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View Full Version : Bottom Shelf Bourbon


Lubricious Integument
04-26-2011, 10:19 PM
You've seen them. Half-gallon plastic jugs with screw tops sitting two shelves below the good stuff, with names like Old Crow, or Ten High, or Kentucky Tavern. The kind of liquor you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, except you need something on hand for your brother-in-law's whiskey and Cokes, and for your wife and her girlfriends to use for their pitcher of bourbon slush besides your fifth of Elijah Craig 18 year old.... I digress...

What surprises lie on the bottom shelf? Among the usual rot-gut there must be a hidden gem or two. For purposes of this discussion, "bottom shelf" doesn't literally mean the bottom shelf of your local store, but $25 or less for a 1.75L bottle. My nominee is W.L. Weller 7 year old. $22.99. Certainly lacking in the complex flavor of a high quality bourbon, but it tastes good to me and like high quality wheated bourbon goes down smooth when drunk straight.

What other brands should I know about?

don't ask
04-26-2011, 10:26 PM
In Australia a 700ml bottle of Old Crow is about $25 so we can be of no help.

DoctorJ
04-26-2011, 10:40 PM
Evan Williams black label. It's my go-to cooking and mixing bourbon, but I've slipped many a flask of it into music festivals and happily drunk it straight.

Around here a handle is about $20, but I am in Kentucky so it might be a little more elsewhere.

Lubricious Integument
04-26-2011, 10:50 PM
In Australia a 700ml bottle of Old Crow is about $25 so we can be of no help.

Australia is a long way from Kentucky, but are there any quality bourbons available at a decent price?

GreedySmurf
04-26-2011, 11:27 PM
Australia is a long way from Kentucky, but are there any quality bourbons available at a decent price?

At a decent price? No! They are available though! :)

In my locality (Brisbane) there seems to have been a real explosion over the last 2-3 years in the ranges of Bourbon available. Not that long ago, you'd have Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Wild Turkey, you could get Makers Mark as the top shelf bourbon, and a couple of bottom shelf brands like Cougar, or other names I can't recall at present.

My 'standard' bourbon is Makers Mark. Which goes for ~$45-50 AUD. That's about average for the 'prestige' bourbon's.

Jim Beam white label, and Jack Daniels which are seen as 'middle road' goes for ~$30-$35 a bottle (700ml).

I got bought a bottle of Bookers Bourbon a while ago as a gift, and that goes for ~$100 a bottle. Awfully nice it was though.

notfrommensa
04-27-2011, 12:04 AM
Mom used to buy Evan Williams. She preferred Jim Beam but I think she bought EW because it was cheaper. Actually she preferred Jack Daniels, but we don't want to get THAT discussion.

I think she also used to get Kentucky Tavern as well.

Personally, I like Canadian Whisky. Crown Royal.

Tom Tildrum
04-27-2011, 12:15 AM
The alcoholic in my family drank Ten High. Nasty stuff. Some of us used to wonder whether a bottle of it would get ten people high, or one person high ten times?

I like Wild Turkey myself.

FoieGrasIsEvil
04-27-2011, 06:41 AM
Kessler, baby. Smooth as silk. Even says so right on the bottle!

Shodan
04-27-2011, 06:56 AM
After the third shot they all taste the same.

Regards,
Shodan

bump
04-27-2011, 07:54 AM
I always thought of "bottom shelf" as the $7.50 blended stuff that comes in plastic bottles literally on the bottom shelf.

Inexpensive bourbons are a mile ahead of that.

I'd say that Weller & Evan Williams are the standouts in that category. I don't think it's quite in the category, but Jim Beam Black is probably the best bang for your buck out there.

(side note: Evan Williams and your Elijah Craig 18 yr old are the exact same thing coming off the still. The only difference is where in the rick house they're stored, and for how long. Learned that at the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail from the head distiller at Heaven Hill)

(another side note: Noah's Mill is seriously good stuff! Just got me a bottle on Saturday)

silenus
04-27-2011, 08:56 AM
10 High is the bottom shelf rotgut I use to make Bourbon Cherries.

