Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bourbon Recommendations for Friends

How many times are you asked by friends to recommend a bourbon?  I really struggle with this because my favorite is just that, MY favorite.  Because I like Ambrosia apples, does that mean that it is the best apple?  Most of the time, Ambrosia suits my taste.  However, I don’t have a bad thing to say about a good Fuji or Pink Lady.  The same can be said for bourbons.
For this entry I thought I would share what I tell my friends who are searching for a good bourbon.
I don’t think that they should start with an expensive limited release bourbon.  Everyone thinks they want Pappy because the media has told them that it is “the best bourbon” and that is what they think they want.  I try to convince them that they can get a REALLY good bourbon for not a lot of money without camping out at their liquor store for months. 
I usually ask my friend in search of a bourbon to come to my house for a tasting.  We host a bourbon tasting party every year but it usually has a theme and some twists for the enjoyment of my bourbon savvy friends.  This is not what my friend on a mission needs.  While I like my bourbon neat, I encourage my friend to add a little water to take it down to about 80 proof.  Here is what I offer my friend as examples of what is available:
A wheated bourbon like Maker’s Mark, Larceny or Old Fitz
A low rye bourbon like Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare or Elijah Craig
A higher rye bourbon like Town Branch, Old Forester or Woodford Reserve
Another offering that I like to share that can be a really good gateway whiskey is Gentleman Jack or George Dickel Barrel Select.  I know these are Tennessee whiskeys but both are really good starter spirits for those who want to eventually get into bourbon.
If my friends doesn’t live near me or is unable to come up for a tasting, I suggest that a trip to a well stocked but not fancy (expensive) bar would be money well spent.  A shot from each of the categories above over the course of several days can give an overview of preferences.  Probably the best option, although not very practical for many, is to visit the tasting rooms on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Not everyone can do that so the bar is probably the best option for most.
Each of the bourbons or Tennessee whiskeys that I offer my friends is widely available at any good liquor store for $30ish.  I don’t want to expect anyone starting on bourbon to lay out big bucks for something they may not like.  If, after a tasting, they can narrow down to a few, they can get out of the liquor store for less than $100.

When pressed by the friend to identify my FAVORITE bourbon I really have to hedge.  In summer, I like a wheated or low rye bourbon.  However, when I sit by the fire on a cold winter night I really enjoy the “Kentucky Hug” from a bourbon with a spicy rye kick.  In the rare occasions when I make mixed drinks, like the juleps for Derby Day, I typically use a higher rye bourbon.  My favorite bourbons fit my tastes and, like Ambrosia apples, may not fit the tastes of others.  I rarely spend more than $50 on a bottle of bourbon.  I don’t want to buy a trophy, I want something that I enjoy drinking and sharing with my friends.

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