Calling any of the bourbons whiskeys below “losers” is a misnomer. The bourbons below lost to, in some cases, some of the best bottles of whiskeys on the planet when tasted blind. When blind tasting these whiskeys, there are a million variables at play — weather, time of day, mood, and most importantly, what bottles you’re tasting them with. Sadly, the 10 whiskeys that I’m blind tasting today just didn’t pass muster on their respective days when I blind tasted them the first time around.
To see if these really are that bad tasting or how mediocre they really are, I collected the 10 last place bourbons from the last 10 bourbon whiskey blind taste tests I did over the last couple of months. The thrust of this tasting is to find redemption for bottles I know are good and give them a little glow-up at the same time. That said, I also want to find out if the bad is really that bad. Or were these bottles just dinged because everything else was crazy good on that particular panel on that particular day? Which is a long-winded way to say that this blind tasting is going to come down to taste, balance, and execution.
Our lineup today is:
- Benchmark Old. No. 8
- Maker’s Mark
- Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond Release 003
- The D12tance Puncher’s Chance Aged 12 Years
- Off Hours Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- The Clover Single Barrel Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Jim Beam Single Barrel
- Samuel Maverick Barrel Proof
- Silverbelly Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Pursuit United
Let’s find a little redemption for these whiskeys!
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- The Best-Known Basic Bottles Of Bourbon, Blind Tasted And Ranked
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Part 1: The Tasting
Vanilla wafer, oats, straw, a little honey, a smidge of apple core, and maybe a little lemon soda mingle on the thin nose. The palate touches on dry cornmeal and some more vanilla with a hint of caramel popcorn balls. The finish has the essence of leather and holiday spice but is very thin and watery… and cheap.
I’m guessing this is the Benchmark. It’s not bad — it’s clearly well-made — but there’s not really anything there beyond the basic.
There’s a brief hint of chocolate malt on the nose that leads to a lot of porch wicker, sweet grass, sour apple, and vanilla caramel candy. The taste layers some salt into that caramel with a hint of winter spice, butter, apple pie filling, and maybe some dates with a hint of dry straw and cherry wood bark. The end has a nice wintry spice mix next to plums and apples with a slightly tart and woody edge next to mineral water and old leather.
The end of this is a little watery but it doesn’t kill it. It’s the sort of low-proof finish that you can easily cover up in a cocktail.
This is light with a raw cookie dough vibe next to cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. The palate has a nice bitterness next to bales of straw and Frosted Mini-Wheats, creamed vanilla, and a hint of winter spice. The end leans into that spice and layers in cornmeal, raisins, and a hint of mint.
This was thin overall but fine.
Tennessee comes through on the nose with a vanilla protein powder, a few sour cherries, and a hint of sage. The palate leans into vanilla Necco Wafers with a soft bourbon oatmeal cookie vibe layered with raisins, brown sugar, butter, brown spices, and walnuts. A light toffee sweetness drives the end towards a finish with a hint of cherry next to apple pie, old cellar beams, and dashes of old leather.
This was pretty nice overall. It’s not mind-blowing but it gets the job done.
The nose is full of wet straw and leather with a faint dash of clove and cinnamon. The palate has a bit of apple skin next to vanilla, some wicker, and maybe a little dill with a grainy vibe overall. The end has a little brown sugar sweetness and grilled pineapple next to sour cherry and dry sweetgrass.
This very much feels like a two-year-old MGP with all that graininess and tropical fruit.
This is very basic on the nose with leather next to banana Necco Wafer, a hint of cherry, and maybe some caramel. The palate is grainy like a bran muffin with a sense of cherry protein powder, some almond, and a vanilla wafer. The end has a sense of toasted cedar next to vanilla and cherry.
Rich vanilla and caramel come through on the nose with salted popcorn and thick cherry pie with a hint of cinnamon and leather boots. The palate layers some orange zest over cherry tobacco leaves, winter spices, a hint of old wicker, and a nice edge of that old leather. The end is bursting with spice, toffee, and cherry all layered into tobacco and stuffed in an old humidor.
This is pretty freakin’ great. It’s straightforward but deeply hewn.