There are some "inexpensive" bourbons out there that are quite tasty. Old Weller Antique, for example. 107 proof and very flavorful. Kicks the shit out of Beam Black.

To add to bump's comments on aging - Try some of the single barrel versions of the cheap stuff. Worlds of difference. Evan Williams is lousy. Evan Williams Single Barrel is what I was sipping last night, straight. Old Forester is paint thinner, but the Birthday Bourbon is fantastic. It's all in the handling and aging.

drastic_quench
04-27-2011, 09:05 AM
Jack Daniels isn't bourbon. It's filtered through charcoal which gives it it's distinct taste. Too sweet for me.

Chefguy
04-27-2011, 09:08 AM
Old Crow ::shudder:: Very bad memories.

Shodan
04-27-2011, 10:08 AM
At least you still have memories.

Regards,
Shodan

Lubricious Integument
04-27-2011, 10:25 AM
10 High is the bottom shelf rotgut I use to make Bourbon Cherries.

There are some "inexpensive" bourbons out there that are quite tasty. Old Weller Antique, for example. 107 proof and very flavorful. Kicks the shit out of Beam Black.

To add to bump's comments on aging - Try some of the single barrel versions of the cheap stuff. Worlds of difference. Evan Williams is lousy. Evan Williams Single Barrel is what I was sipping last night, straight. Old Forester is paint thinner, but the Birthday Bourbon is fantastic. It's all in the handling and aging.

I've had both of those and agree they are great. I'm wondering about the blended bourbon in the giant plastic jugs. Are there any hidden treasures?

Lubricious Integument
04-27-2011, 10:28 AM
After the third shot they all taste the same.

Regards,
Shodan

If you are doing shots you are doing it wrong.

robert_columbia
04-27-2011, 11:15 AM
Virginia Gentleman - it's made in Virginia rather than Kentucky.

Sitnam
04-27-2011, 11:20 AM
Old Crow ::shudder:: Very bad memories.
Every bar has a dusty Pucker covered bottle of Old Crow in the corner that's been there as long as anyone can remember.

7 years bartending and I think I only poured it once for a college kid on a friends dare.

Chefguy
04-27-2011, 11:38 AM
Every bar has a dusty Pucker covered bottle of Old Crow in the corner that's been there as long as anyone can remember.

7 years bartending and I think I only poured it once for a college kid on a friends dare.

In my youth, several of us stole a case of pints of the stuff and got falling down, puke all over the side of the car, lay in a ditch and wish you would die, snot slinging, commode hugging wasted. The smell of the stuff some 45 years later still makes my gorge start to rise. Insult to injury, we got busted for the theft. Luckily, I was still only 17 so no record.

ralph124c
04-27-2011, 12:01 PM
Lest all of you get the wrong idea, all bourbon is made to a pretty high standard-it is aged (even the cheap ones), and it is made from distilled corn mash.
Agreed, the cheap stuff is much harsher, but in a mixed drink, the lower stuff is OK.
Also, 50 years ago, Old Crow was a prestige brand-ads of the time connected famous Civil War characters (Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis) as drinkers of the stuff.
I suppose OC ceased being a prestige brand when its adherents got old and yonger drinkers got used to newer brands.

Yossarian
04-27-2011, 12:19 PM
Although not my personal choice (I don't buy anything lower than Ancient Age and generally prefer Ancient Ancient Age), a friend of mine buys Benchmark... and having had plenty of drinks mixed with it, I've got to say--it's not bad at all.

Benchmark is the lowest rung on the Buffalo Trace ladder, and highly recommended for someone looking to score maximum bourbon for minimum money.

Number
04-27-2011, 12:35 PM
Kessler, baby. Smooth as silk. Even says so right on the bottle!It isn't bourbon, but I am also a big fan of Kessler for mixed drinks. While it doesn't have a great deal of flavor, it also doesn't have any of the rough edges you get with a lot of comparably-priced liquor. In a pinch it can be consumed straight without too much wincing. I just picked up a 1.75L bottle on sale for $14US. That's a great value for the money.

Also, on my grandmother's behalf, I'd like to ask everyone to stop picking on Old Crow. She loves the stuff, though I've only seen her drink it in Manhattans, never straight.

