Here’s the thing about whiskey and whisky and rye and scotch and bourbon: When they’re bad, they’re boring; when they’re good, they’re complicated. That’s the whole fun of buying good bottles. They make you think. Until you’ve had a few, then they make you not think. (A recipe for a successful product if ever there was one.)
The Uproxx crew likes thinking, not-thinking, and drinking (in any order), so we decided to get together and blindly taste eight bourbons, then compare notes. Actually, seven bourbons. Someone stuck a rye in there, which screwed us all up. Anyway, some members of the team were able to call which were which a few times (Zach Johnston, Mike Botticello, Vince Mancini), others just rambled while doing their best impressions of sophisticated drinkers (me, Allison Sanchez). By the time we finished, certain themes had surfaced — even with the neophyte and expert opinions mingled together.
Check our results below. One early spoiler: The only bourbon in a can waaaaay outperformed expectations.
-Steve Bramucci, Editorial Director of Uproxx Life
Vince: Heavy caramel flavor, dark color, lots of barley sugar. Would I get tired of drinking this in larger doses? Dunno. Good in this amount, though.
Zach: Malty with a nice bit of alcohol burn. Definitely whiskey. Nice overall taste. This must be the Four Roses.
Allison: This was smooth. Easy. Like Sunday Morning. And also me, because I’m smooth and chill. No worries in the world. Carefree Sanchez, they call me….um….Did that seem cool, like, reading that, do you think I sound cool? Cause if not, I’ll change it. Or I could not change it. But now, I think I should change it. Or just delete and start over. Well, of course I’m crying now. As you read it, I could feel through the screen that you didn’t think my opinion was good. God, why don’t you just stop reading what I wrote all together, huh? I DON’T NEED YOU AND IT’S CLEAR YOU NEVER LOVED ME.
Where was I? Oh… right… This is a chill bourbon, just like me.
Mike: A meeting of smoke and oak that immediately got my attention and had me ready to order another. I think this is the Stillhouse.
Steve: Alcohol-y? I think I’m just getting my bearings. I taste booze and oak and a little smoke. Not peat smoke but like, grandpa’s cigars. Not his old Cubans, but something a little sweeter. This is the Swisher Sweets of bourbons.
WILD TURKEY BOURBON WHISKEY
Vince: Lighter, boozier. Easy-drinkin’; short finish. Could drink a lot of this.
Zach: Very nice. Loved the texture, felt smooth. Nice balance of vanilla oak and malt sweetness with not too much burn.
Allison: The alcohol in this was too strong for me. Like I had an immediate visceral reaction to this smell and taste. I couldn’t handle it. And there’s basically wine where my blood should be. Earlier, when I said I was crying, it was just a medium-tier Sauvignon Blanc coming out of my eyes.
Mike: For those looking for that classic dusty saloon two finger experience, this one’s for you. It’s clearly Wild Turkey.
Steve: If this one ends up being shit, then I don’t know anything about bourbon (which is very possible) because it’s smooth, there’s a nice brown sugar lead-in, and it’s not at all harsh on the finish.
I get that it’s not like insanely complicated, but I like smooth drams and this is one of those. (How did that sound? Did I say that right? Drams?)
Vince: Carmel… barely tastes like anything.
Zach: Thin. Watery, weirdly. It’s bourbon but only just.
Allison: This was fine. Totally inoffensive, but also, a bit watery for my taste. It just kind of felt like nothing. Like my bank account three days after being paid. There’s something in there. But nothing of note.
Mike: This must be the newcomer, Borough. It’s no-nonsense and no frills. Not my favorite but a good entry point for the uninitiated.
Steve: After the last one being so smooth, this struck me as woody on the front end. I don’t mind that. There was a brown sugar finish that I liked, though, and it certainly wasn’t overly harsh. This almost has a light rum quality.
WILD CARD: BULLEIT RYE
Vince: Pear nose. Sour mash flavor. Kind of harsh.
Zach: Spicy burn, maybe too much. Feels like an old whiskey that someone left under the sink for too long.
