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September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, and since it'll be here before you can say "corn mash," Trey Zoeller has kindly offered to deliver an introductory course.
Zoeller is the founder and master distiller of Jefferson's Bourbon, and he's got a barrel of information to make your (brown) spirits bright next month - from whether "neat" is the suitable technique to why Kentucky is for bourbon lovers.
Bourbon for Beginners: Trey Zoeller
1. Good bourbon doesn’t need a mixer
"Small-batch or single barrel bourbon is as good (or better in my opinion) as some of the world’s best single malt scotches (and often a fraction of the price). Try drinking bourbon with two to three rocks (ice) or with a splash of ice water.
Take your time and experience the bourbon, allow your taste buds the opportunity to find the caramel, vanilla, toffee and fruit flavors that are delivered from aging in the new charred oak barrels."
2. Bourbon is one of the few brown spirits that tastes as good year-round
"In the summer, enjoy bourbon in an Arnold Palmer at your backyard barbecue. In the winter, try it in a classic Manhattan or holiday-inspired cocktail such as a Hot Toddy."
3. Bourbon is the only true American spirit
"Bourbon has been distilled in this country since the 18th century. Prior to Prohibition, there were more than 1,200 distilleries. Now, there are only nine legal distilleries in Kentucky. My 8th generation grandmother was arrested in Virginia for making and selling moonshine so I come from a long-line of spirit enthusiasts."
4. Aging bourbon is very different from aging Scotch
"Almost all Scotch whisky is aged in used barrels, while all bourbon must be aged in NEW charred oak barrels. Using the barrel one time ensures we get the most from the wood, which imparts flavor and helps remove the stringency of the alcohol.
In Scotch, Irish and other whiskies they use the barrels up to five times. Kentucky’s inconsistent weather causes the bourbon to move in and out of the wood, allowing it to age must faster than other whiskies."
5. Contrary to popular belief, you can call it bourbon even if it’s made outside of Kentucky
"That said, I would not serve my ex-mother-in-law bourbon that was made outside the Commonwealth! Out-of-state distilleries that focus on vodka or gin for example, don’t typically make premium-level bourbon it's best to stick with the Kentucky-made stuff."
Previously - Ways to Make Yourself a Whisky Connoisseur
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.
Bourbon and the love of bourbon killed my Father! remember everything in moderation.
Kentuckian here. While pappy is excellent you shouldnt have to for over 200 dollars for the good stuff. Points for almost anything made by Buffalo Trace distillery (They make blantons and pappy fyi). Elmer T Lee and Eagle Rare are both excellent, espcially for the money (25-30$). Their house brand called "Buffalo Trace bourbon" is solid, but not quite as good, I put it a notch above makers. For a special treat they make a limited addition barrel proof bourbon (~140 proof) called George Stagg that is amazing and goes for 50.
I got turned onto the kentucky lifestyle recently; nothing beats a day Keeneland, and a night filled with Booker's.
""Small-batch or single barrel bourbon is as good (or better in my opinion) as some of the world’s best single malt scotches (and often a fraction of the price). "
This line just bugs me. I do enjoy bourbon, I have some Maker's Mark sitting in my cupboard as well, but I have yet to find a bourbon that can compare to my favorite Scotch's: Oban and Laphroaig.
Bourbon and scotch are very different drinks. I enjoy both. I dont like poor quality versions of either drink. I like the both for different reasons. I dont think it is fair to compare one to the other. Laproaig and a sinble batch bourbon for example Bookers are very different drinks. Both are great whiskeys, It is a matter of individual taste.
I like my bourbon like my women - 18 years old and full of coke.
Normally, I don't respond to Trolls, but that's a good one.
Angel's Envy is not a bourbon made in Texas. The owners of the brand have not disclosed who distilled the current product, but rest assured it was not them. This brand is under 1 year old and the bourbon in it is over 4 years old – do the math.