The nose on this is a steel and wet grain mess with savory notes of fake cucumber and maybe some dark chocolate powder and leather, but that’s reaching. The palate is also grainy and somehow soggy with bruised apples and more of that steeliness. It doesn’t even taste like whiskey by the end.
This is bad. Really bad.
The nose greets you with an old boot leather vibe next to salted caramel, ripe tart apples, sour cherry, and corn muffins with a hint of butter and salt. The palate has a light graininess that leans into soft oatmeal raisin cookies with a hint of walnut and nutmeg and a drizzle of caramel sauce with clear vanilla tying it all together. The end wraps those cookies in a soft leather sheet and adds in some cinnamon-apple tobacco with a very slightly thin finish.
This is pretty good but does have a little watery of an end. Still, it’s really solid throughout.
Spicy and sweet mulled wine with a layer of honey, raisins, cinnamon/clove/nutmeg, and a hint of toffee round out the nose as a lurking sense of old porch wicker sneaks in underneath it all. There’s a nice balance of chocolate tobacco and honey cake with cardamon and clove on the palate that leads to a hint of orange oils and sticky toffee pudding. The end leans into warm spices and a sense of prunes and dates with a hint of soft cedar and tobacco.
This was a solid end to the panel. Good stuff!
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Samuel Maverick Barrel Proof — Taste 8
Average Price: $65
This Texas craft whiskey is made from 72% Texas-grown corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. That spirit ages for two short years before it’s bottled at barrel proof without any fussing.
“Well, that makes sense, this being two years old and still very steely and grainy. There was potential here but it needs a few years to find it. For now, this is a hard pass.”
I wanted to pour this whole bottle down the drain. Had I been tasting this in a spirits competition, I would have eliminated it. Yes, it’s that bad.
9. The Clover Single Barrel Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $46
This whiskey is a celebration of golf legend Bobby Jones. The juice in this bottle is a sourced (from an undisclosed distillery) single barrel of whiskey that’s bottled with a touch of proofing water.
“This is a good whiskey overall. It was just up against some crazy competition today and fell to the bottom of the list. That said, I would recommend giving this a shot both for its taste and price.”
This is fine. It’s a million miles ahead of the pour above, in that it’s a functioning whiskey that’s competently made. Still, there’s not a lot to get excited about with this one. May I suggest that if you have a bottle, you mix it into a hard Arnold Palmer? That feels like the right use.
8. Off Hours Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $38
This release from Off Hours Spirits is sourced from MGP of Indiana. The juice is a no-age-statement bourbon from MGP’s standard 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley mash bill. The whiskey spends about four years in the barrel before it is blended and bottled by Off Hours with a good dose of proofing water.
“As I mentioned above, this was fine. I never in a million years would have guessed it’s an MGP product though. It tastes very crafty with that wet straw and grainy vibe. Still, this would work fine in a highball.”
Well, there you go, a young MGP. Again, this was fine but nothing to write home about.
7. Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond Release 003 — Taste 3
Average Price: $45
This very local whiskey is made with 74% corn, 14% malted rye, and 12% two-row malted barley. After mashing and distilling, the juice is aged for at least four years in Iowa. Once just right, the whiskey is touched with a little water to bring it down to proof and bottled without any fussing. For this 2021 release, only 400 cases were released, but it was the first Cedar Ridge Bottled-in-Bond to make it out of Iowa.
“This was the thinnest bourbon of the day. It felt crafty with those grainy notes but it was still perfectly fine. It’s not overly crafty or young by any stretch. That all said, I’d likely use this for cocktails more than anything else.”
I still think this would be fine for cocktails. As a sipper, there’s just not a whole lot going on.
6. Benchmark Old. No. 8 — Taste 1
Average Price: $10
The juice in this bottle is from the famed Buffalo Trace Mash no. 1, which is very low rye (supposedly). This is a standard straight bourbon. Once the barrels are vatted, the whiskey is proofed all the way down to 80 proof for bottling.
“Ah, the old black label from Frankfort. This was just too washed out to really be a contender. I can see mixing this with Coke or ginger but I’d probably avoid mixing it with fizzy water or into cocktails.”
