb, dangerous and malicious - and twice the energy you need to act on every single one of them. Simply, concisely, a bourbon drunk's what you'd be in the jungle. And it's simple fact to anyone who knows the stuff - you're more who you are on bourbon than you'll ever appear sober. Bourbon is liberation, but only for those willing to embrace their inner baboon.”

Happy Hour is for Amateurs, pp. 198-199.

I'd like to think that nails the subject in full. Sums up what any serious bourbon drinker understands about the whiskey - what sets it a breed apart from any other form of liquor.* But enough of that introduction. Here's the meat of this piece, the five best bourbons I know:

5. Wild Turkey 101

Don't let anyone tell you Wild Turkey is rotgut drunkard whiskey. This is as smooth as bourbon comes, deceptively easy to swill, with a deep caramel finish typically found in rum. But this is no bottle of Mount Gay or Captain Morgan's... Not the kind of liquor some sorority pledge mixes with Diet Coke, guzzles on an empty stomach and vomits all over your coffee table. The 101 is Fuel - a belligerent, obnoxious drunk. The stuff's clearly loaded with sugar and you can feel the glucose rush, mixing with and amplifying all of your "ethanol muscles." Perhaps it's that quick, cheap energy that gives the bourbon such a uniquely aggressive buzz. Or maybe it's just the bottle. Fancy bourbons tend to come in fancy bottles - ovoid, square, hexagonal, with all kinds of etchings and carvings in the glass. Turkey's in a classic round whiskey bottle. The kind William Munny threw from his horse in the thunderstorm before he assassinated a roomful of vigilantes and sprayed Little Bill's brains all over the barroom floor in Unforgiven. The kind made not for pouring, but swigging from as though it held water. It's comfortable in your hand, almost too much so, taunting you to take another pull. Come on... Hit me again, candy-ass. Like you actually have a sack. I'm obviously not one for those "Enjoy Responsibly" messages tacked onto liquor ads, but I'll offer this about Turkey 101: Careful, you're playing with highly unstable ammunition.

Recommended for: Sabbath concert tailgates, snowmobile rallies, adult competitive vandalism.

4. Knob Creek

If bourbon were India Pale Ale, Knob Creek would be the best of the Double IPAs. It tastes like it's got twice the ingredients of every other bourbon and doesn't try in the least to hide any of its 100 proof bona fides. Still, it's not overpowering. Chocolately, syrupy, but also at the same time sharp. And though it's only one proof unit under Turkey 101, it's not an aggressive buzz. Not in the least. Just an excellent all around whiskey, perfect on the rocks, and the kind of flavor you'll want to gulp and swish around the tongue. The stuff also tastes great with cigars - black maduros specifically.** A "big" whiskey in every regard, and one you don't want to dilute with water, but savor like an after dinner drink, or fix into a neat Manhattan. At first, of course, because after three Knob Creeks, the fourth'll taste like soda and let's just put it this way... The next morning, you'll feel all that "flavor" pulsating in your head.

Recommended for: Crippling yourself at steak joints and cigar bars while people talk golf, the market and the heinousness of income tax.

3. Blanton's

This is a controversial pick. Some people think this is an overpriced bourbon trading on status as the first mass produced "single barrel" brand. They're half right. Blanton's is overpriced. No way in hell it's worth $45.00 a bottle. I don't care that it's the favored julep bourbon of the The Derby crowd. And having spent more of my youth roaming around golf courses than I'd ever care to recount, I can say this of the average clubhouse boozehound: He doesn't know liquor from lacquer, let alone good from bad bourbon. You could feed half the drunks at a horse race Old Crow with a splash of Scope and they'd never be the wiser. But all that said - the silly metal horse on the top of the bottle and contrived pretense aside - Blanton's is great whiskey. It's sweet and perfect deep burgundy. Not as dark as Knob Creek, but heavier than Maker's Mark, with just a hint of tanginess to counter its sugary side. The distillers could've taken a few more chances and made Blanton's more distinctive, but I don't think that was their aim. I think their intent was simple - take a standard, tried and true recipe and execute it perfectly. Which they've done.