Well thansk to the comments section, I now know the difference between whiskey and bourbon – the corn. Ya'd think Zoeller could've included that basic bit of info into an article billed as bourbon for beginners.
I used to drink Jack Daniels with lime juice all the time. But it began to give me harsh headaches. So I quit.
And as to his assertion that bourbon is good alyear 'round – that's pushing it. It's been my experience that practically all liquors are good all year 'round.
If you were drinking Jack with Rose's lime Juice, that could cause a headache due to all the sugar in that mixer. Fresh lime juice is a better idea.
My friend, bourbon is a type of whiskey. But not all whiskey is bourbon.
Who is this beginner that wrote this article?
How about sipping bourbon straight - no freaking ICE, no freaking WATER. And mixing a fine bourbon into mixed drinks????????
Pappy's is the only bourbon I'll drink, thanks.
Stop the presses!!! It's all Joe will drink! OMG, we can all die happy now, knowing that is what Joe drinks. Ya know I work with a guy like you, everything is his way or the highway, reminds me of my niece- except she's 3.
Here's a novel idea! Everyone drink what they want! I'll have some chilled Jager...Thanks!
Give me a neat E&J X O Brandy any day.
Would that I could get my hands on some Pappy more easily, but it's a knife fight for it here in NYC.
For a beginner, ice and water are just fine. There's no shame in training wheels if it means that someone isn't scared off and will come back for more.
Four Roses, the small batch....no need to spend the money on the single barrel.
Good to see that good old fashioned American alcoholism is alive and well.
Small batch, uncut and unfiltered... Ufta!
Top Spirit of the Year 2011: George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Collection.
I have drank a good amount of bourbon: Basil Hayden's, Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek, Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit. Most recent favorite is Bulleit. Thanks for the information on the others I have not heard of; will be scouring the aisles of local liquor store to find them. Nothing better than bourbon over a couple of cubes!!
You may be able to call it bourbon, but if it's not from Kentucky, it's not bourbon. It's a knockoff.
Evan Williams single barrel is the best sub $30 small batch you will find.
Corner Creek is a nice substitute, harder to find, put into old wine bottles, not as sweet and just good stuff.
Step it up to Baker's or Blanton's, and Basil Haden for the $35 set. Again, top shelf stuff for a reasonable price.
Then there's the Pappy Van Winkle. Great for special occasions. Doesn't make sense unless you win a million dollar deal and need a high end US made gift. Forget the scotches, this one will stand up to any 18 year scotch in flavor and texture.
no one mentioned knob creek??? that is my fave.
Bulleit Bourbon is no slouch either.
Blantons...preferably neat...no subsitutes
I love it, but high or low it is all just corn liquor... amazing what can be done.
And a julep is an infusion. Don't mash stuff in it. Kinda like a Bourbon Slurpee. Horrible way to treat good Bourbon, though.
Well, not really corn liquor. It just has to have at least 51% corn as one of the things to call it bourbon. Maker's has higher corn content...mmm...tasty stuff!! :D That along with Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace and Woodford are my favorites.
I prosthelytize for Elmer T. Lee (Buffalo Trace's single barrel label which is wonderfully spicy and surprisingly affordable!) Go buy it!
To those not from Kentucky or west virginia who have never had the pleasure of having moonshine, there are severeal distillars in kentucky now that are offering a straight unaged corn whiskey. Several of these are available at Liquor wholesalers and are worth the try.
I know a stripper named Mint Julep and she is quite tasty.
three fingers of makers mark over a cube of ice. niiiiiiiiiiice.
Have you tried whiskey stones? They cool without diluting your favorite beverage.
ive never heard of those!! i do have some of those 'plastic' ice cubes... but that just doesnt work with bourbon. i'll have to do some checking for the stones! thanks!
Welks. :D I found some at Total Wine but you can Google "whiskey stone" if you want to get them off the 'net.
Here's an example of what they are.