Wow! This is the biggest surprise by far. It’s still washed out on the finish but does have a much stronger flavor profile when tasted amidst this crowd of whiskeys. That all said, high-ish ranking or not, this is clearly a cheap mixing whiskey… with a decent flavor profile.
5. The D12tance Puncher’s Chance Aged 12 Years — Taste 4
Average Price: $129
This sourced whiskey is a 12-year-old Tennessee straight bourbon whiskey. Those barrels are emptied and the juice is refilled into old Cabernet Sauvignon casks for a final maturation before proofing and bottling.
“While this was very obviously a Tennessee whiskey on the taste, it really does shine as a lighter sipper. I’d say this is a good entry point into higher age statements and bigger prices that are not going to blow out your palate with high ABVs and big tannic notes.”
This was a perfectly fine Tennessee whiskey. There was nothing that jumped out. Likewise, there was nothing wrong with it all. It’s an easy pour. Drink it over some rocks or in a cocktail.
4. Maker’s Mark — Taste 2
Average Price: $24
This is Maker’s signature expression. It’s made from red winter wheat with corn and malted barley and then aged in seasoned Ozark oak for six to seven years. This expression’s juice is then built from only 150 barrels (making this a small batch, if you want to call it that). Those barrels are blended, proofed, bottled, and dipped in red wax.
“If this had a little more proof to it (and less water), it would have been way higher. This is good whiskey at a great price. But because of that watery end, you kind of need to build this into a cocktail to plaster over that thin finish.”
This had way more of an impact today. The flavor profile was concise and full-bodied. There’s enough going on that you can forgive the low-proof finish. Just layer this into a Manhattan and you’ll be all set.
3. Pursuit United — Taste 10
Average Price: $65
This whiskey is vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states. While the team at Pursuit United doesn’t release the Tennessee distillery name, we know the juices from Kentucky and New York are from Bardstown Bourbon Company and Finger Lakes Distilling, respectively. Once those barrels are vatted, they’re slightly touched with water before bottling.
“I usually dig this! That said, on this lineup, it just didn’t quite hit the same. That’s easy to square as this is a blended bourbon. It’s not quite as succinct as the rest of the whiskeys on this list (single barrels, etc.), and that’s not this whiskey’s fault at all.”
This is a well-rounded sipper that I also wanted to immediately make some awesome cocktails with.
2. Silverbelly Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 9
Average Price: $40
This whiskey is a sourced Kentucky Bourbon that’s built for country music legend Alan Jackson. The juice is named after the color of Jackson’s iconic “silverbelly” hat. That juice is made in Owensboro, Kentucky, and then built from barrels that Jackson hand-selected with his daughter Mattie Jackson Selecman, who’s a certified sommelier by day.
“As I mentioned in my tasting notes, this is perfectly fine. Another day and another lineup of bourbons, and this might have been closer to the top. Today, it just couldn’t compete with the bigger hitters.”
This had a really solid palate with a slightly washed-out finish (like so many on this list). I can see this working well on the rocks or in your favorite cocktail easily.
1. Jim Beam Single Barrel — Taste 7
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this juice is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
“This is a pretty solid whiskey and it’s in last place — there are some killers on this list, folks. I like this as an easy everyday sipper on a rock or two. It’s also a great cocktail base, especially for a simple old fashioned.”
This was the most well-rounded whiskey, kind of by far. It was deep, the finish landed, and the profile was distinct. This is a great sipper (on the rocks or neat) and makes one hell of a Manhattan or old fashioned.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
You know, usually, I’ll break down these rankings into sections of “these three are good for x” and “these two are must haves” and so forth. I’m not doing that this time.
Go and buy a bottle of Jim Beam Single barrel (the higher-proof one listed above). It’s great. Amazingly well priced. Available. It sips well. It mixes well. And it tastes like a stone-cold classic bourbon. You really cannot ask for more from a whiskey.
If one of the other, say, top four entice you according to my tasting notes, then knock yourself out. But it’s the Beam for the clear win.
As for the redemption arc on these bottles. Well, all but one deserve it. That Samuel Maverick is a complete miss. The rest are all fine in their own ways but don’t expect anything more than just that — fine.