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Cheap Bourbons With The Same Mash Bills As Expensive Expressions

Cheap bourbon isn’t always as bottom-shelf as it seems. We’ve highlighted that time and again. On the flip side, expensive bourbon isn’t always as refined as it seems. In fact, a lot of bourbons are cut from the exact same mash bills (grain recipes), barrels, and even proofs when they start aging.

Yes, aging and blending can have a big impact on taste. And the little factors between bottles do matter. But that doesn’t mean the core ingredients don’t start off the same. Sometimes even exactly the same.

For instance, Jim Beam, Baker’s, Knob Creek, Old Crow, and Old Taylor all have the exact same mash bill (75/13/12 corn/rye/barley), barrel char (level #4), and barreling proof (125 proof). They’re also all made in the same distillery (Jim Beam). But that’s not to say that all of those bourbons taste exactly the same. There are, after all, aging variables in play from the length in the barrel to where in the rickhouse the barrel rested to how the master blender married different barrels to create the final product. Still, they’re a lot closer to being the same thing than any amount of advertising would lead you to believe.

Wild Turkey also has the same mash bill as Jim Beam and the same barrel char. But it goes into the barrel a 114 proof instead of 125 proof. Makes it easy to see why some newbies often can’t tell the difference between some of these bourbons, right?

All of this isn’t to say that drinking a Wild Turkey 81 is the same as drinking a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. It’s not. But those whiskeys are cut from the exact same distillation. It’s just that one of them was in the right spot in the rickhouse and deemed tasty enough not to be blended with other barrels. Instead, it was allowed to rest until it hit a point the distillers wanted to hit and then bottled as is. That extra time is why the Single Barrel costs three times more than a regular old bottle of Wild Turkey. Whether that’s worth the money is up to you and your palate.

As Bourbon Heritage Month rolls on, we’re taking a look at some expensive bottles of bourbon to see if we can find some cheaper bourbon counterparts from the exact same mash bill, barrel char, and barrel proof. At the very least, this experiment is a good way to see how much luck and refinement go into making expensive bourbons worth the price when you can quite literally compare them to the cheaper expressions of the exact same juice.

BUFFALO TRACE MASH BILL #2

The exact mash bill is kept a secret but word on the street is that it’s a fairly low-rye mash bill with 12 to 15 percent rye. #4 barrel char. Entry proof is 125 proof/62.5 percent.

Expensive Bottle: Blanton’s The Original Single Barrel Bourbon

Drizly

ABV: 46.5%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This is Buffalo Trace’s “higher-rye” bourbon mash bill even though it’s not that “high” comparatively. This bourbon was the first “Single Barrel” expression sold in the modern era. The juice is a throwback to Colonel Blanton who expanded the distillery in the 20th century and used to handpick barrels for his personal stash in warehouse H.

The bottle in-and-of-itself has become a collector’s item with the small horse on each cork varying slightly.

Tasting Notes:

Egg nog spices kick this sip off. There’s a clear sense of bourbon vanilla next to creamy corn and plenty of honey sweetness. The marrying of the corn with the Christmas-y spices helps usher in a long, warming, and satisfying end that embraces you in a classic “Kentucky hug.”

Bottom Line:

This is great stuff to sip on after a big holiday meal. It’s also killer if you want to make a $20 Manhattan.

Cheap Bottle: Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Drizly

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $12

The Whiskey:

Yes, Ancient Age is the same mash bill, barrel, and barrel proof as Blanton’s. No, this isn’t a single barrel expression. Yet, it always sort of baffles me when people go on about Evan Williams (which is the same mash bill as Elijah Craig at Heaven Hill) but not this. This is a simple bourbon that’s cut from the same mash and pulled from the same rickhouses as everyone’s beloved Blanton’s — one of the more sought after and awarded bourbons in modern times.

Tasting Notes:

Corn on the nose and lots of classic notes of vanilla, toffee, and caramel up top. The sip leans into the toffee with a subtle dose of cinnamon spice lingering in the background with more of that honeyed corn. A slice of citrus arrives to lighten everything up on the short end.

Bottom Line:

You can often find this for $9.99 on sale. Buy a case. Drink it in a highball or mix up old fashioneds for a few months.

BROWN-FORMAN MEDIUM-RYE BOURBON MASH BILL

72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, ten percent malted barley. #4 barrel char. Entry proof is 125 proof/62.5 percent.