I must confess, however, I've a soft spot for this whiskey. I was drinking Blanton's the morning I got married, and the taste takes me right back there. That was a damn good month. If there's a feeling in this world better than getting on plane after your wedding and leaving all the irritants of the shit existence we call "office life" behind, I've yet to know it.

Recommended for: A flask in your tuxedo. (It's terrible luck - and terrible form - to get yourself hitched stone sober. Don't feel guilty. She'll be on third champagne at that point. It's all fair.)

2. Baker's

Not to be confused with Booker's, the raw, 127 proof bourbon sold in a wooden casing, Bakers is the much harder to find 107 proof variety of Jim Beam Distilleries' "Small Batch" line. Harder to find, probably, because this is an amazing goddamned bourbon, better than the rest of Beam's brands by a long measure. If Turkey 101 is the smooth bourbon with the aggressive buzz, Baker's is the aggressive bourbon with the smooth, slow buzz. Why? Because there's no good reason to drink anything that tastes this amazing fast, and considering the way the spicy, oaky flavors from the barrel jump out and bite your tongue, there's no reason you'd never want to. This is a bourbon to leisurely sip, as close as you can to neat - the $30.00 bottle that tastes as good as, if not better, than anything else out there... the one you hide in the corner of the liquor cabinet, never to be wasted on guests. Or on yourself. Drink three of these up front at most, then shift to something cheaper.

Recommended for: Nightcaps after long days at the office, when you need a fast, tasty "bullet in the head" knockout and don't have any dope lying around.

1. Woodford Reserve

Now, you might be thinking, How can he say Baker's is the most flavorful bourbon of the bunch and then rate Woodford Reserve above it? Because intensity of flavor isn't everything. If you like drinking bourbon the way people who really like drinking bourbon like drinking bourbon, when you drink bourbon, you want to drink a lot of it. And if you're going to drink a lot of it, Woodford Reserve is the bourbon you want to be drinking. The taste is gingery, sharp, and light, and it never dulls the tongue. Your sixth tastes a lot like the first and the buzz is fucking divine. I don't know what the people who make this stuff do in the distilling process, but it's clearly filtered more, or uses a far better quality of water, than any of the other brands. Every bourbon talks about how it's crafted from the essence of some pristine spring or creek. Woodford actually tastes like it. True or not, you get the sense you're drinking something made in an entirely organic process. And the next day confirms its purity. Of all the liquors here, this is the easiest on the body - an almost hangover-free whiskey. The other nice thing about Woodford is it's a fine year-round bourbon. Knob Creek, Baker's, Turkey... these are a bit too heavy for the warmer months. A Woodford on the rocks works as well in seersucker at a summer wedding as it does on the couch, watching Detroit and Dallas embarrass themselves in the usual post-Thanksgiving rituals. Adding up all the factors a person could assess in bourbon, I can this without hesitation - you can never, ever go wrong with Woodford Reserve.

Recommended for: Brunch, breakfast, bar mitzvahs, drives through the countryside, the symphony, funerals, wakes, Ramadan, do-it yourself oil changes, patching the roof of the garage, dance marathons, Take Back the Night marches, children's soccer games, Psoriasis Awareness Week, first holy communions, steeplechase, Spanish Civil War re-enactments, marriage counseling, kite-surfing, deep water competitive swimming, AA Meetings, cat shows, Flag Day, swinging parties, pre-teen beauty pageants, black masses, skeetshooting, marlin fishing, Lent, public executions, cliff diving, pottery classes, whale watching, moped jousting and exotic piercing preparation.



  1. I have been drinking bourbon since before your existence was cultured in
    a petri dish. The commentary is "not writing, it's typing" to quote the
    late Truman Capot. Mere boiler plate.

  2. Ah so you go with a bland insult rather than attempt to even discuss or dispute the selections? Clearly your advanced age hasn't helped that rather noticable chip on your shoulder nor your bitterness. Shameful really.

  3. I was introduced to Woodford's Reserve by my long-lost cousin - who happens to be in the Kentucky legislature. I'm one of those cheezy Jim Beam gals who maybe one day will splurge on Maker's Mark but I found my heaven in two fingers of Woodford's with a splash of branch water.

  4. Tessa, I couldn't agree with you more, nothing better after a long day be it at work or spent on the beach, than a few fingers of Woodford's on the rocks.