Please note that if you are going to have Old Crow, don't ever do it at a place called Dirty Frank's (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOMefU_kBWU).

bump
04-27-2011, 12:55 PM
I've had both of those and agree they are great. I'm wondering about the blended bourbon in the giant plastic jugs. Are there any hidden treasures?

In my limited experience with the blended stuff at the extreme low end, it's not so much that they're acrid, harsh and godawful, so much as it's that they're diluted, and not very flavorful at all.

I think in essence, what they do is take straight bourbon and dilute it with what amounts to everclear and water. I don't know the ratio, but it ends up 80 proof, and usually not very intense.

Same thing goes for Scotch- think about the difference between most blended scotch whiskys (not including blended malts) and single malts- there's a world of difference between them in terms of intensity.

Arkcon
04-27-2011, 01:06 PM
Old Crow and other rotgut is awesome to deglaze a pan that you've fried steaks in, with or without mushrooms. I have a jug for just that reason. And if you're eating dinner with someone who likes drinking rotgut, you have a compatible beverage to go with their dinner.

Also, after scraping the seeds out of a vanilla bean to put in custard, I put the empty pod into a fifth bottle of rotgut. That's not as perfect a plan -- a couplea vanilla pods will scent the booze, but you have to use 2 or 3 times as much of this stuff as you would of commercial vanilla extract. Still, hey, free vanilla extract. (as in, you're going to throw the pod away afterward anyway.)

Beware of Doug
04-27-2011, 01:29 PM
Ten High is the most enjoyable of the cheap bourbons, IMO. It's straight, not blended. If it's rotgut, it's rotgut of an unusually high order.

I particularly like it in Scots-Irish Coffee (reheated joe + a shot of 10H + a shpritz of Reddi wip).

Dag Otto
04-27-2011, 01:36 PM
Also, on my grandmother's behalf, I'd like to ask everyone to stop picking on Old Crow. She loves the stuff, though I've only seen her drink it in Manhattans, never straight.



Old Crow is a perfectly fine bourbon. The only thing 'wrong' with it is it's age, I believe it is only aged two years. That young and of course it's not going to have the developed character of an 8 or 12-year-old, but there is nothing bad or off about it, it's decent quality. And I don''t mean for mixing - try sipping it neat. You'll gain an appreciation for what time in the barrel does for a whiskey, but also what a young bourbon can be.

Yossarian
04-27-2011, 01:54 PM
Another plug for Benchmark:

http://www.thepartysource.com/spirits_education_view.php?article=00023


Benchmark Bourbon

What a Bourbon sleeper! A killer value, Benchmark is perhaps uncomplex, but there’s no denying the ripe and fat corn juiciness, leavened with a teasing sweet-dry character. Despite a generous eight years in wood, the whisky is fresh and balanced. Straight-ahead Bourbon and highly drinkable, Benchmark would make a splendid house whiskey.

And around here (Kentucky), it's less than $20 for a 1.75.

FoieGrasIsEvil
04-27-2011, 02:11 PM
It isn't bourbon, but I am also a big fan of Kessler for mixed drinks.

:smack:

I don't know why I keep making that mistake...and I spent many years in Kentucky drinking oodles of Eagle Rare (my favorite bourbon), Blanton's, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, etc.

Kessler was my and my college buddies el-cheapo whiskey fix. But you're right...its blended.

purplehorseshoe
04-27-2011, 03:02 PM
Early Times and Kentucky Deluxe are inexpensive but drinkable if you're poor and taking shots. Can't recall offhand if they're specifically bourbon or not, but I think so.


Cheers!

typoink
04-27-2011, 04:00 PM
This is a total cheat, but I think Laird's Applejack is a great bargain -- it's obviously not bourbon, but I think it's a good alternative to a lot of similar-priced bourbons.

The price has risen a bit lately, but it used to be $10 a bottle here and it was considerably better than most $10 bourbon.

Sunshine and Smiles
04-27-2011, 11:33 PM
Ev Wiliams, who I kind of look at as the younger, naive cousin of Mssrs. Jack and Jim, is my go-to for bourbon on the cheap.

In Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the main character often indulges in Old Crow. I was surprised to read this, because like many of you all I had thought of OC as near unswillable, well, swill.

To Typoink, I currently have a half-full bottle of Laird's Applejack getting more and more comfortable with its place on the shelf. I wanted to like the stuff (really!), but to me it had no character or life beyond a slight, light tartness. A quick glance of the bottle says it's comrpised of 35% apple brandy and 65% grain neutral spirits - probably the problem. I think I paid around 16 for the 750ml, and largely because of the abundance of neutral grain I feel like I got cheated.

And since I've got you here, at the liquor store I work at we have a single-malt Scotch called Tamdhu that sells for $20 a fifth. I was always put off by the high prices of single-malts (being a poor college grad) and assumed this stuff would be the Scottish equivalent of Kentucky Velvet, et al. But it's surprisingly good!

Chefguy
04-28-2011, 08:51 AM
Old Crow is a perfectly fine bourbon. The only thing 'wrong' with it is it's age, I believe it is only aged two years. That young and of course it's not going to have the developed character of an 8 or 12-year-old, but there is nothing bad or off about it, it's decent quality. And I don''t mean for mixing - try sipping it neat. You'll gain an appreciation for what time in the barrel does for a whiskey, but also what a young bourbon can be.

As with all things, overindulgence is a bad idea. I've never been so sick in my life, and it had nothing to do with the quality of the intoxicant. It could have been 15-year old scotch, and I would have the same reaction to it today as I do to Old Crow.

sunacres
04-28-2011, 12:32 PM
The only way to know what you really like is to do a blind taste test. The impact of price and label are incredibly strong, and for many folks those factors are more important than taste.

I was pretty impressed by how unpredictable those factors were when I had my son set up a blind test of eight brands (I also did this with vodkas), ranging from the very cheapest supermarket generic to the most expensive mass-market labels (the specialty bourbons have such distinctive flavors they really do belong in a different category). A group of friends got together and ranked them from 1 to 8. The ONLY pattern that was significant was that no one ranked the first sample they tasted highest.

Try it. You may find that you actually PREFER something less expensive.

silenus
04-28-2011, 12:53 PM
You may find that you actually PREFER something less expensive.

Actually, I drink the cheap, harsh stuff to slow me down. If I start sipping Maker's 46, for example, it goes down too smooth and I tend to over-indulge a bit. If I pour a glass of Bulliett that doesn't happen.

bump
04-28-2011, 12:58 PM
To Typoink, I currently have a half-full bottle of Laird's Applejack getting more and more comfortable with its place on the shelf. I wanted to like the stuff (really!), but to me it had no character or life beyond a slight, light tartness. A quick glance of the bottle says it's comrpised of 35% apple brandy and 65% grain neutral spirits - probably the problem. I think I paid around 16 for the 750ml, and largely because of the abundance of neutral grain I feel like I got cheated.

Get the Laird's bonded apple brandy or the "Old apple brandy". They're aged 5 and 7 years, I believe, and are straight apple brandies, not that blended stuff they sell as "Applejack". WAY more flavor and aroma, and are kind of reminiscent of an apple whiskey more than anything else.

And I wouldn't call Bulleit "cheap, harsh stuff". Maybe not Booker's or Woodford Reserve, but light years ahead of most of the brands mentioned in this thread.

silenus
04-28-2011, 01:06 PM
Ok then, Beam. :D

Lubricious Integument
04-28-2011, 07:17 PM
Although not my personal choice (I don't buy anything lower than Ancient Age and generally prefer Ancient Ancient Age), a friend of mine buys Benchmark... and having had plenty of drinks mixed with it, I've got to say--it's not bad at all.

Benchmark is the lowest rung on the Buffalo Trace ladder, and highly recommended for someone looking to score maximum bourbon for minimum money.

You had me at "Buffalo Trace". I was in Louisville today and picked up a fifth of Benchmark for $7.99. Broke the seal on the screw-top 10 minutes ago. It is not very complex and lacks a clean finish, but definitely not rotgut and something I could keep around as a sipping whiskey. Thanks for the tip!

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