Expensive Bottle: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Woodford Reserve

ABV: 45.2%
Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery & Brown Forman Distillery in Shively, KY (Brown-Forman)
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Okay, this isn’t exactly a huge price tag for a quality spirit. Still, it’s not the cheapest expression you can get from Brown-Forman. The juice is really crafted as an entry point to Woodford’s wider line that showcases their aging and blending prowess.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a light, floral fruitiness upfront with a wisp of tobacco, flourishes of mint, and plenty of vanilla. The sip edges into orange zest territory with dark spices accentuated by nice toffee sweetness and a dusting of dark cacao powder when water is added.

The finish has a velvet texture that helps it fade fairly slowly while staying warm.

Bottom Line:

This is an excellent mixing bourbon to have on hand.

Cheap Bottle: Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Old Forester

ABV: 43%
Distillery: Brown Forman Distillery in Shively, KY (Brown-Forman)
Average Price: $20

The Whiskey:

This is a classic bourbon that’s been around for a long time. The juice is the same stuff that goes into Woodford, although this entry is blended with different barrels for an end product that’s a great, basic bourbon at a great price.

Tasting Notes:

This is strikingly similar to Woodford on the nose with the same vanilla, tobacco, mint, and floral fruit. There’s a bit more of a pine woodiness on the palate of this one next to the toffee, spice, orange, and vanilla that’s more pushed into the background. The toffee and oak mingle in the end as it slowly dissipates.

Bottom Line:

You can get two of these for the price of one Woodford. We’re just sayin’.

HEAVEN HILL WHEATED BOURBON MASH BILL

68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, 12 percent malted barley. #3 barrel char. Entry proof is 125 proof/62.5 percent.

Expensive Bottle: Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 9-Year-Old

The Whisky Exchange

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $300

The Whiskey:

We’ve already talked about how Weller and Pappy are the same wheated bourbon, so let’s give Heaven Hill’s wheated bourbons some love. This bespoke (and admittedly cool-looking) bottle became extremely famous and then extremely expensive in retail. It’s also the recipe “Pappy” Van Winkle bought during prohibition.

Simply, this is Heaven Hill’s famous wheated bourbon that’s aged for nine years and bottled-in-bond.

Tasting Notes:

Slightly peppery wheat next to a light fruit, vanilla, and fresh maple syrup greet you. The oak peeks in with more vanilla, notes of toffee, and a bit of berry tartness. The dram leans into a honey-sweet edge with the oak, mild spice, and hint of dark chocolate popping at the end.

Bottom Line:

Look, this is a damn nice dram. The price stops most people from ever getting to drink it and that’s a shame.

Cheap Bottle: Larceny Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Larceny Bourbon

ABV: 46%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $26

The Whiskey:

This is the exact same juice that’s just aged a little less. This juice is hand-selected to be small batched to match a six-year-old age profile. That’s only three fewer years than the Old Fitz above, and it’s a tenth the price.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla and toffee are present with a sense of the wheat. There’s a clear taste of the honey, vanilla, and toffee carrying the sip towards a very subdued spice and oak. The end is rich with a note of toffee and a whisper of salted caramel.

Bottom Line:

No, this isn’t as complex as Old Fitzgerald. But it’s so much cheaper that … who cares?

JIM BEAM HIGH RYE MASH BILL

63 percent corn, 27 percent rye, ten percent malted barley. #4 barrel char. Entry proof unknown.

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Basil Haydens

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

Let’s end this one with Jim’s “other” mash bill. This is a departure from the classic Jim Beam mash we mentioned in the lede. This mash bill leans more heavily into the rye, creating a solid base for two very closely related bourbons. In fact, one’s named after a bourbon legend while the other has that legend’s visage on its label. Basil Hayden’s is a well-crafted bourbon that’s pulled from specific barrels, blended, cut down to proof, and small-batch bottled under the watchful eyes of Jim Beam’s masters.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a sense of sweet yet slightly bitter tea next to rye spice and a flutter of fresh mint. The palate carries that spice into peppery territory with hints of oak, vanilla, tart apples, and honey. The spice gets a little peppery as a final cut if citrus arrives to help the end slowly fade out.

Bottom Line:

This is a nice mixing bourbon that works just as well on the rocks.

Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The Whisky Exchange

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $20

The Whiskey:

The titular old grand-dad here is the one and only Basil Hayden. It’s also the same juice that doesn’t spend quite as long in the rickhouse and gets blended with minorly different barrels for an end product that’s very similar to Basil Hayden’s.

Tasting Notes:

There’s more of sweetness at play with toffee and vanilla up top. Honey and fruit mix with a clear peppery rye note next to a slight hint of oak, apple, and more vanilla. The sip leans more into the caramel apples on the end and skips the citrus yet stays warm and mellow.

Bottom Line:

There’s certainly less refinement at play. But again, two for the price of one is a bargain.

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