Wednesday, September 21, 2011

10 Great Bourbons Under $30

In celebration of National Bourbon Heritage Month, I thought I'd make a list of some bourbons that I enjoy that have great flavor but won't break your bank. Each of the bourbons listed below come in a 750ml bottle for under $30. Of course, pricing will vary depending on where you buy but I've tried to list an average price or price I've recently paid in Miami. In Miami, I've found the best variety is usually at Total Wine & Spirits but, contrary to popular belief, they don't always have the best price. Other shops I frequent are Crown Wine & Spirits, Grove Liquors (nice selection but usually high priced unless they have a special running so it's rare that I buy there), Big Daddy's, and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

Buffalo Trace - $25 - A great way to start off this list.  This is the namesake bourbon for what I feel is the best distillery standing in the United States today.  I love the complexity of this bourbon where flavor ranges from oaky, woody notes to vanilla, to some hints of citrus peel.  I enjoy this one with a few rocks or a bourbon ice ball and it also makes for a nice Old Fashioned.

Bulliet - $25 - This one is not a favorite of mine to sip neat or on the rocks, however, with a high rye content it's a favorite of most bartenders for fashioning classic cocktails.  The bite from the rye allows this bourbon to shine when mixed in a cocktail.  It's also pretty sweet with vanilla and honey flavor playing backup to the spicy rye.  I like the bottle.  It reminds me of the days of the wild frontier.

Corner Creek - $23- This one was previously featured here as a Bourbon Bargain Alert when Big Daddy's had it as low as $9.99 for 750ml and $19.99 for 1.75L!!  Though the flavor won't blow you away, it's an easy sipper that I enjoy on the rocks.  Real smooth, light bourbon that's grainy with notes of vanilla, caramel, char, wood, and a hint of cherry.  Smooth finish too.  I recently learned while doing some pricing research for this article that this bourbon uses corn, wheat, and rye in it's mash (most use wheat or rye) and that the corporate offices are located right here in Miami.  I'll be investigating that a bit further...

Eagle Rare 10yr - $28 - Another favorite of mine from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, this bourbon has a moderate amber color and a sweet yet spicy flavor.  Hints of vanilla, caramel, raisin, spice, and dried grain.  It's the "well" bourbon at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and can be had for $5/glass during their happy hour (M-F 5:00-6:30pm).  I definitely recommend checking that out!

Elijah Craig 12yr - $25 - A fantastic value at $24, this bourbon is a sweet one with notes of butterscotch, vanilla, root beer, caramel, spice, and light oak.  It's a small batch bourbon that delivers in flavor.  Chef K and Chadzilla, my co-conspirators at Sol Kitchen, made a kickass root beer float with this at Podzilla.  Total Wine has had it on sale for as low as $22 as well.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage - $27 - I once got called out by Kelly Liken, a finalist on Top Chef, for expressing my distaste for Evan Williams bourbon.  I must admit that at that point I'd only tried the black label which I still have much distaste for.  The Single Barrel Vintage, however, brings much more to the table.  This bourbon was the first and only bourbon to list a vintage date on the bottle, depicting the exact day it was placed in the barrel to age.  I've had the 1999, 2000, and 2001 editions on my bar over the years and have enjoyed them, especially for the dollars I paid.  This one is oaky with vanilla, caramel, spice, and a little cinnamon.  The one that currently sits on my bar, the 2001, has a nice viscosity to it too that coats the tongue on each sip. 

Jefferson's Small Batch - $27 - I love Jefferson's 17yr Presidential Select but at $79 a bottle it wasn't making this list.  The small batch product pales in comparison to the 17yr but it's still a decent bourbon with tones of vanilla, cream soda, and little hints of peach.

Old Grandad 114 - $25 - This bourbon is a bit of an ass kicker at 114 proof.  However, the burn is very light, almost smooth, which I find to be odd yet very enjoyable.  Lots of vanilla and caramel going on here with a firey spice profile as well.  This one really grew on me the more I sipped and it's become one of my favorite value bourbons on the market.

Old Forrester Signature - $20 - A dark colored spirit rich with caramel and milk chocolate notes.  The rye spice notes in this bourbon also shine along with some grain and char.  A nice sipper on the rocks.

W.L. Weller 12yr - $25 - This wheated bourbon has a deep color and grainy nose and palate to it that continues all the way through the finish.  Like most wheated bourbons, I like the spiciness of this spirit.  Perfect for classic cocktails too.  I also found it was great when I infused it with citrus peel and vanilla. 

You will notice that I've left Maker's Mark off the list.  The reason behind that is that Maker's is what I call "the gateway bourbon".  Most bourbon drinkers have likely had it before or know of it because its' signature red wax dipped bottle can be found sitting on nearly every bar shelf in the country.  It's still a good bourbon at a good price.  In fact, my travel plans have taken a turn for the worse and I'm sipping one right now as I type this post in an airport lounge.