NICE! that'll make a good present for some of my bourbon/whiskey drinkin friends too! thanks!
If you think Maker's Mark is good bourbon, you aren't a true bourbon afficianado.
Don't be a snob. Maker's Mark is a good entry level bourbon at a good price point. It's a decent bottle of bourbon that you can often find for under $25. If you decide you decide you like bourbon and have a little more disposable income, then you can work your way up the proverbial ladder.
Bah, I don't agree at all. its all about personal preference.
Apparently you aren't much of a spelling aficionado either.
first of all, you must be 'sauced' seeing that you clearly cant spell. second, i didnt claim to be an expert nor did i say it was the best. i said it was 'nice'. please go climb back under your rock captain ignoramus; thank you very much.
F**k you, Sauced! Who gives a sh*t what you think? Maker's Mark tastes great, and ESPECIALLY the way Wendy described. That one piece of ice cools it perfectly and gives it just the right mix of water as it melts.
Aw he!!. It's probably vapor stirring up the bourbon.
Just so you know: aficionado
Noun: A person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime.
Makers has single handedly raised the bar for bourbons. Great value, true traditional boubon that has placed it among quality whiskies of any type. Try side by side tastings with numerous bourbons, Makers always stands tall.
Awesome screen name!
I see there's great chemistry between you two
I always liked the no longer available Mattingly & Moore, Old Charter 12 year old, Baker's and that pot-still brewed one ....Mitchner's I believe (also no longer available). Dang shame, some of the NLA were the best.
Well bourbon or not I think Jack Daniels is the best sipping whiskey and as for a Mint Julep – I do Jack Juleps every Derby Day – losts of crushed ice, little squeeze of lime, pour in several shots of Jack Daniels. Top with a sprig of fresh mint so I can call it a julep. Actually have done the simple syrup, mash the mint ordeal and decided it was way too much trouble.
Lime? And you forgot the sugar! That's not a julep.
I'll try the traditional way first, then I'll probably drop the syrup the 2nd time. Not a fan of sweet beverages.
Jack is cow piss compared to small batch bourbon...thats why its about 10 bucks a bottle...you get what you pay for...Im really not knocking JD and have a bottle of it in the cabinet next to some Basyl Hadens and Woodford Reserve....Its l;ike comparing Budweiser to a premium hand crafted beer
Jack Daniels bears no resemblance to Bourbon. It does bear a likeness to turpentine though. It is for teens, rednecks and teen rednecks..
It's refreshing to see (for the most part anyway) some of the most intelligent discussion in all of CNN's comment areas is taking place right here among fellow Bourbon drinkers. Pappy's 23 is certainly to die for but frankly for the money, Makers Mark does me and my taste buds well.
Four Roses Single Barrel is very good stuff if you can find it. A 750 mL bottle goes for about $40 and it ranges from 100-110 proof. The Four Roses brand went through a bad time in the US when Seagram owned it and let the quality go down the tubes. While it has always been very popular in Japan and Europe, they are now working at building it back up as a premium brand in the US. They have a less expensive "Yellow Label" as well as limited small batch editions.
For the price, Four Roses is an awesome bourbon. It's a bit sweeter than your standard Makers or Woodford's (another of my favorite), but it's still very, very, good.
I'd just like to say, as a Bourbon lover, except for the most heinous bottom shelfers – Teachers, Brokers, Potters – UGH... my philosophy is ... " If it's brown... it's goin' down... " ahhhhh....
Ohhhh, I like the way you think .... ~_~ ..... on a number of levels.
If it's brown, it's goin' down! – Love that thought!!
Evan Williams bourbon is the best kept secret. Great bourbon at a good price.
Glad someone brought it up. There are many good bourbons out there, any many are much more expensive. But I don't think you can go wrong with Evan Williams for the price. It's smooth, and in the winter I like to just sip it straight from a crystal old fashioned glass. No ice, no water, no mix.
