Sippin’ whiskey

The state of Kentucky is known for its export of Colonel Sanders’ special recipe fried chicken, for horse racing, country music and a deliciously smooth spirit which is bringing the tourist dollar to a host of distilleries along the Bourbon Trail.

Bourbon is poised for its moment in the limelight – and it fully deserves to be highlighted, spotlighted and celebrated. That’s the consensus of the informal panel tasting conducted by CHEERS.

“Bourbon is just delicious!” said drinks writer Clifford Roberts to enthusiastic agreement from fellow tasters. At the end of tasting, Matt Prehn, said it had been eye-opening to taste a line-up of eight spirits next to each other. He’s a bourbon fan but said he would seldom consider trying a selection of them side-by-side. That sparked a discussion about how people choose to consume bourbon. CHEERS publisher Shayne Dowling made the point that there was a perception that bourbon does duty as a shooter with a side of beer. “That’s such a pity because these are wonderful! They’re so smooth and flavourful that they deserve to be appreciated. Take your time and sit with them as you would a whisky.”

Professional bartender Leighton Rathbone of Talking to Strangers agreed and added that bourbon drinkers were brand loyal. “If you’re a Woodford Reserve drinker – or Bulleit or Knob Creek – that’s what you order, every time. They are very loyal and will seldom be swayed away from their preference,” he said.

Another interesting comment from Shayne Dowling was that bourbon as a category offers a broad stroke ‘sameness’ or identity which other categories don’t. “Just thinking about the tastings we’ve done for gin, brandy, whisky and even rum, there’s always a big diversity of flavour – whereas bourbon, across the board, will show flavours of caramel, vanilla, toffee and cream. And who doesn’t like that?”

Tasting panel: Clifford Roberts, Leighton Rathbone, Shayne Dowling, Matt Prehn and Fiona McDonald

Jim Beam

A crowd favourite which can be found in most bars, the Beam showed nice spice notes (cardamom said Leighton) with the typical caramel and vanilla. Gentle note of citrus rind with a honeycomb/Crunchie flavour that leads to a dry finish.

Jack Daniel’s

“Creamy banana pie!” was Clifford’s comment. Gentle, smooth textured and appealing with a bubblegum vivacity and delicious spice element. Peppery tail.

Buffalo Trace

Candied orange notes mingle with creamy vanilla and caramel milkshake. “Super smooth and velvety in terms of texture,” said Matt. Shayne found an attractive rum and raisin ice cream sweetness.

Maker’s Mark

Butterscotch, vanilla studded panna cotta with a burned butter richness, said Fiona. Refined and sleek with amazingly silky mouthfeel. Leighton noted maple syrup and a light fenugreek spice on the long tail.

Bulleit bourbon

The comments ranged from cherry maple, cardamom and all spice to waxed floor and soft candy and marzipan for this one. Texture, suppleness and effortless polish and refinement. Richly flavourful and long with a dry end.

Knob Creek - PC

It must be noted that this is bottled at 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume (ABV), so it was slightly more warm and spirited than the others which were all between 43% and 45% ABV. Baked custard, creamy butterscotch pudding and a light citrus note, almost like Cointreau, Fiona found. Leighton praised its light florality while Matt pronounced it a showstopper with its bitter cherry and cedar flavours. Long and engaging.

Maker’s Mark 46

Toffee, salted caramel, tropical fruits and a light peppery bite was Shayne’s note for this bourbon, which is a barrel selection elevated from the standard Maker’s Mark which is then matured further with toasted new French oak staves. Clifford liked the gentle nuttiness he found.

Woodford Reserve 

“Amazingly complex with lots of bruléed sugar, muscat, fruit and even a touch of smokiness,” said Clifford. “Lovely character with its cedar and leather nuances,” said Matt. “It makes perfect sense to use this for a Mint Julep cocktail,” Leighton said since he commented on the light spearmint character. Mouthcoating and richly warm with a rewardingly dry tail.