The Diversity of Bourbon in 6 Samples

By / Wine + Drinks / August 24th, 2021 / 1

In case you weren’t aware, National Bourbon Day was June 11 and, as part of their celebration, Beam Suntory held a virtual Bourbon tasting hosted by Brand Ambassador Ray Daniels.  I attended with mini-bottles of 6 bourbons poured into my menagerie of small glasses, including some very special ones I had never tried.

Jim Beam’s history goes back over 200 years, but Beam Suntory’s Bourbon portfolio includes several other big names, including Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek, among others.

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon must be: 

1. Made in United States of America (not only Kentucky).
2. Minimum 51% corn.
3. Distilled at no more than 160 proof.
4. Stored at no more than 125 proof in new, charred oak barrels.
5. Aged for a minimum two years.
6. Free from additives. 

Kentucky Straight Bourbon is all those things but made only in Kentucky. 

Here are my notes on the 6 bourbons we tasted on National Bourbon Day:

Old Grand-Dad (40% ABV, ~$35)

This good value brand was acquired by Beam in 1985. Old Grand-Dad refers to distiller Basil Hayden. It has a very typical and recognizable Bourbon nose, with vanilla from oak, toffee and a warming presence. Made with 27% rye, which lends a fruity, orange peel and spice type of complexity. It spends 4-5 years in the barrel. A value brand in the USA, but not (yet) in Canada. 

Basil Hayden, 10 Year Old Rye (40% ABV; $94.99 at ANBL)

While Basil Hayden is well known for their Bourbon, this is 53% rye, so technically not Bourbon. Aged 10 years, it has a nice spicy nose, with not too much vanilla, but also has some fruity banana notes. It is quite elegant and delicious tasted neat.

Legent (47% ABV; $61 at LCBO)

Pronounced LEE-GENT, this is a special collaboration between American and Japanese whisky makers. It’s a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey partially finished in wine and sherry casks. Fred Noe from Jim Beam and Shinji Fukuyo from Suntory worked together to create this special spirit. It has complex leather and barrel aromas, and a pleasant malty sweetness and fruitiness, with full body and a long, warm, chocolatey finish. Atypical Bourbon, but lovely and complex.

Knob Creek 9 (50% ABV; $49.95 at LCBO; $48.99 at ANBL) 

A pretty classic Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aged 9 years. It’s high ABV results in a warm, boozy nose, but it is also fruity, with sweet oak notes on the palate, which is also firey on the finish.  Noted for its toffee, oaky and all around woody flavours. 

Old Tub Bourbon (50% ABV; $44.05 at LCBO)

Old Tub is an historic Jim Beam brand that has been brought back to life, although for a limited edition. This is straightforward Bourbon in a good way, firey, but clean, with toffee notes and the vanilla is not over the top. It has what I’d call a sweet cereal, almost worty (like unfermented beer) note. 4 years minimum barrel aging. 

Little Book Chapter IV – “Lessons Honored” ($199.99 at ANBL; $199.05 at LCBO)

We finished with the most precious whiskey, made by Little Book, aka Freddie Noe, Booker’s grandson. It is a blend of 4 year old spirit made from brown rice alongside 7 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon and 8 year old rye whiskey. The result is a very soft, smooth, sweetish whiskey with lots of toffee and caramel notes. Some tasters identified more complex herbal and spice notes to this, but I found it rather simple.

For my money, I’d buy Old Grand-Dad if I could…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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