Evan Williams is my house bourbon. Solid, inexpensive and I'm happy to drink and serve it. It may not have the fire of a Pappy Van Winkle or the cachet of a Blanton's or Booker's, but it works for me.
It is NOT bourbon if it is made outside of Bourbon County, Kentucky. While it is the same recipe and tastes the same, it doesn't fit the criteria. Even Jack Daniels, though it is considered a bourbon is actually a Tennessee Whiskey, and it says so right on the bottle. Its like Champagne. Even though there are lots of things called Champagne, the only true ones are the ones that come from the Champagne region of France. All the rest are Sparkling Wines. Jesus, if you are going to write an article on something at least have your facts right.
Actually, it's "Jack Daniel's." Not to put too fine a point on it.
You have to understand though that when Bourbon Whiskey came about Bourbon county was a much larger area that encoumpased a large swath of Northeastern and Central Kentucky.
In fact I think 37 Kentucky Counties arise from the original Bourbon County.
The legal definition of bourbon has no requirement that it must be from Bourbon County.
The legal definition of Bourbon is set by all things the North American Free Trade Agreement, but purist will always argue that only whiskeys distilled by certain criteria from the central kentukcy region should be labled and refered to as bourbons. The article is right though from a trade standpoint this is not the case.
Otis – you are the one that needs to check your facts. Bourbon has to be made in the United States, but not limited to KY. It's the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that regulates the definition of spirits in the US. Go the their website and read Ch. 4 for yourself: http://www.ttb.gov/spirits/bam.shtml
Jack isn't bourbon because it is charcoal filtered...
Agree w Houstondoc that Bourbon Co originally included a very large portion of the Commonwealth's current territory, as well as some of Virginia. I don't know of any labels out of Bourbon Co., those I'm most familiar with being located in Nelson Co or Woodford Co.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers of Massachusetts would probably beg to differ, they make an unbelievable product by the rules, and can call it bourbon.
Actually, whiskey can be called bourbon even if it is make outside of Kentucky. Kentucky is the only state that is legally allowed to put its name on a bottle of bourbon though. Most bourbons do come from Kentucky, but they can come from any Ky. County. In fact, one of the largest distilleries (Buffalo Trace – make of Blanton's, Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee and others) is located in Franklin Co. (Frankfort).
Wrong – any bourbon made in any state can put their state on bottle. Example – In Texas – Garrison Brothers makes Texas Straight Bourbon.
Hey Wade, try Angel's Envy. It's another Texas bourbon. A retired master distiller from Woodford set it up a few years ago. Not bad and not badly priced either. It's also easier to get than Garrison Brothers.
Inexpensive but good – Old Forester
Hard to find but very good – Old Weller 107 Brand
Woolford Reserve not bad but somewhat over priced.
Not a fan of Old Crow, Jim Beam nor the Tennessee Whiskey – JD
You sir, are a gentleman!. Love that old Weller and water combo...smooth!
Hand down the best I've ever had – Very Very Old Old Fitzgerald, 15 year. My stash was my grandfather's, he was saving it for a specail occasion, but he passed. I cracked a 1970 (barreled in 1955) and served it has his funeral...that's special enough...He would have agreed with the authors first point. You dont mix good bourbon. As far as new bourbon goes, Maker's 46 is nice and sweet, Maker's Mark is solid, Buffalo Trace is nice, Beam is handy in a pinch, Pappy Van Winkle 20 year (Pappy him self owned the Old Fitz brand back in the day) is nice when you can find it. The touch of wheat makes it smooth. Its probably the closest today to the VVO Old Fitzgerald.
Bookers, Blantons and Wild Turkey Rare Breed are my favorites
Wild Turkey is strictly for sipping. If you want to overindulge, spare the bird.
don't ask how I know!
Big fan of Booker's, which is made by Jim Beam.
Additionally, Wild Turkey 80 or 101 are fine selections for a Saturday of college football.
