The bourbon craze has far succeeded its expiration date. What was once a trend that began more than a decade ago, bourbon is now a way of life. In recent years, bourbon sales surpassed scotch and rum, trailing only tequila. And bourbon aficionados have taken their craft of tasting and savoring the brown substance so seriously that they have created clubs and societies to share their experiences.
“The bourbon boom started in 2008,” bourbon expert Fred Minnick told Gear Patrol. “Mainstay products would hit the shelf, and there would be a double-digit increase in price. It wasn’t just the limited-edition products that were garnering attention. It was everything. But it’s important to point out that as soon as it happened, there were people saying the bubble was going to pop. We have since had ten years of nonstop growth.”
Here are some suggestions and strategies to curate a bourbon collection that will blow your friends away.
Start from the Bottom
The strategy of getting your bourbon list off the ground to start from the bottom. Don’t be afraid to pick up affordable brands such as Makers Mark, Old Grand Dad 114, Wild Turkey 101, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. Those staple bourbons are the cornerstones to any collection because they are versatile. You could sip them neat, on the rocks or mixed into cocktails. They are also well-known amongst the most novice bourbon drinkers and have become safe choices.
The smaller brands also allow you a chance to expand your palette and begin to learn what kind of bourbons you prefer. For instance, you may have an affinity for high proof bourbons and that is your cue to start purchasing brands that have 110 proof or higher. Now the collection begins to expand. Soon enough, you may acquire a taste for single barrel bourbons — that’s a type of high-grade bourbon that is aged in individual aging barrels (typically distilleries age bourbon in multiple barrels). Now your tastes buds have evolved and it’s time to transform your liquor cabinet.
The Middle of the Pack
The majority of medium-ranked bourbons will cost you anywhere from $20 to $45. Many of these mid-ranged bottles easy to drink and could be savored daily. The best of these mid-range bourbons is the Old Grand Dad 114 — aromas of orange and flavors of cinnamon make it a popular selection. The others in this range include Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon, Buffalo Trace and Four Rose Small Batch (small batch means the bourbon is mixed with small contents of other selected bourbon barrels). Then you have other popular names such as Evan Williams, Bulleit Bourbon, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Elijah Craig, and Knob Creek. Most of these brands are readily available at many local liquor stores.
For building a great collection, it is recommended that you include many of these bottles in your cabinet since they are favorites for the above-average whiskey lover. One bourbon that is must is the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, the 2017 Whisky of the Year by Whisky Advocate. Here is a quick side note: keep a few open bottles, in order to let breathe and expand. With time, the bourbon will explode in flavor.
The Obscure Bourbon Choices
The bourbon and whiskey lover will always include some rare or unheard of brands to keep the bourbon enthusiasts on their toes. Surprisingly, they are many flavorful and obscure titles that you will love. One of best of those specialty bourbons is theHochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye Whiskey Bourbon. The brand is actually hard to find and is delicious both neat or on the rocks. The secret? The bourbon is poured over rock candy as its bottled, accentuating the sweeter side of bourbon. There are many other unique flavors such as the Corsair Oatmeal Stout Whiskey Bourbon. Other brands that will knock your socks off are the Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon and Jeremiah Weed Sarsaparilla Whiskey. The latter is made with sarsaparilla root and will invoke memories of A&W soda.
The Elite Selections
Now it’s time to bring in the big boys. Just like scotch, bourbon is better with age — the amount of years marks the value of the bottle. Only a few bourbon distilleries offer the 20-year aged bourbons. After some research, you will come across the immortal Van Winkle family bourbon company. The brand has become so popular that many bars are put on a waitlist to get the bourbon on their shelves. And the price is exorbitant. The Pappy Vin Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year is the rarest of them all. The retail price goes for $270. The bourbon will sell for $145 per two-ounce pour at a bar. But the demand for the bourbon is high among aficionados that it will sell out quickly. One bar in Astoria, New York had this rare bourbon, one of only a handful available in the city, and the two open bottles sold out within a month.
Many liquor stores won’t carry the Van Winkle since the wait list could last for years. So if you can’t get your hand on Van Winkle, then you should put your sights on other high-end bourbons to corral. The Parker’s Heritage Collection 27-Year-Old Small Batch sells for $200 per bottle and is accessible. For a more affordable selection, the Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak Finish goes for $90 in the store and features a prominent sweet and smoky taste notes.