Allison: I can’t read my notes here. It looks like: “Like Trout” but I think that’s unlikely. At the same time, I think it’s important to always double down when you’re wrong or have misspoken/written. So, here’s the deal: This was one like old trout, put in a blender, mixed with water, and then handed to me in one of Vince’s nicest whiskey glasses.
Mike: More subtle than I’m usually looking for. It was different from the others, it had a lingering spice to it that the competitors did not. Must be the rye.
Steve: Brown sugary and spicy. I like that. In truth, I just want to drink liquid vanilla and brown sugar with a touch of cinnamon. I think I’m describing rum. Oops. Anyway, the candy-sour thing at the end is nice.
OAK & EDEN BOURBON & SPIRE
Vince: Smooth, very oaky.
Zach: Woah! I taste wood [this bottle has an oak stave inside -ed].
Allison: This was so good! I wrote, “sweet and delicious!” And it was just the right amount of sweet, with soft hints of vanilla that never overwhelmed. Hey, it’s like I’m an alcohol writer, Zach watch your job!
I think this might have been my favorite.
Mike: Sweet, smooth, with a punch that makes for a crowd favorite. I’ll bet this will end up being the most popular of the group.
Steve: Sweet. Caramel brown sugary – toasted sugar? Nice alcohol punch and a little oak at the… somewhere. Maybe the front end? Or the back end. One of the two. Point being, this is probably my favorite.
Vince: Nice spice, warm. So little taste, like drinking nothing. (Is my palate already gone?)
Zach: Thin again but feels good. Typical bourbon notes — vanilla oak, mildly sweet, echoes of pepper — in the background but not in your face.
Allison: To me this was a very similar taste to the last one, only too sweet. Like you drank something Mr. Wonka said not to while on his tour and at first you’re like, “mmmm,” but then it gets sweeter and sweeter and before you know it, those oompa loompas are rolling your blueberry ass RIGHT out the door.
Mike: This is the one that puts the proverbial hair on your chest, had me ready to kick back and light up a cigar. Gotta be Bulleit.
Steve: This is like the last one but a little harsher. Spice and grain. Bulleit’s well brand bourbon?
Zach: This is nice. Those bourbon notes are dialed in and tasty.
Allison: I wrote “boozy” for this. This one is your alcoholic step-grandma’s breath on Thanksgiving. The taste was good, but ooof, it was strong. Wait, does that mean I am saying your step-grandma’s breath also tastes good? You know what, first rule of bourbon club: always double down when you’re wrong or have misspoken/written.
Your step-grandmother’s mouth is delicious, but sometimes too strong to handle.
Mike: I picked up on the hickory and smoke just like you would if you knocked this back at a backyard bbq.
Steve: Boozy but smooth. It has a hit at the end, alcohol note, but it was never harsh. Am I drunk? I’m getting drunk. Either that or these are getting better. I like this one.
FOUR ROSES SINGLE BARREL
Vince: Harsh punch — is that rye? Not a fan.
Zach: Tinny, this MUST be the Stillhouse??? Harsh after taste. Lost all flavor to the metallic nature.
Allison: I wrote a single word. “Hate.” Whether that means I hated this bourbon or that it was so bad that it inspired my heart to turn rancid with hate and I’ve become a dark supervillain whose plan is to drill for oil in orphanages using the orphans as the labor and then later, because I’m truly evil, to give the orphans a bad review on LinkedIn, is anybody’s guess. Anybody’s guess.
Mike: The most balanced of the group the brought in sweetness with some vanilla and spent some time in oak barrels that gives it the street cred the others are looking for.
Steve: Too smooth, even for me. This the too chill award. Or I’m drunk. Maybe it’s that, I’m drunk and I’m gonna be young forever. No one can hold me down. Also… bourbon is fun. Let’s do this again!
Vince: Not confident in this list, enjoyed the first 4-5 spots in different ways, but… 1, 7, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 4.”
Zach: For me, seven definitely wins. Followed by two and six.
Allison: Okay, final ranking for me: 5, 1, 6, 7, 3, 2, 4, 8
Mike: 5, 1, 7, 8, 6, 4, 2, 3.
Steve: Seven wins. Five was nice. One was great. I also seem to have liked Wild Turkey way more than the other tasters, which I can definitely live with.