Turkey Rare Breed is exceptional – can't get it in State Monopoly Pennsylvania.
Old Weller....good call!
Regular Weller (90 proof) is also very good.
Buffalo Trace all the way!
Sorry...all bourbon tastes like moose pee. I weant to like it...just cant make it happen. I'm a clear liquor guy myself...gin and vodka.
Tanqueray gin, little 7-up and a slice of lime, so good.
How do you know what moose pee tastes like?
I think we know why his taste buds went south.
Drank too much bourbon one night...it got ugly. A moose, two Cubans and a shotgun was involved.
when do you drink moose pee and why?
See above. Its all good...
Vodka is for trendy trust-fund pretentious metrosexual fluffs. Men drink Whiskey.
Sorry...no trust-fund. You nailed me on the rest, though.
My favorite moose pee is Crazy Karl's Bladder #27. Oh, and only REAL moose pee comes from from Canada. Everything else is just plain old cow urine, which tastes like dog poop.
LMAO!!! Nice one....rec for the "real Moose pee" comment...well played.
My husband Marcus Bachmann ( who by the way is gay ) informs me that all those who partake of spirits will burn in hell.
You sound like you need a drink.
Anybody know what bourbon goes best with trolling?
Generally trolls will drink anything that comes in a plastic bottle. I would guess this was a Bartons drinker.
*** poot ***
Bourbon, Irish and Scotch, the three waters of life. A good one is a good one which ever flavor, that said I truly do love the Kentucky Kool Aid the best
Any Kentucky bourbon is great, just some are greater. Maybe if Congress should have some during lunch, things would go better in the afternoon. Kentucky bourbon is the essence of America. Wonderful stuff.
Makers Mark is my favorite bourbon.
Ditto! Old Forrester is good for the price, too!
If you are going to label someone a "Master Distiller", then that person should actually be in charge of the still that makes their product. Jefferson's Bourbon is a label that fills products with bourbon made at other distilleries; they do not own a still and therefore Trey can't be a Master distiller. You may like the product and Trey may do a good job at picking barrels and blending them, but call it like it is.
Sad to say how much of a bourbon snob I've become. I try as many different makes as I can and I have to say Woodford Reserve kicks a lot of ass. Still trying to get my hands on some Pappy's 23 year old. If you have the opportunity, I highly suggest going on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – its a tour of 6 of the larger bourbon makers in the region. You tour the distilleries and sample all the wares. Plus if you plan it right, you can sample more wares from the smaller makers via the local restaurants. Plan a weekend and maybe a designated driver.
I had the opportunity to be with a group on a private tour of Woodford Reserve's distillery on of all days Election Day 2008. Quaint Election Day Blue Laws delayed our start to sampling the bourbon until after 6:00, but the bourbon balls were in abundance. I agree that it is a fine product, however I had my head turned by Four Roses at a bourbon tasting last fall and I am now torn between the two. Also, one can never go wrong with Maker's and when I'm looking for the less expensive stuff, Evan Williams and coke is a good companion.
kazar, you get the cigar. Woodford is the best! For the less expensive stuff, 10 year old Ancient Age, believe it or not, is pretty good, if you can find it.
Years ago I would have argued for Jack Daniels black label, but when they started monkeying around with it in what, the late '70s early '80s it went way south real fast, IMHO.
Jefferson's Bourbon is one of the finest, widely available whiskeys I have ever tried. It's my go to now! Keep up the great work Trey.
When I was in KY on business, I was fortunate enough to have Jefferson's Reserve recommended to me. It is by far the best Bourbon I ever tasted and in 65 years I have tried them all. I got 4 bottles for my daughters wedding and everyone who tried it loved it. It is the Rolls Royce of Bourbon. When you try it, you won't want anything else. It has a very pleasant aroma and the taste is a little heavier then standard Bourbon but exceptional with ice. Please don't mix it with coca cola!