I hope you find this post useful and that it leads to you discovering a new bourbon that you enjoy.  Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and, as always, please respect your bourbon and drink responsibly.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

National Bourbon Heritage Month!

When you're really into something and you have a blog, it's really your job to share it with others.  Well, I failed on that this month.  If you've read this blog or met me in person, you know that I am a proud bourbon drinker.  That's why it's disappointing that it's taken me 14 days to let you know that this is National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Well, I'll attempt to make up for it with some new knowledge for ya...

National Bourbon Heritage Month is a relatively new observance.  It started in 2007 as a way to celebrate bourbon as a distinct product of the United States of America.  Man, I feel proud just typing that.  The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a week long celebration held in September in Bardstown, Kentucky.  I've yet to attend though plans have been drafted a few times.  It's on my bucket list right next to attending the Kentucky Derby.

Bourbon (and whiskey in general) holds a significant space in the history of the United States of America.  It survived discrimination, religious persecution, and Prohibiton.  One man, a judge, professor, and Mississippi state legislator named Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat Jr., was asked to take a side on whether or not the state should continue to prohibit or finally legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages.  His speech is a classic, one of epic grandeur and political doubletalk.  It is one of my favorite moments in whiskey history and one of my favorite speeches.  Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month.  Enjoy! 

"My friends,

I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time.

However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy.

On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.

You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

If when you say whiskey you mean

the devil's brew
the poison scourge
the bloody monster
that defiles innocence
dethrones reason
destroys the home
creates misery and poverty
yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children...

If you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman
from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living
into the bottomless pit of degradation
and despair
and shame
and helplessness
and hopelessness

then certainly I am against it.


If when you say whiskey you mean
the oil of conversation
the philosophic wine
the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together
that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips
and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes
if you mean Christmas cheer
if you mean the stimulating drink
that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning
if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy
and his happiness
and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies,
and heartaches
and sorrows

if you mean that drink
the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars
which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children
our blind
our deaf
our dumb
our pitiful aged and infirm
to build highways
and hospitals
and schools

then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand.

I will not retreat from it.

I will not compromise."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lobstah Fest 2011 - First Shell, Part Deux

One of the things I love most about vacationing in Rockport each year is that there is no plan, no schedule, no required duty.  Whether you are a guest or a family member, you're on your own and free to do as you please.  Feel like relaxing at the beach?  Grab a chair and head on down.  Hungry?  The cupboard and fridge is yours to raid.  Just make sure we are always stocked with the important stuff - beer and bourbon.

I had given my mum the Michael's Genuine Cookbook for her birthday in May and between all of the hustle and bustle of getting the house set up and summer getting into full gear, she hadn't had a chance to use it yet.  So, when Jackie and Paula said they wanted to make a breakfast from the book, I said to have at it.  And that they did, using the provisions we secured at the market the day before.

Full kitchen

The two ladies were up and at 'em in the wee hours of the morning, Paula kneading dough for a breakfast pizza and Jackie whipping up some homemade ricotta that would top some crostinis with apricot jam.

I accepted the role of pizza master, working the dough into a couple of pans using my whiskey glass roller technique.  As I rolled, the ladies wrapped bacon around some peaches for David, grillmaster, to finish off on the grill.

Jackie placed the peaches on top of arugula and finished them with some shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic.

The pizza was topped with a light layer of sauce, sauteed leeks, pancetta, cheese, and a couple of eggs, you know, cuz it's breakfast and stuff.  I love a good yolk on my pizza, mmm hmmm.

Good way to start the day
After nibbling pizza and licking a few plates clean, the breakfast was Soco Approved.

Breakfast feels good in ma belly!

I was well nourished when the clock struck 10am, signaling that it was time for a dip in the ocean to fully wake up.  Shortly thereafter it was a long, arduous day of lounging in a beach chair, playing beach games, and drinking beer.  I'm not sure how we accomplished it all on empty stomachs but there was good reason for that...  The Beach Blast Lobster Fest was soon to follow!
This year, we started shuckin' around with some oysters to kick things off.

Next we got into a couple pounds of steamers... 

Meaty Bivalves

I love steamers and this year's batch was unbelievably good!  You didn't even need to dip them in butter.  Just...

Remove the shell...
Peel back the neck...
Give it a dip in the hot stock from the steamer pot...
and pound it down!
Once the steamers were gone it was lobstah time!

You can't have a lobstah fest without a lobstah shirt!
Getting intimate with dinner...

These leftover guys would be broken down and made into lobstah rolls the next day.  Waste not, want not!
We finished off all of the lobster we could handle, putting back a few beers and a few bourbons.  Night rolled in and a full moon lit up the bay on Long Beach.  We headed on down to take it all in and have a nightcap.

Under a full moon, you can become a...