Bourbon for beginners
Scotch is the most consumed whisky in Asia (excluding India) and quite possibly will be dominant whisk(e)y for a long time. However, the past few years has seen the emergence of Bourbon penetrating the Asian markets and most notably in Japan. Note that I’m strictly speaking about Bourbon whiskey here and some may think that Jack Daniels qualifies as bourbon except for the fact that the unaged JD whiskey has been treated with charcoal prior to barrel ageing. Most recently, the latest standard of identity and the BATF have actually removed the paragraph that prohibited the pretreatment with charcoal. So in JD’ case, not calling it Bourbon gives them more flexibility in how they make it than if they label it as bourbon. Times were much different around 20 years ago when JD insisted that they are a bourbon but today they prefer to differentiate themselves in order to stand out in a very crowded market. In other respects, JD is Bourbon because its mash is at least 51% corn, distilled at less than 160 proof and aged in charred oak barrels.
Actually, I’m no expert when it comes to Bourbon and I was only turned onto it by a buddy back in San Francisco. He had a great selection of Bourbons, as you might expect in the US, most of which I had never seen before. I asked what he recommends for Bourbon and he said that Makers Mark is one of the most popular mainstream ones – which I had tried before and liked but he preferred the Knob Creek. He personally thinks that it’s the best whisk(e)y out there and this is coming from a guy who chooses Bourbon over Scotch any day of the week. But for him it’s not really a matter of finding a better drink as giving him something different that he’ll enjoy is temporary and somehow the next day he’ll go back to his favorite bottle of Knob Creek.
Anyway, so where does Bourbon whiskey stand here in the Philippine market? Evidently it’s not as popular as Scotch but on a positive note, it’s still somewhat widely available on the retail level. If you are eager to discover the world of Bourbon, I think it’s best to go out and try some on your own before you let any expert or friend influence your judgement.
But for starters, just remember these key points when selecting your bottle:
- Proof – Alcohol content impacts our taste so I suggest starting off with ones that are 90 proof or lower before you jump into the cask strength stuff. Don’t hesitate to add water – the macho guys do it as well.
- Age – Bourbon has much less emphasis on age compared to Scotch but you should also be aware that most entry level bourbons that you will be drinking will be young and between 2 to 4 years. Their reasoning is that the hotter climate in Kentucky allows the spirit to age much faster than if it were in the cooler regions of Scotland where the usual minimum is double at around 8 years. Don’t worry about age as for now it is just a number.
- Availability – I would start with the relatively easily available bottles as opposed to the harder to find stuff in the beginning. It’s no doubt that rare bottles from craft distilleries tend to “taste better” but where can you buy them in this country?
Also don’t be afraid to pull the trigger as most Bourbons are fairly affordable if compared to it’s Scotch cousins. If you decide that you hate Bourbon on your very first sip then it is only a minor loss on your pocket.
On the other hand, for those who don’t find the fun in choosing a new bottle and would prefer to take the boring recommendation route, you can start with these 3 bottles below. They are readily available at your nearest SNR.
Makers Mark – P799
Bulleit Bourbon – P1300
Evan Williams – P900 (buy one take one)
*Prices are only estimates based on my memory
There are many more expensive bourbons, but few worth the extra price as far as I am concerned. The exceptions are the extra long aged single barrel Bourbons which are not only rare but expensive. Also anything limited from labels such as the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve is marked up exponentially because it’s one of the most sought after Bourbons in the world right now. These are rare to find on the market due to low production and increasing demand.
If you want to explore the single barrel stuff here are a couple that I recommend: Henry McKenna Single Barrel is aged 10 years and should be taken neat. Elijah Craig Single Barrel is aged 18 years and likewise should never be made into a Manhattan — spend this kind of money for that kind of booze and you drink it neat, or not at all. If you want to mix, Coke or Manhattan, Makers is a very excellent, possibly the best choice.