What you need to know about bourbon if you are a beginner: Sip it over only a couple of cubes of ice with only a splash of water (or neat, if you prefer). Never do "shots" (drink iced vodka for that). Others might disagree, but my opinion is: best bottom shelf, Old Crow; best mid-shelf, Jim Beam Black; best top shelf, Woodford Reserve.
Not a bad list, but I think I would go for Evan Williams (with a drop of water), Maker's Mark or Bulliet, and Pappy Van Winkle (although it's severly limited in supply).
Buliet's definitely in competition for mid-shelf brands, that's true. Truth is, there's not too many bad bourbons. What a shame.
I would say Woodford is Mid shelf at best with beam black very low. More like Makers or knob creek for a low shelf bourbon.Try Blantons Single barrel for a nice "top Shelf" pappy van winkle is also a nice one with some good vintages. Mid – high shelf; Eagle Rare, Basil Haydens, Bakers.
The way you "shelve" things, you must be a really tall guy.
@Mandy, would that be the same limestone that makes up a large portion of Tennessee? Yep it is. However the boys down in Lynchburg don't know how to make real bourbon, JD is the Budweiser of Bourbon in my opinion.
Jeff, you bring up an interesting point. Florida's water is filtered thru limestone and we don't have a rep for making bourbon. So there's got to be more to it than that ......
@Jeff, JD isn't Bourbon so it can't be the Budweiser of Bourbon.
Not true. Jack Daniels is a bourbon by definition. Just because they dont call it that on the label doesnt mean it isnt one
Jack Daniel's may be considered a Bourbon legally due to meeting mashbill and aging requirements, but the Tennessee distillers themselves choose to call it Tennesee Whiskey because the charcoal filtering that gives JD its distinct, mellow character is an extra step that Bourbon does not go through. For this reason, most Bourbon afficiandos would agree that that JD is not a "true" Bourbon.
For me, Maker's Mark is the best mixing Bourbon because the wheat allows it to be softer and sweeter. For sipping, I like something a little more robust. For this, I'd probably pick Buffalo Trace even if it weren't the best value on the market! I think the most underrated Bourbon is Wild Turkey 101. Jimmy Russel has preserved the old style pre-Prohibition character of Bourbon better than anyone – a heck of a product.
Yeah, for the price Buffalo Trace probably represents the best balance of taste and price.
If you are talking about the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, I will totally agree with you... it is quite a departure from their standard brand. They make a decent rye as well.
Duh...JD is NOT a bourbon dude. be DEFINITION, bourbon is aged in charred barrels. JD is done in stainless steel, so no way. Is it an OK whiskey...sure, as long as you don't want real bourbon taste.
Have any of you ever been to the JD distillery? I didn't think so. JD IS – I repeat – IS aged in oak barrels. Where do you folks come up with this stuff? lol
They get if off the internet. Urban Dictionary mostly.
Jack Daniel's is NOT made in stainless steel barrels. They're charred white oak barrels.
It's amazing how they get that wood taste out of that stainless steel! It's all good. Thank god we don't all love the same thing, or there wouldn't be enough to go around ;-)
Someday I'm going to go to Kentucky and have a mint julep. Never had one.
Crushed mint, simple syrup or sugar, bourbon, a spritz of seltzer, and ice. That's all it is. They're easy to make. I make them at home in the late spring and early summer when my garden mint is at it's best, but if you can get mint at the local mega-mart, go for it and enjoy!
Bourbon is made in Kentucky because the groundwater is naturally filtered through the limestone beneath the state, which removes iron. With unfiltered water, the bourbon will become quite black. To make it in another state, you have to intensively filter the water for impurities.
And pfft. My great grandad owned a moonshine still in Kentucky and never got caught.
I'm glad we in Tennessee are more civilized about drinking our Whiskey,without having to extend our pinkie while sipping that Kentucky Bourbon.
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